If you love both coffee and Vietnamese food, then you probably spend a lot of time drinking café sua dá, the fantastically addictive Vietnamese drink of iced coffee and sweetened condensed milk. (If you don’t have the inexpensive little metal strainer used to make this at home, maybe go buy one or two right now.)
Vietnamese coffee is glorious stuff, either hot or cold, and so it’s hardly a surprise that it finds its way into other things — notably, a remarkable dessert pudding at Cassia, Bryant Ng’s Viet-French restaurant in Santa Monica. There, pastry chefs Zoe Nathan and Laurel Almerinda make a coffee pudding that’s a riff on café sua dá, serving it in pretty cornflower blue coffee cups, topped with a strata of whipped cream, and paired with little coconut shortbread cookies that leave your saucer strewn with sugar.
It’s cool and creamy and not quite as sweet as Vietnamese coffee, which is kind of a good thing, and it’s an incredible end to a meal at the restaurant. If you’re making this at home, you probably won’t have anything like Ng’s pot-au-feu as a precursor (sorry about that). But whatever you decide to make will be a pretty good prelude to this pudding anyway. Or just eat dessert first.
In a large, heavy-bottom pot, heat the condensed milk, milk, cream, vanilla beans, espresso grounds and espresso until the liquid scalds. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt and cornstarch.
Slowly ladle 2 to 3 cups of the scalded milk mixture in with the eggs while whisking to temper. Pour the egg mixture back into the pot and heat over medium heat. Cook, stirring continuously, until the mixture thickens to a custard. Immediately remove from heat.
Strain the mixture, using a chinois, into a bowl containing the cubed butter and vanilla extract. Once the mixture is strained, use an immersion blender to blend the custard until it is very smooth. Cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate the custard until chilled, preferably overnight. This makes a generous 2 quarts custard, which will keep up to 3 days, refrigerated.
To serve, dollop the custard into cups and serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream and top with a sprinkling of finely ground espresso.
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