Let’s Cook Something New: Tapioca Duchess Crem Gruber Christmas Dessert

Let’s cook something new for Christmas Eve: “Tapioca Duchess Crem Gruber Christmas Dessert.” It is made using pearl tapioca and is a light and soothing dessert. Unlike bubble tea and bobo which are popular Taiwanese beverages using pearl tapioca, this recipe is over 200 years old and originated in Austria. The pudding has a fascinating connection to “Silent Night,” one of our most beloved Christmas carols. I remember eating tapioca pudding as a child; haven’t eaten it in years, so thought I’d try a new recipe this year. Variation on Gruber Crem Dessert - 2 - IMG_6318_1

The dessert is light and soothing with fruit, pearl tapioca and whipped cream. The pudding isn’t too rich; you are not over-filled. It is a nice ending to a rich evening meal. I found an old, elegant glass dish for serving the pudding.


The tapioca pudding recipe has an interesting connection to the Austria and the Christmas carol, “Silent Night.” My recipe story begins with a friend who was cleaning out her bookshelf.  She placed a cookbook dating from our country’s 200th centennial year of 1976 on the shelf and forgot about it. The cookbook was commissioned by the Smithsonian Institute to collect recipes from people who emigrated to this country in the 1800’s. These immigrants were from Germany and Bavaria who settled in St Sterling, Illinois.

The great-great granddaughter of Franz Gruber was one of the immigrants who submitted a recipe. It was for a tapioca pudding that the family served every Christmas Eve. And who is Franz Gruber? He wrote the Christmas carol, “Silent Night.”

My friend gave the cookbook to me and I decided to try to make “Duchess Crem Gruber Christmas Dessert.” I had to adjust the ingredients, but my dessert is very similar to the original one.

The Story of Silent Night Christmas Eve Carol

The origins of the carol, “Silent Night,” are interesting, too. If you don’t know the story, here it is.

The words to “Silent Night” were written by a young priest, Father Joseph Mohr, who had come to Oberndorf, Austria, in 1817. He wrote the words as a six-stanza poem in 1816. Mohr wanted a song for his Christmas Eve Mass in 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg in Austria. He remembered his poem and came to Franz Guber, a schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf, that afternoon.

Mohr wanted a song for voice and choir with organ accompaniment. The organ, however, was broken–the legend says that mice were the culprits; but that part of the story is undocumented. Mohr was an excellent guitar player and so Gruber wrote the song for guitar accompaniment. Gruber did not have much time but was able to finish the melody and music that afternoon for the Christmas Eve Mass that night. Gruber and Mohr sang baritone and bass parts with the guitar and the choir sang in 4-part harmony repeating the last two lines of each verse.

When the organ builder, Karl Mauracher , came to Oberndorf to repair the organ, Gruber played the Christmas carol on the organ. The organ builder was impressed with the song and took copies back to his own village in the Alps. There, two well-known families of singers, the Rainers and the Strassers, heard the song and added it to their own Christmas season repertoires. The singing families spread the song across Europe and the Rainers brought the song to the U.S.; performing it in German in New York City outside New York City’s Trinity Church in about 1838.  And that is how one of our must beloved Christmas carols, “Silent Night”, had its beginnings.

Pearl Tapioca and Pudding

Tapioca pudding is a dessert that I remember from my childhood. It was a comfort food that was made with instant tapioca, milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla extract. Very soothing. I haven’t eaten tapioca pudding in years and was sort of surprised to see that tapioca still exists. In fact, it is becoming popular again in Asian beverages, “bubble tea.”

Tapioca is a starch extracted from the cassava plant. It is a thickening agent and it is gluten-free. This root is a staple food of peoples in South America, Africa and Asia and provides mainly carbohydrates, little other nutritional value.

While researching tapioca for this recipe, I discovered that there are several kinds of tapioca. Tapioca comes as flour/starch, instant tapioca, and small or large pearls. Large pearls or boba (large, black, sweetened pearls used for making bubble tea), can be purchased at specialty stores or Asian groceries.

This recipe uses pearl tapioca. The small pearls thicken the dessert and also give an interesting “crunch.” Pearl tapioca needs to be soaked before using. Small pearls can be soaked for half an hour. Large pearl tapioca should be soaked overnight. Of course, I purchased large pearls — not knowing the difference. The large pearls swell — half a cup of the dry pearls increased to 1-1/2 cups. So you don’t need many pearls for the recipe.


Here are the ingredients for the recipe. Pearl tapioca and fruit — I used crushed pineapple  and colorful fruit cocktail — orange juice, lemon juice, sugar and cool whip. Typical tapioca puddings include milk and eggs, but this one omits these ingredients. The recipe uses whipped cream — (no cool whip available in Austria 200 years ago) — but I substituted cool whip. I find it much simpler to add in cool whip than trying to whip and fold in cream. Plus, cool whip is lactose-free and lower in fat. So, the recipe is gluten-free and lactose-free. The original Gruber recipe includes nuts — this is optional.

Soak the pearl tapioca overnight. Drain but do not rinse. Add the pearl tapioca, sugar, strained juices from the fruit as well as orange and lemon juice to a large pot. Cook over very low heat (or a double boiler) for about 30 minutes until thickened and translucent. Some chewy tapioca peals will remain.

Remove from stove and add in the fruit. Transfer to a non-metallic bowl and chill in refrigerator. After several hours, fold and stir in most of the container of cool whip. Save a little for garnish.

Here’s the dessert with cool whip added.

Transfer to an attractive serving bowl. Pipe on additional whip topping as a decoration and add maraschino cherries.

My husband loved this dessert as he also ate tapioca pudding as a child. He ate a huge serving before I had time to snap a few photos — I had to ask him to stop!

No matter what holiday you are celebrating — this is a very sentimental and soothing dessert.

Duchess Crem Gruber Christmas Dessert

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


    • 1/4 cup large pearl tapioca
    • 1 cup water
    • 8 oz can crushed pineapple
    • 15 oz can fruit cocktail (I used Del Monte Very Cherry Fruit Cocktail)
    • 1-1/2 cup orange juice, approximately
    • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 8 oz container of Cool Whip topping, defrosted, divided
    • 6 maraschino cherries, drained

Method and Steps:

  1. Add large pearl tapioca to water. Set in refrigerator to soak overnight.
  2. Remove tapioca from refrigerator and drain off water. Do not rinse.
  3. Drain and measure crushed pineapple and fruit cocktail juice into measuring cup. Set the fruit aside.
  4. Add orange juice to measuring cup to measure 2 cups.
  5. Add fruit juices, lemon juice, sugar and drained tapioca pearls to large pot. Heat over low heat (or in double boiler), stirring frequently, for half an hour until the pudding begins to thicken and becomes translucent.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in the reserved crushed pineapple and fruit cocktail.
  7. Set in refrigerator several hours to chill.
  8. Remove from refrigerator and carefully fold and mix in about 3/4 of the container of defrosted cool whip topping. Return to refrigerator.
  9. When ready to serve, transfer to decorative serving dish. Pipe the remaining cool whip on top of the pudding and add well-drained maraschino cherries around the edges for garnish.




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