Total time: 1 hour, plus several hours chilling time, plus 4 hours soaking time
Note: From Josef Centeno, executive chef at Opus Restaurant. Good-quality small tapioca pearls are available at Le Sanctuaire in Santa Monica. You will need 6 (4 1/2-by-1-inch) ramekins, or any ramekins that hold about one-half cup.
Tart cherry gastrique
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1/2 cup tart dried cherries (no sugar added)
1/2 cup banyuls or sherry vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, minced
1. In a medium saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups water and one-half cup sugar to boil. Add the vanilla bean and dried cherries and turn off the heat. Let it macerate until the cherries are soft and plump, about 4 minutes for lightly dried, soft cherries and 15 minutes for hard, fully dried cherries. Strain the cherries, dsicard the vanilla bean and set aside.
2. In a clean medium saucepan (make sure the pan has no traces of fat in it or the caramel will crystallize), cook the remaining sugar over medium-low heat until it turns a dark amber color and the sugar is completely dissolved, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the pan. Stir the sugar with a wooden spoon occasionally to prevent the caramel from burning.
3. Slowly add the vinegar 2 tablespoons at a time. Be very careful because the hot caramel will splatter and bubble. Continue to add the vinegar until it is completely incorporated, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Stir in the salt and tarragon, then the reserved cherries. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes, or until syrupy. When cool, transfer to a container and keep at room temperature until ready to serve. (To clean your saucepan, fill the pan with water and bring it to a boil to melt the caramel.) Makes 1 cup of sauce.
Cinnamon tapioca brûlée and assembly
1/2 cup small pearl tapioca
3 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon orange zest
3/4 cup sugar for assembly
1. Soak the tapioca for 4 hours in 1 cup of cold water. Drain the tapioca, place it in a colander and rinse under cold water. Drain well.
2. In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan, combine the tapioca, milk and salt on medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. While simmering, add the sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.
3. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Gradually mix 1 cup of hot tapioca mixture into the eggs, stirring constantly to avoid curdling. Pour the egg mixture gradually back into the pan with the tapioca, stirring constantly. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 3 minutes, until the pudding has thickened and the tapioca is cooked through.
4. Let cool off heat for 15 minutes, then stir in the vanilla, cinnamon, lemon and orange zest.
5. Spoon about one-half cup of tapioca into individual ramekins. Smooth the top of the pudding with an offset spatula, cover with plastic wrap and chill several hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Just before serving, sprinkle each with 2 tablespoons of sugar; tip the dish so the sugar evenly coats the top of the tapioca. Carefully pass over the sugar with a blowtorch until it has caramelized and forms a dark brown, crunchy crust, 4 to 5 minutes. Or place the ramekins under a broiler for 8 to 9 minutes.
6. To serve, drizzle a tablespoon of sauce on top of the tapioca brûlée. Pass additional sauce as desired.
Each serving: 505 calories; 7 grams protein; 109 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 6 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 83 mg. cholesterol; 266 mg. sodium.