Recipe Sleuth: Ba Bay’s Vietnamese Coffee Milkshake

Photograph courtesy of Ba Bay.

Pastry chef Sara Siegel faced a challenge when she signed up to head the dessert program at Ba Bay, a modern Vietnamese restaurant on Capitol Hill. While her resume includes stints in rigorous kitchens such as Vidalia in downtown DC and Mario Batali’s Babbo in New York, concocting Vietnamese-style sweets for American palates was a new test.

Siegel melds Western techniques with Vietnamese flavors (think lemongrass pôt de crème), and draws on the Asian country’s history as a former French colony. Her rich coffee shake is a good example. The French introduced dark-roast coffee to the Vietnamese, who then sweetened the astringent brew with condensed milk and poured it over ice to counteract the tropical climate. Siegel’s translation is a shake that features coffee pudding—made slightly bitter with chicory—mixed with condensed-milk ice cream.

While the restaurant version involves multiple steps—expert home cooks should give the whole recipe a try—there are several short cuts to make this novice-friendly. The shake is garnished with a fresh churro (a South American cylindrical doughnut) at Ba Bay, but Siegel suggests frying frozen pastry dough and tossing it in cinnamon and sugar. You can also buy pre-made churros at Dolcezza. Siegel makes her ice cream in house, but you can use store-bought French-vanilla, and add a tablespoon of condensed milk to each shake. The chef also warns that the pudding can appear lumpy after sitting in the fridge, but it’s still good: Just take it for a spin in the blender and think tropical thoughts.

Have a recipe you'd like sniffed out? E-mail

Ba Bayʼs Vietnamese Coffee Milkshake

Makes 8 shakes

Make the coffee pudding:
¾ cup cornstarch
3 cups brewed chicory coffee, Café du Monde brand (available at Harris Teeter and Giant)
3 cups whole milk
¼ cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt

Combine cornstarch and coffee in a medium bowl. In a medium-size pot set over medium-high heat, stir together milk, sugar, and salt until dissolved and the milk is simmering. Add cornstarch mixture, and whisk until it reaches a pudding-like consistency, one to two minutes. Remove from heat and set in the fridge to cool, where it will thicken more.  

Make the cinnamon cream:

¼ quart heavy cream
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Whip with a whisk or hand mixer until it forms stiff peaks. The cream will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Make the churro (optional):

1 cup water
2½ tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup flour
Canola oil, for frying
A mixture of 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon for the coating

In a large pot set over high heat, bring water, sugar, salt, and vegetable oil to a boil. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until a ball of dough forms, about two to three minutes. Remove the ball, and take off bits of dough that can be rolled into  4-by-1-inch cylinders. In a large pot, bring canola oil to 375 degrees, and fry the churros until golden, about 4 minutes. Let them rest briefly on paper towels, then toss with cinnamon and sugar.

Make the condensed-milk ice cream (optional):

½ quart heavy cream
½ can of condensed milk
1 cup granulated sugar
6 egg yolks
½ quart half-and-half
In a medium sauce pan set over medium-low heat, combine heavy cream, condensed milk, and ½ cup of sugar. Once it’s combined, take it off the heat to cool. In a large bowl, whip the egg yolks with remaining ½ cup of sugar. Pour a small amount of the cooled milk mixture into the eggs, stir to incorporate, and then slowly pour in the remaining milk mixture while stirring constantly. Add the half-and-half. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to catch any lumps, and cool it completely before putting it into an ice-cream machine. Freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Assemble the shakes:

For each shake: combine ½ cup of ice cream, ¼ cup of coffee pudding, and a splash of whole milk in a blender. Blend until incorporated. Spoon the milkshake into a rocks or Collins glass, and top with a tablespoon of cinnamon cream, and serve with a fried churro.

See all Recipe Sleuths here

Subscribe to Washingtonian
Follow Washingtonian on Twitter

Follow the Best Bites Bloggers on Twitter at

More>> Best Bites Blog | Food & Dining | Restaurant Finder


Don’t Miss Another New Restaurant—Get Our Food Newsletter

The latest in Washington’s food and drink scene.

Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.
Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.