Pastry Chef Pichet Ong created this funky, fruit-filled twist on tapioca pudding and classic crème brulée. His advice? "In order to ensure an even, hard-shelled caramelization, the top surface of the pudding must be flat, which can be achieved by running an offset spatula across the top of the serving glass." - Yasmin Fahr
Adapted from Pichet Ong, author of "The Sweet Spot"
1 cup whole milk
1 cup skim milk
1 cup coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla powder*
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups white tapioca
½ cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon fresh lime zest
1 cup Tuscan melon, diced in 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup kiwi, diced in 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup cookie crumbs, preferably coconut macaroons
*Note: Vanilla powder can be substituted with vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, and seeds scraped, and used entirely (seeds and pod) and removed after the two hours of cooling time.
Put the three milks and vanilla powder in a large saucepan, stir well, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the salt and tapioca and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring and scraping to make sure none of the tapioca is stuck to the bottom. Turn the heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring often, until the mixture is dry and all the liquid has been absorbed into the rice, 17-20 minutes. (Do not let the mixture brown at all). Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the sugar until it melts. Cover with the top, remove from heat, set aside and let cool completely, about 2 hours. (Remove the vanilla pod after this time, if using).
Meanwhile, put the cream into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk the cream at medium speed until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. (When you lift the whisk from the whites, a peak will form and fall back into the mixture. Or you can also whisk by hand). When the tapioca base has completely cooled, incorporate 1/3 cup of the whipped cream into it at first, to lighten the mixture, and then fold in the rest. Then fold in the lime zest. The pudding mixture should be loose like custard but hold peaks.
In 4-ounce serving glasses, distribute the fruits and cookie crumbs so they cover the bottom entirely. Fill the serving bowls to the top with the pudding base, flattening out the surface so it’s completely flat. Sprinkle sugar lightly and evenly on top, then caramelize the top with a self-igniting blow torch. Repeat the process for each cup with another light and even sprinkling of sugar and then torch until dark brown. Let cool for 10 seconds and tap lightly on the top surface to make sure it's hardened. [Editor's note: If you don't have a blow torch, place the serving glasses under the broiler, set to high, as close as possible to the heat source, until the top is golden brown. Cooking time will vary depending on the oven, so watch closely].