Having taken up the challenge of tapioca pudding, a dish I neither liked nor knew much about, I first tried an almond milk version off the back of the box that got an enthusiastic thumbs down. Fine. Abandoning my dairy alternative path, I turned to 101 Cookbooks for a trustworthy baseline method, which I promptly managed to misread and mess up horribly.
On my third try, however, I managed to get the basics right and thus was able to fiddle a bit more creatively. Since one of my objections to tapioca pudding (aside from the whole frog-spawn thing) was its blandness, I noodled about for something that would add the necessary interest. I'd been interested in fiori di Sicilia, a flavor essence that combines orange and vanilla for a while, and this seemed like not too far a jump from plain old vanilla.
Not having any actual fiori di Sicilia on hand, though, I used Korean honey-citron tea. With it's more nuanced, almost mineral-y citrus tang, I thought it would, when mixed with vanilla (bean and extract), produce a reasonable facsimile of fiori di Sicilia.
I tinkered with the salt and sugar levels because the tea is so sweet, and added a bit more vanilla at the end to balance the citron's oomph.
I'm not sure how close it came to the bottled essence itself, but the pudding came out really well, with the vanilla's floral sweetness and the citron's fragrant, slightly astringent bite making for a delicious and novel dessert. —LukePF
Measure the milk into a 4 c liquid measuring cup. Pour 3/4 c into a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the tapioca pearls. Allow to soak for one hour.
Add the egg yolks, salt, and sugar to the measuring cup and whisk to combine. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the scraped pod halves to the measuring cup. Set aside till the tapioca is done soaking.
Add the custard mixture to the pan with the tapioca. Turn on the stove, setting to medium heat and gradually bring to a boil–over the course of ~15 min, stirring all the time to avoid sticking or scorching. Reduce heat so the mixture just simmers gently and continue to cook, stirring diligently, for ~20 min–more or less. When the pudding is done, the pearls will be almost totally translucent and tender to the bite. The matrix in which they float will have thickened up dramatically too. (If you forget about your pearls while they're soaking or have to run out for more eggs or something *ahem* your cooking time will be slightly shorter.)
Remove from heat. Stir in citron tea and vanilla extract. Cool a bit. Serve at room temperature.