Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream is my homage to the increasingly popular Vietnamese style coffee, also known as Cà phê dá. Coarse ground coffee dripped into creamy sweetened condensed milk and drunk hot or iced is gaining traction in a Starbucks saturated world and just in time!
Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular, didn’t exactly win the Asian food lottery, at least not compared to other large American cities. With a few notable exceptions, its best offerings consisted of hangover egg rolls from the Takee Outee carts in the French Quarter. Others have Peking Duck, we have Duck Dynasty, and trust me, that dynasty ain’t Ming. However, after the Vietnam War thousands of immigrants came here after finding the climate and the warm Gulf breezes to be a good match to what they had left behind. They found a home and New Orleanians were lucky to find a new (legal) addiction.
This recipe starts with dark roast coffee (and that can be coffee with chicory) and adds some south Asian heat and spice for interest. The spice is cardamom which comes in three flavors and three forms (I use it in my Key Lime Cardamom Sugar Cookie). The flavors are green, white and black and they are available in the pods, as seeds or in powdered form. Getting the seeds out of the pods requires patience and long thumbnails and I only did it once. Seeds only – referred to as “decorticated” can be bought in bottles from spice distributors like Savory Spice or in the bulk section of some grocery stores. This is what I usually use but you can substitute ground cardamom if it’s fresh.
Start by grinding the coffee, cardamom and pepper together. If you don’t have a coffee grinder use a mortar & pestal to grind the cardamom and pepper then add it to the ground coffee. Put the milk, sugar and pinch of salt in a sauce pan and warm it up over a low flame just enough to melt the sugar. Take it off the heat, add the coffee and spices and let steep for at least half an hour. You’ll then pour it through a fine mesh strainer into another bowl and don’t worry if the finer grounds make it through. They’ll give the finished product a nice speckled robin’s egg look and people will not doubt that it’s really coffee ice cream.
While the java’s steeping you can start making the vanilla cream. Beat the egg yolks well and set aside while you heat the heavy cream in a double boiler over a medium flame. When the cream starts to steam add a ladle to the yolks and beat in till combined. This is called ‘tempering’ and it’s done gradually to keep the yolks from curdling. Once the cream and yolks are completely combined transfer back to the double boiler and cook until a thermometer registers 180 degrees or until the mixture coats a spoon. If you can see a bubble or two and you can make a line with your finger on the back of the spoon, it’s ready. Should look like this:
Now you’re ready to strain once again with the strainer you did not forget to rinse out after you strained the original brew a couple of paragraphs ago. Strain the custard into the coffee & milk mixture, stir well and then add the vanilla when it’s cooled a bit. Cover and put in the fridge for at least two hours, then freeze according to ice cream freezer directions.
I usually just scoop it out but for this presentation I packed the soft ice cream into custard cups before putting them in the freezer. Once hardened they can be carefully immersed in hot water then inverted onto a plate and dusted with a little more coffee. If you’re doing this for a special meal make sure you stick the dessert plates in the freezer for a few minutes or your inverted masterpiece will melt faster than the Wicked Witch of the West. (I’ll spare you the original photos of the little ice cream blobs floating in a sea of sludge. Too humiliating.) But even melted it will still taste good so get started – you won’t be disappointed.
- ½ cup coarsely ground dark roast coffee
- 1 tsp. white peppercorns
- 1½ tsps. cardamom seeds
- 1 cup whole milk
- ¾ cup sugar
- pinch of salt
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Coarsely grind the coffee beans with the peppercorns and cardamom.
- Heat the milk, sugar, and salt over a low flame till the sugar is dissolved. Then stir in the coffee, pepper and cardamom and let the mixture stand for 30 minutes. Strain into a large bowl.
- In a double boiler heat the cream till warm.
- In a separate bowl beat the yolks. Add some of the warm cream mixture gradually into the yolks then pour this back into the pan with the rest of the cream. Cook over a low heat till it thickens, taking care never to let it boil. When it registers 180 degrees or coats a spoon it’s done.
- Now strain the cooked custard into the coffee/milk mixture and add the vanilla. When it’s cooled somewhat, cover and put into the fridge till very cold.
- Once it is thoroughly chilled (at least a couple of hours), pour into ice cream freezer and freeze according to instructions.