Port & Melon Tapioca Pudding with Poached Figs

I had ideas for this dessert, but the end result is nothing like them. I started out aiming for a melon mousse, but it just wasn’t happening. Then, I started drooling over a honeydew sago soup, but it was too late for me to go in that direction. So I thought this was a very tasty nod to both ideas with a sexy looking twist. So what is it? A crenshaw melon (a cousin of the cantaloupe), pureed with a bit of Port and mint, transformed into a creamy, tapioca pudding, and topped off with a Port & spice poached fig.

First off, if you’ve never tried a crenshaw melon (this was my first time trying it), you could very easily substitute a cantaloupe and probably be none the wiser. I wanted to do something light and refreshing with this velvetty melon, and while my immediate response to just about any fruit is “I’ll make it into an ice cream/sorbet!,” I thought maybe, just maybe, some variety would be in order.

I diced up the melon and was nibbling on it, walking through my pantry sampling various things that I thought might pair with it nicely, and I was really impressed with how both Port and mint seemed to strengthen the otherwise subtle flavor of this melon without competing with it. However, the next issue is one of body–once I had the melon, Port, and mint together in a liquid state, things were, well, really liquidy.

After a lot of experimentation (e.g. here’s a lesson I don’t understand: gelatin won’t set in the presence of these ingredients. Go figure that one out!), I decided to turn this into something of a pudding by thickening it with a creamy tapioca mix, and thankfully, it worked quite well. The melon flavors were still strong, the flavor light and refreshing, and texturally, this had some very pleasing body with those tender tapioca pearls.

But it was almost too light and refreshing. This needed something more to contrast it. This is where the figs came in. I chose to make a syrup out of Port (since Port was a part of the melon pudding, I thought it would bridge the two flavors nicely) and poach the figs in it. The syrup was infused with various spices (vanilla, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, lemon peel). All together, this added some visual drama and a nibble of the stronger, dark, fruity, spicy, earthy flavors gave this pudding just what it needed to be a complete dessert. After all the putzing around in the kitchen, I was delighted with the results.

  • 3 cups pureed and strained chenshaw melon/cantaloupe juice (~1/2 a melon)
  • 4 Tbsp port
  • small handful of mint leaves
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup tapioca pearls (I used instant–I know! I know!)
  • Poached Figs & Port Syrup
    • Brown turkey figs (~1 per serving, figure 8 or so)
    • enough Port to roughly cover the figs
    • 2 Tbsp sugar
    • peel of ~1/4 lemon
    • 1 cinnamon stick
    • 1 clove
    • 6 peppercorns
    • 1 vanilla bean (I prefer Tahitian for this)

Begin by infusing the Port with mint. Crush the leaves a bit, warm up the Port, and then turn off the heat, letting the mixture sit for 30 minutes or so.

And now, the melon. Picking out a good crenshaw is very much like picking out a good canteloupe or honeydew. It should have a slight, sweet, musky smell and should slightly give to the touch on the flower end of the melon up near the base with a bright yellow rind.

So cut the melon in half, spoon out the seeds and fibers, cut off the peel and a little bit deeper (its a little harder and not so flavorful, kind of like the white part of a watermelon).

Now, chop up the melon and puree half of it in the food processor along with the Port and mint mixture from earlier (save the other half of the melon for eating, garnish, whatever). I wasn’t thrilled with the tiny chunks of melon and mint leaves throughout, so I passed this through a fine mesh strainer to pretty things up a bit. In the end, you should get about 3 cups or so of juice.

At this point, mix lime juice, honey, and sugar in with the juice. Set this aside for now.

The mixture you’ve made so far tastes great, but its pretty much juice. So now, its time to thicken it up. Since I only used instant tapioca, this was pretty quick. If you have “real” tapioca, in all likelihood, you’ll need to do things like soak it over night before you cook it, so do what’s appropriate for what you’re using.

Anyways, using the quicky stuff, let it sit in a saucepan (no heat) with the milk and cream for 5 minutes or so. Once time is up, this mixture will be surprisingly thick…probably too thick to really stir, so remedy this by pouring in some of the melon juice mixture from earlier to thin things out. Warm up the pan, until you get this mix to a boil and stir constantly.

Once you’ve hit a boil, simply pour the tapioca mixture into the melon juice mixture, stir well, and transfer this to the fridge for a few hours so it can firm up a bit.

So now while you wait for the pudding to firm up, its time to poach the figs. Choose the smallest pan you can that will hold your figs. Put the figs in, and pour in enough Port to get about 75% or so up the height of the figs. Take the figs out and set them aside for now.

