Vietnamese coffee (cà phê sữa) ice cream
Everyday Eats & Sweets, Recipes

Vietnamese Coffee (Cà Phê Sữa) Ice Cream

In keeping with the ice-cream-for-breakfast theme, I introduce to you my daily habit: Vietnamese coffee (also known as cà phê sữa, or sweet liquid crack in my world).

Vietnamese coffee is different from all other coffee in that it’s a single-cup slow drip of dark roast, sweetened with a swirl of condensed milk.

Single-cup slow drip of dark French roast coffee

Coffee was first introduced to Vietnam by French colonists in the late 19th century but with limited availability of fresh milk, they creamified their dark roast with condensed milk instead. The result is a thick, rich coffee, slowly dripped into a small cup and tamed with a buttery sweetness, meant to be savored on a stoop amid the hubbub of urban Vietnamese life.

But it’s not only condensed milk that gives cà phê sữa all that decadent dulce de leche-like goodness. Many Vietnamese-grown coffee beans (such as those from the country’s largest domestic coffee producer, Trung Nguyên) are actually roasted in clarified butter! And my stepdad, who corrupted me with my first cup of cà phê sữa when I was a wee one, still enjoys his daily cuppa with a dollop of French butter stirred in!

Throw in a hot summer day on top of all that — and it’s all the fixins for a cold and creamy coffee treat.

Traditional Vietnamese coffee is made with Trung Nguyên, a dark roast that you can find in most Asian markets. The new school of Vietnamese coffee drinkers use a dark roast with chicory, such as Cafe du Monde (the same coffee of New Orleans fame). The key to Vietnamese coffee ice cream is an extra strong brew, more than you would normally make for your morning coffee. Any robust, dark roast works, so use your favorite.

Dark roast coffee with chicory

Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream

Makes 1 quart

Ingredients

2 cups heavy cream, divided (if you desire a less rich ice cream, you can substitute half-and-half)
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup ground dark roast coffee
Pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks

Method

Vietnamese coffee ice cream ingredients

The night before, put your ice cream freezer bowl in the freezer.

The day of, stir together 1 cup of the heavy cream and the whole can of sweetened condensed milk in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. (Side note: Make sure the sweetened condensed milk you use contains only sugar and milk as its ingredients.)

Heat heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk

Add the ground coffee and salt and continue to stir until well blended.

Add ground coffee and salt

Heat the ingredients to a simmer. Do not let the mixture boil. Once the edges start to bubble, reduce your heat to the lowest setting and let the coffee steep for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and fit a fine mesh sieve (or a layer of cheesecloth) over the bowl.

Whisk eggs together

Turn off your heat and stir in the remaining cup of heavy cream.

Turn off heat and add remaining cup of cold heavy cream

Vietnamese coffee ice cream base

Temper your yolks by straining a little bit of the cream mixture at a time and stirring it into the yolks. This may take a while as the mixture should be very thick. It’s fine (and beautiful!) if flecks of coffee strain into your custard base.

Strain cream mixture into egg yolks

Strain a little bit of the cream mixture at a time to temper the yolks

Make sure to strain every last bit of the mixture by pressing on it with a spoon. What you’re left with (just the coffee grounds) should look like mud.

Strain every last bit of coffee by pressing on the grounds with a spoon

The resulting custard should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, or overnight.

The custard should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon

(If for some reason your mixture is still thin and runny, return the custard to your saucepan and heat it over low heat. Stir continuously until the custard thickens up, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the custard stand at room temperature until it cools. Transfer to a bowl, then cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, or overnight.)

Once your custard is cold (and only once it’s cold cold cold, not just cool), churn it in your ice cream maker following the manufacturer’s instructions. My Cuisinart churned out a batch of buttery ice cream in 20 minutes.

Freshly churned Vietnamese coffee ice cream

Though it’s hard to resist, I scooped everything into a freeze-proof container and froze it for another couple hours for a firmer consistency. Homemade ice cream tends to get much firmer than store-bought ice cream when frozen, but with this past week’s heat wave, mine started to melt right away to the perfect consistency. Yum!

Vietnamese coffee (cà phê sữa) ice cream

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