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.

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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.

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