Friday, 31 May 2013

Vietnamese Iced Coffee Panna Cotta

Start writing a food blog and you will find yourself revisiting old food memories. For instance, my daily fix of iced coffee in the Summer traces back to my school days. Coffee was an absolute no-no then, the mysterious substance that was meant only for adults. But, every once in a while, during our summer holidays, as a special treat, we would be allowed to add the teeniest, tiniest amount of coffee powder to our glass of cold milk. We probably wouldn't have been able to taste the caffeine but it did change the colour of milk from white to the palest brown and gave us our rightful place in the adult world!
And the fondness for iced coffee has remained, ever ready to try out different variants. So, if it was the Greek frappe in University, my current fascination lies with the Vietnamese version. Also known as 'Ca phe sua da', it is finely ground roast coffee individually brewed with a small metal filter that drips the brewed coffee into a cup containing sweetened condensed milk and ice. If you haven't tried it till date, it comes highly recommended!!
And talking about Vietnamese iced coffee, reminds me of this recipe by Zoe Francois that I had bookmarked almost a year back. It is a layered panna cotta inspired by the Vietnamese Iced coffee.
You have a panna cotta layer that consists of cream, condensed milk and coffee. And the creamy panna cotta is broken into with a layer of coffee jelly in the middle and on the top. There is nothing complicated about making this dessert but it does get tedious waiting for each layer to set before you can pour the next layer.
But, trust me when I say the effort is worth it. This is an elegant and sophisticated dessert for the adult palate. Needless to say, you have to love your coffee to love this dessert. I feared this would be a cloyingly sweet dessert that would be on the richer side. I couldn't have been more wrong. The panna cotta is as creamy as it should be with the hint of coffee being discernible and not domineering. The after taste is that of coffee and not sugar, just how it should be! 
And don't miss out on the coffee gelee. It is a thin layer but for me, this is the layer that makes the dessert. It not only cuts through the creaminess of the panna cotta but also subtly accentuates the flavour of the coffee, the star of the show!!
Talking about food memories, one look at the coffee jelly had my mother reminiscing about the coffee jelly from her days in the Delhi University canteen of the late 1960s! How's that for a retro food memory?!!
With the monsoons still some days away and the oven out of bounds because of the heat, this dessert is perfect for the season and the mood. Now, how 'bout you share a Summer food memory of yours??

Vietnamese Ice Coffee Panna Cotta

Adapted from Zoe Francois's recipe given here. Serves 4

For the panna cotta layer
  • 2 cups cream 
  • 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon espresso/coffee powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons unflavoured powdered gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons cold water

For the espresso gelee layer 
  • 1/2 cup brewed strong coffee
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon unflavoured powdered gelatin
  • 1/2 tablespoon cold water

  • Freeze 4 straight serving glasses.
  • Place the cream, condensed milk, vanilla extract, sugar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
  • Add the espresso/coffee powder and cocoa powder and whisk until the powder is dissolved.
  • In a small bowl, sprinkle the two teaspoons of gelatin over 2 tablespoons of cold water and let it rest for 5 minutes to allow the gelatin to bloom.
  • Then, add the bloomed gelatin to the cream mixture over gentle heat until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to cool for about 20 minutes.
  • In the meanwhile, start preparing the coffee gelee. For the coffee gelee, dissolve the sugar in the brewed coffee. Taste to check whether you would like it sweeter.
  • Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of gelatin powder over 1/2 tablespoon of cold water and let it rest for 5 minutes.
  • Then add the gelatin to the hot coffee until completely dissolved. Place it in the freezer to cool
  • Once the panna cotta begins to thicken but still has a pouring consistency, slowly pour it into 4 glasses. You decide how thick you want the layer to be.
  • Put the glasses in the freezer for 15 minutes.. or until the layer sets.
  • Then add a thin layer of the coffee gelee and put it in the freezer until set.
  • Repeat the above two steps again. Let it set and serve chilled. This dessert can be made up to two days in advance. 


  1. This is absolutely fantastic coffee dessert. Love pannacotta and iced coffee is to die for.

    1. Thanks Sukanya.. it was pretty awesome. I had my doubts ..but the end result far exceeded my expectations.. Do give it a shot.. you'll enjoy it!!

  2. What a great idea - I've always loved Vietnamese coffee and this seems like a delicious variation.

    1. I know.. all thanks to Zoe who thought of this brilliant variation!!

  3. They look wonderful! Love the layers.

    1. Thanks Charul.. I was quite taken in with the layers too.. especially that coffee gelee layer.. its a coffee lovers dream!!

  4. Of course I love coffee and I like that neat thin layer of coffee jelly between panna cotta. This desert look super cool to me. Bookmarked!

    1. It was brilliant Balvinder.. you must give it a shot!! that thin layer of coffee jelly was the best part!

  5. hi, i'm from Vietnam and i love the way you mentioned about our 'cà phê sữa đá'. i realy enjoy your blog too, your photo are always stunning. i admire you so much!

    1. Oh my.. am absolutely thrilled reading your words.. you made my day!! Am glad that as a Vietnamese, you felt I did justice to the drink.. but isn't it just the best?! :)Thank you again for your kind words.. Come again!!

  6. Hi Sarvani, first time here. Got here from Kankanas blog. This panna cotta looks delicious. Im thinking..we could easily substitute gelatin with agar agar too..i mean for us veggie folks!

    1. Hi Shruti!! Good to see you here!! Oh most definitely .. you can substitute gelatin with agar agar.. the only thing is I don't know ratio of substitution.. but I think you can easily google that!! Come again!! :)

  7. I have never made pana cotta, was planning to make some today! I am going to make something more kid friendly but I am bookmarking this to make for myself soon!

    1. Oh.. this is completely for the grown-up coffee flavour..especially that thin layer of coffee jelly.. if you enjoy your morning cuppa.. you'll love it!!

  8. I've been thinking about making Thai iced tea for a while now. It uses condensed milk too but I'm definitely a coffee person and I like the sound of Vietnamese coffee vs Thai tea! I think I'm going to start with the coffee first. Panna cotta is brand new territory for me so baby steps!
    Your blog and writing is lovely!!

    1. Hi Archana!! Good to see you here! :) You know, I just found out about Thai Tea a few days back..somebody did a post on it.. with these beautiful pics.. and now am really intrigued with how it tastes! But I am a coffee person .. so it will be a while before I get to the Thai iced tea!!

      This is quite an easy recipe.. the layering is a bit tedious..because you have to wait for each layer to taste.. but trust me the effort is worth it!! Please do let me know if you give it a shot...


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