Slit and scrape the vanilla, cut off a peel of lemon, and add those along with all of the spices to the Port. Simmer this on medium heat for about 20-30 minutes to infuse it with the spices and reduce it a bit. Then, add in the figs, cover the pot, and continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes, after which, you should remove the pot from the heat and let the figs cool down in the syrup.

So now, its time to eat! Simply fill a glass/bowl with a food scoop of pudding, top with a poached fig, and ladle on a bit of that delicious poaching syrup. Enjoy!

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24 Responses to “Port & Melon Tapioca Pudding with Poached Figs”

  1. joanne at frutto della passione Says:

    This really makes me curious, mostly because tapioca never entered my Italo-Canandian household growing up and now that I’m in Italy I don’t even know what it’s called here. I do love the idea of port/mint/figs/melon together and I am super curious about how this dessert tastes. Darn, now I’ll never get any work done today!

  2. clumbsycookie Says:

    Great flavours Mike! My mom adores tapioca! I, not so much, I have a issue with it’s consistency. Anyway I’m trilled you used Port. These could be easily a restaurant dessert. About the gelatin, it doesn’t like acidic ingrediends and doesn’t set when there’s too much acid arround. But well done on getting arround that!

  3. Meeta Says:

    this really does sound like a sexy twist to a dessert. i really like the flavor combos here!

  4. Joan Nova Says:

    What an elegant dessert! Thanks for such thorough instructions.

  5. kate Says:

    Mike i like the sound of this ! very very new ! i am intrigues though as to how it’ll taste :)

  6. kittie Says:

    Interesting stuff! I love putting savoury flavours together – but don’t have much experience in the sweet dept. I like what you’ve done here!

  7. Peter Says:

    Poaching is a great way to liven up dried figs…may I have 2 glasses?

  8. Nate Says:

    Oh my gosh what a beautiful creation! I am impressed.

    thanks for the link!

  9. Ivy Says:

    Although I’ve never used tapioca before, first time I’ve heard of it, I’ve made water melon mousse, whilst trying to experiment with gelatine and the mousse turned out great. This sounds great and there are still melons and figs to try this.

  10. Terry B Says:

    Looks wonderful, Mike. And thanks for reminding me of tapioca! It’s a wonderful, under appreciated dessert—real comfort food.

  11. Alexa Says:

    Nicely done. This makes a very interesting, elegant light dessert… I am intrigued.

  12. pam Says:

    That first picture needs to be on the cover of a magazine!

  13. noble pig Says:

    Are you trying to get on the Food Network or something? Seriously, it’s amazing…in every way.

  14. grace Says:

    guess what. i’ve never had tapioca pudding. for some reason, i have it in my mind that it’s thick and gunky and gross. now, my opinion is changing. one thing i have had before is a crenshaw melon, and they are delightful. keep up the good work, sir. :)

  15. mikky Says:

    amazing pictures!!! … hmmm…. this recipe of yours must be good with mangoes too… :)

  16. Susan from Food Blogga Says:

    I have to admit that I’ve never like the texture of tapioca pudding. But when it’s topped with poached figs, I will have to reconsider. :) I’m going to be posting on poached figs soon and I’ll link to this!

  17. Ivy Says:

    Mike, I know that you don’t write about Awards and Memes but that doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve the Brillante Blog Award.

  18. Jan Says:

    I’ve never seen a crenshaw melon before – I’d have to use canteloupe. Must have a go at this – it looks delish! Love your photos too!

  19. Bren@Flanboyanteats.com Says:

    hi my long lost friend. how are you? I just had the worst port ever last night. that’s what i get for being cheap and not going for what i know! i love the combo of melon port and figs. how sweet!

  20. Banu (BaL) Says:

    Hello Mike :)

    I found your blog on Susan’s FoodBlogga :)

    Congrats that you won the Kona Kampachi fish. And happy that you won ‘coz I met a new/good blog by this way.

    Cheers from Istanbul!

  21. Sandie Says:

    It’s interesting that you resorted to tapioca to thicken this up a bit, as I had to turn to tapioca recently when making a southern-style fresh peach pie. It does the job nicely. Great job with this one, Mike. Way to pull a rabbit out of your culinary (genius) hat!

  22. Larissa Says:

    This looks lovely. I have a fig tree that’s been producing insane amounts of fruit, so this recipe will have to get tried soon!

  23. Jude Says:

    So many great textures with this recipe. Great stuff.

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