Vietnamese Ice Coffee Reinvented as Panna Cotta

Ice Coffee Panna Cotta Recipe

This panna cotta is inspired by Vietnamese ice coffee, my favorite summer time drink. Take strong coffee, mix it with sweet condensed milk and pour over ice. I’ve taken those simple flavors and created an elegant, no-bake dessert. I like my panna cotta with as little gelatin as possible, just enough to keep it together. This version requires even less, because I leave it right in the glass.

Vietnamese Ice Coffee Panna Cotta

Makes 6 to 8

Prep time: 45 minutes

Refrigerator time: 2 hours

Skill: Easy, but several steps
4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
3/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
2 tablespoons espresso powder (or 1/2 cup beans, slightly crushed)
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
4 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin

For the espresso gelée layer:
1/2 cup brewed strong espresso
1 tablespoon sugar (more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin

To make the panna cotta:

Freeze 6 to 8 straight-sided glasses, no bigger than 8 ounces.

In a saucepan, over medium heat, bring the cream, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla bean, sugar and pinch of salt just to a simmer. Turn off the heat and allow the vanilla bean to steep for at least 10 minutes.

Pour half the cream/vanilla mixture into another sauce pot.

To one of the pots of cream add the espresso powder (or beans) and cocoa powder. Heat to a simmer and whisk until the powder has dissolved. (If you are using the beans, turn off the heat and allow to steep for about 20 minutes.)

If you are using the beans, strain the coffee beans and then return the coffee cream mixture to the sauce pot.

In two separate bowls, add 2 teaspoons of the gelatin, plus 2 tablespoons cold water. Allow to sit and bloom for 5 minutes. Be sure that all the gelatin powder is submerged in the water. If there is any dry gelatin left in the bowl, sprinkle some water over it.

Once the gelatin has bloomed for 5 minutes put the bowl over a double boiler and melt the gelatin.

Whisk the gelatin gently into the vanilla cream, then pour the panna cotta into a measuring cup or pitcher, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to cool. Check the panna cotta after about 20 minutes, to make sure it is thickening, but still pourable. If it is setting up too quickly, bring it to room temperature.

Melt the second bowl of gelatin and then gently whisk it into the coffee cream mixture. Pour the coffee panna cotta into a measuring cup or pitcher, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to cool. Check the panna cotta after about 20 minutes, to make sure it is thickening, but still pourable. If it is setting up too quickly, bring it to room temperature.

Once the vanilla panna cotta is starting to thicken slightly, slowly pour some into the prepared glasses. You determine how thick or thin you want the layers. Stick the glasses back into the freezer for about 5 minutes, or just until the vanilla layer is set.

As soon as the vanilla cream is set, slowly pour the coffee layer over it. Freeze the glasses until this layer is set, about 5 minutes.

Continue until you have used up all the vanilla and coffee panna cotta. Let them set for about an hour.

You can serve them just like this, or you can add a thin layer of the espresso gelee to the mix. I like the extra shot of coffee to contrast to the sweet of the panna cotta layers.

To make the espresso gelee:

In a small sauce pan mix together the espresso and sugar. In a small bowl bloom the gelatin, just as you did for the panna cotta, then melt it and add it to the hot espresso. Refrigerate the gelee until just cool, but still pourable.

Pour a thin layer over the panna cotta and allow it to set.

Serve it chilled. This can be made up to two days in advance.

As you can see, I made some that were just two layers of the panna cotta with a small layer of the gelée in between. You can play with the layers and come up with your own design.

Zoë François, author of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day  and Artisan Pizza and Flatbreads in Five Minutes a Day , studied at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. She now calls Minneapolis her home, where she has worked with some of the top talent in the culinary world — Steven Brown, Andrew Zimmern and many chefs at the D’Amico company. In addition to writing, Zoë teaches baking classes and consults at restaurants. You can find her writing and recipe creations on Devour, on her baking blog, and on the site,

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