homemade boba pearls

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This isn’t a recipe for making bubble or boba tea. What I want to do is to make the boba pearls from scratch. It seemed pretty straightforward: tapioca, water, and a bit of food coloring. I soon found that tapioca starch in Thailand is not the same thing as tapioca flour elsewhere. The recipes on the internet use the terms flour and starch interchangeably but this is wrong. Tapioca starch must be cooked in order for it to become a dough. The starch looks like cornstarch/cornflour and like cornstarch, it is used as a thickener. It is fine and silky but it does not absorb liquid. It clumps into fine grains when water is added but it doesn’t hold together. But heating the starch with water changes it into a dough. Then each boba must be hand-rolled, a labor-intensive endeavor. The added brown sugar provides a deep amber color and a slightly sweet flavor.

Homemade Brown Sugar Boba Pearls (adapted from 3thanwong)

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups tapioca starch (not tapioca flour)

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Take it off the heat and add the brown sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves. Add the tapioca starch and mix it until no lumps remain. Return the pan to the stove over a low heat and cook the mixture, turning continuously to prevent the tapioca from sticking to the bottom and the sides of the pan. It’s best to use a non-stick pan for this. Cook until the mixture forms a ball. Transfer the dough to the work surface and knead until the dough is smooth.

Using the same medium saucepan, heat 6 cups of water to boiling. Then reduce heat to simmer.

While the water is boiling, cut the dough ball in half, quarters, and eighths. Take one-eighth and set aside. The rest can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated until later. Roll one-eighth into a rope about 12 inches long. Fold it in half and cut it with a dough scraper. Roll each half into thinner ropes, about 1/4 inch in diameter. Using the dough scraper, cut each rope into small pieces. Then roll each piece into round balls. I found it easier to do this on the work surface. Repeat the process with another one-eighth of dough. And so on.

Return the simmering pot to a rolling boil over high heat and add the tapioca balls. Boil the pearls for 5 minutes on high heat then reduce the heat to medium. Cook the boba for 25 minutes or until the balls are translucent and chewy. They came out with a dark brown color without any food coloring at all. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pearls to a bowl of cool water. The pearls can be used right away. Put them in a glass of homemade iced tea, about 2 tablespoons per glass. One-eighth dough makes enough for two glasses. The boba can be stored in a covered container with honey and water or a simple syrup to prevent them from sticking and drying out.

Cook’s Note: Unused boba dough can be wrapped airtight in plastic and refrigerated. Bring it to room temperature before rolling and cutting.

tamarind tart with chili pepper

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One of the treats I grew up eating in Jamaica was tamarind. Sour and sticky fruit in brittle brown pods tamarinds were also delicious mixed with sugar and rolled into balls. So addictive. In Thailand I discovered an added zest: tamarind with chili pepper. Double-delicious. So I decided to make this tart with the sour-sweet taste of my childhood with a little touch of chili pepper. After all, we are adults now. And we have time to attend to what we like. Everything in this recipe is made from scratch, from the crust to the homemade tamarind puree in the pastry cream.

One day before, make the tamarind puree. I am sure you can buy it in jars but the texture and the taste will not be the same. This method was adapted from Saveur.

Place 200 grams of dried tamarind pulp in a stainless steel or glass bowl. Add 2 cups boiling water and let sit 30-45 minutes until it is cool enough to handle.

Pour contents into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl. Squeeze pulp to extract a smooth paste. Scrape paste from bottom of the strainer into the bowl. Discard seeds and fibers. You may need to strain the pulp twice because it might have small seeds in it. Store chilled up to 2 weeks or frozen for up to 3 months. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Tamarind Tart

For the crust (Pâte Brisée)

200g all purpose flour
100g unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup cold water

Preheat the oven 200˚C.

Prepare the pâte brisée. Mix together the flour, salt, and sugar. Cut in the butter in small pieces. Mix in cold water, a tablespoon at a time, or just enough to make a ball, and let rest about 30 minutes in refrigerator wrapped in plastic to firm up the dough.

Remove the dough ball from the refrigerator and roll it out onto a lightly floured board into a 1/4 inch thick disk about 9 inches in diameter. Roll up on the rolling pin. Place rolled up dough on top of the tart pan, pressing the dough into the bottom and sides. Repair any tears with extra dough pieces. Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork. Freeze the pastry shell 20 minutes.

Baker’s Note: Roll the pastry out between sheets of plastic or wax paper to prevent sticking and to make it easier to transfer to the tart pan.

Line the pastry shell with parchment paper. Fill with pie weights, beans, or rice. Blind-bake the pastry shell 10 minutes at 200˚C. Reduce heat to 175˚C. Remove the parchment and pie weights and return to the oven and bake the pastry shell 10-20 minutes or until the bottom is light golden. Remove from oven and cool thoroughly.

Baker’s Note: Cut a large piece of parchment paper bigger than the diameter of the pie pan. Crumple it. Open it out and you’ll find you’ll be able to fit it better into the tart shell. Fill parchment liner with pie weights, beans, or rice. After baking, save the pie weights, beans, or rice for another baking project.

Make Tamarind Pastry Cream.

1 1/4 cups whole milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sifted brown sugar (only in Thailand is the brown sugar lumpy)
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup tamarind puree plus 2 tablespoons
Juice of 1 lime (about 1 tablespoon)
1/8 teaspoon powdered chili pepper, more or less to taste

In a small saucepan, warm the milk over low heat until it is just hot enough to steam.

While the milk is warming, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, flour, and cornstarch until the mixture is completely smooth.

Once the milk is steaming, pour half of it, whisking constantly, into the egg mixture.

Add the egg mixture back into the pot with the hot milk, continue stirring, and heat it for 1-2 minutes until the custard thickens.

Remove from the heat, stir in the tamarind puree, lime juice, and chili powder. Cool the pastry cream to room temperature by putting the pot into a large bowl filled halfway with ice water. Stir the cooling cream occasionally.

Pour the pastry cream into the cooled pastry shell. Cover the strained cream with plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic wrap touches the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill at least 2-3 hours before slicing.

For the topping:
1 cup/240 ml heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (can substitute dark rum)

Just before serving, make the topping. In the bowl of a hand-held electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat together the cream, confectioner’s sugar and rum, until thick and fluffy. I recommend using a hand-held mixer because the cream is only 1 cup and a stand mixer might be too big to whip the cream properly. Dollop whipped cream on top of the chilled tart and smooth it with an offset spatula. Or serve it on the side. For effect, I sprinkled lime zest on the whipped cream.

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