This Baked Custard with Tapioca is classic Hong Kong dessert. By combining creamy custard and chewy tapioca pearls, then filled with sweet lotus paste, it’s an irresistible rich dessert! If you don’t like lotus paste, it can also be filled with chestnut spread or red bean paste too.
This Baked Custard with Tapioca (焗西米布甸) is a Hong Kong dessert. It’s usually available in traditional Cantonese restaurants. However not every restaurant makes this, it requires multiple steps and some restaurants just don’t want to spend the time. It’s harder and harder to find these days. But luckily, we can now make it at home.
In fact, this custard is an east meet west dessert. Tapioca pearls are often used in Asian desserts, like mango dessert soup. They’re like tiny boba, but transparent in color. They don’t have much flavors, but more a texture thing. Little chewy and give bites to your desserts. Lotus paste is very common in Chinese cooking. It’s in mooncakes and steamed buns. It’s a little sweet with a nutty taste. But here comes the odd part, custard. This is no doubt a British influence. Custard powder is a commonly used ingredient in the UK. It’s a thickening powder with a vanilla taste. It’s a quick and easy way to make custard. Although we can use corn starch and vanilla extract to make a traditional custard, I don’t want to change it up as this is how it’s done in Chinese restaurants.
By combining all these ingredients together, it become a perfect fusion dish. Even though my mom doesn’t always eat dessert, she really likes this custard. It’s hot, creamy with a little chewy texture from tapioca pearls, and the nuttiness from the lotus paste. It really is amazing!
To start, work on the tapioca pearls first. Add the pearls into a pot of boiling water and cook for just 10 minutes. Stirring often to make sure no pearl is stuck together or stuck to the pot. Cover and remove from heat. Let the pearls cook in the hot water for a bit longer. When open the lid, most of the pearls are transparent with some with little white spots in the middle. That is normal and it’s good enough. Drain and rinse them under cold water to cool them down and remove extra starch. Set them aside to drain well.
Next, make the custard. Since we’re using custard powder, it’s pretty easy. Whisk together some of the milk, custard powder and eggs. Then combine the rest of the milk, evaporated milk, sugar and butter in a saucepan. When it starts to simmer, whisk in the custard powder mixture. Whisk until the mixture is thickened. It shouldn’t be runny. Remove from heat and stir in the tapioca pearls. Scoop the mixture to fill half of the ramekins. Add lotus paste, chestnut spread or red bean paste. Fill the ramekins with more custard. It’s ready to be baked.
Instead of just putting them in oven, we’re doing the baking more gently. We’re using a water bath. Hot water helps to keep the bake more evenly and prevent the eggs from curdling. How do you do that? Bring a kettle of water to a boil and keep hot. Place the ramekins in a baking pan with high sides, like roasting pan and baking dish. Slowly pour the boiling water into the baking pan. Make sure the water doesn’t get into the food itself. Fill enough water to reach half way to the sides of the ramekins. Carefully transfer the whole thing to the oven. Now, bake.
To ensure the custard is nicely caramelized, use the broiler for a few minutes at the end. The custard would be slightly puffed and the top get some spots of dark brown. Carefully remove the baking pan from oven and remove the ramekins from baking pan.
I know you probably want to eat it right now, but it’s bubbling hot. When I say “bubbling hot”, I mean it! When I was younger, I always found this to be too hot. But my mom loves that. She can eat food very hot. My tip is to let the baked custard rest for 15 minutes or so before serving. That way, you can enjoy without burning your mouth. I actually think the custard is even better when it’s just a little warm. Let it sit even longer, like 30 minutes. I feel like the lotus flavor come through better and the tapioca pearls are little more chewy as it cools.
This is a really fun dessert, and it sure brings back a lot of memories! I hope you guys like it! Let me know if you made this.
Baked Custard with Tapioca
- 70 grams tapioca pearls
- 30 grams custard powder
- 500 millimeters whole milk (3 1/3 cups)(divided into half)
- 2 large eggs
- 80 millimeters evaporated milk (1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon)
- 70 grams sugar
- 20 grams unsalted butter
- 120 grams lotus paste (or chestnut spread or red bean paste)
- In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium. Add tapioca pearls, cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. Cover with a lid, remove from heat and set aside for 15 minutes. Most of the pearls should be completely transparent. It’s ok if a few have tiny white spots in the middle. Drain the tapioca pearls into a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold water until cool, stirring occasionally. Set aside to drain.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400˚F. In a kettle over high heat, boil a few cups water.
- When the pearls are ready, let’s make the custard. In a medium mixing bowl, add custard powder. Slowly whisk in half of the milk. Whisk in the eggs until combined.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the rest of the milk, evaporate milk, sugar and butter. Bring mixture just to a simmer, about 3 minutes, stirring often until sugar has dissolved. While whisking, slowly add in the custard. Cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, mix in the tapioca pearls. The mixture would thicken more as it cools.
- Prepare 6 (1-cup) ramekins. Fill each ramekin halfway full with tapioca mixture. Add 20 grams (1 tablespoon) lotus paste into each ramekin. Divide the rest of tapioca mixture into the ramekins. Slightly smooth the top.
- Place the ramekins in a 9×13 baking pan. Slowly add hot water to baking pan until the water come about halfway up sides of ramekins. Carefully transfer to oven and bake for 20 minutes. Then, broil under broiler until the top is puffed with caramelized brown spots, about 3 – 5 minutes (If no broiler, turn the oven heat to 525˚F, and bake for about 5 minsutes). Remove from oven and remove from baking pan.
- Set aside to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
- Tapioca pearls are NOT boba. They are white in color and much smaller, slightly bigger than sesame seeds. They can be found in Asian supermarkets or on Amazon.
- Custard powder is a common UK ingredient. It’s vanilla flavored and it’s used to make a quick custard. Since Hong Kong was once under British governing, custard powder is also commonly used in restaurants in Hong Kong. You can get this on Amazon or some British grocery stores.
- Lotus paste can be bought from some Chinese supermarkets. It’s little sweet and nutty with a hint of savoriness. Lotus paste is a bit thick. It looks more like a piece of dough, instead of spreadable paste. When placing the paste into the custard, you can pat the paste into a thin round disc. That way, the custard can get a more even filling.
- I also tried this recipe with chestnut spread. I bought a can from Amazon. It’s sweetened and usually used in dessert. It’s definitely sweeter than lotus paste. If you’re using this, use a bit less, like 15 grams for each ramekin.
- Red bean paste can also be used in here. You can make your own or buy store-bought version. It’s also sweetened and use a bit less as well.
- The custard is best to serve within an hour. But if you’re doing lotus version, you can cool them in the fridge without covering for 5 hours most. Reheat in microwave for 40 seconds or so. But if you’re making chestnut or red bean version, they don’t last more than 1 hour.