Right now, I don't think I have the words to properly convey what it was like to launch Seven Spoons the book. My book. Please bear with me, as I try.

Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream, Caramel and Candied Cacao Nibs | From the book, Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady

The launch happened in stages. Last night, some of my nearest and dearest gathered at Ben McNally Books in Toronto. (If you've never been, please go. It is an utterly charming space, straight out of Harry Potter in the best way, all wood and warm lighting. And Ben is even better.) I had to make a speech. I did so with my sons and nephews nearby — they stole the show. And, even though I had the distinct sensation of my windpipe vibrating while I spoke, looking out onto that room of people, shaking or not, I felt exceptionally lucky.

We had cheese from St. Lawrence Market with pickled strawberries, charcuterie, and chocolate chip cookies. There were a few rolls of Instax film (evidence, here), and bubbles and oysters around the corner to end the night with Nikole, Michael, and Julia. There again, that lucky feeling. 

Today was a blur; interviews and tastings, and a lot of excitement. A highlight was when some readers took time out of their day to come and say hello. It is because of all of your that I have this opportunity in the first place. So, to share this day with you feels right.

Very quickly, there's something else to share — a recipe from the book, and the one I may crave the most. It's my Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream, swirled with espresso caramel and topped with candied cacao nibs. It is no secret that I love ice cream. I announced the book with one, so launching it with another lines up nicely. I'm also quite a fan of coffee. Thus, putting them together was inevitable, and condensed milk in the mixture sealed the deal. I describe it in detail below.

For now I'll sign off, with gratitude. Here's to you, with ice cream. 

 

By the by, a few people and places have written about Seven Spoons. If you'd like to read their thoughts, here they are:

  • I spent a day cooking with Chris Nutall-Smith, talking about the book, butter tarts, and inspiration, while sipping on some Palomas. It was a good time. (The Globe and Mail)
  • Deb declared the Mushrooms and Greens on Toast a "one-pan miracle" and I don't think I could hope for higher praise. (Smitten Kitchen)
  • Heidi makes the case for green smoothies, with my Default Smoothie with kale, pineapple, and nut butter to make her point. (101 Cookbooks)
  • Sara, a person I consider an expert on Huevos Rancheros, gave her stamp of approval to my Huevos a la Plaza de Mercado, and I couldn't be more chuffed. (Sprouted Kitchen)
  • I was so happy to once again appear on Design*Sponge's "In the Kitchen With ..." series, this time with my Esquites and Yellow Tomato Gazpacho. Sincere thanks to Grace and Kristina. (Design*Sponge)
  • Food52 asked me to write about the inspiration behind the book, and I was honoured to oblige. (Food52)
  • Epicurious calls my Chicken with a Punchy relish a knockout, in a pun I appreciate. (Epicurious)
  • Ashley made the Roast Chicken with a Punchy Relish, and used lentils as the base. Brilliant. (Not Without Salt)
  • Shauna and Danny prepared a gluten-free feast from the book, including their adaptation of the Bee-stung Fried Chicken, and naan. (Gluten-free Girl and the Chef)
  • Olga made the Lentil Kofta Curry, and some thoughtful words about community. (Sassy Radish)
  • Julie's Bee-Stung Fried Chicken (+ her fritters!) look brilliant. (Dinner with Julie)
  • ... and Julie invited me to her other site to talk music and dinner parties.As an aside, have you seen the documentary It Might Get LoudI found it fascinating. (Rolling Spoon)
  • Vy posted a detailed and thoughtful look at a whole collection of recipes. (Beyond Sweet and Savoury)
  • Shelley also discussed the book as a whole, and then featured the Fattoush with Fava Beans and Labneh. (Cookbooks 365)
  • My publishers invited some new-to-me bloggers to the launch last night, and I am so glad they did! Nikki and Christine were firecrackers. So fun. (Nikki the Knack and Padfoot's Library)

 

VIETNAMESE COFFEE ICE CREAM 

Indians make something they call espresso, which I've talked about before, but it’s unlike any espresso you’d see in Italy; it’s actually closer to a Greek frappé, a bold brew of instant coffee whipped with an enthusiastic amount of sugar, and then combined with hot water and milk. The slurry magically blends, then splits, with a layer of thick foam above a rich, creamy elixir below.

I’ve been a longtime fan of that coffee, so when I was first introduced the Vietnamese version, a drink with very much the same uncompromising intensity, the same weighty, toasted, caramel flavor, this time tempered with sweetened condensed milk, I was lost. When I decided to freeze it, well then things got even better.

This is my full-stop favorite ice cream, both to make, and to eat. It is brazenly prepared without a traditional custard base, which isn’t missed in the least, and skipping that step makes it quick work to pull together. A voluptuous mix of evaporated milks and cream gets infused with ground coffee, then chilled, churned and swirled with caramel. Easy peasy, that's that, and you’re left with an ice cream worthy of any and all accolades. Have a spoon at the ready.

Makes about 1 quart

 

Ingredients

  • 1 (14-ounce/400g) tin evaporated milk
  • 1 (14-ounce/400g) tin sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup heavy (35%) cream
  • 2 ounce (57 g) coffee beans, ground, see note
  • Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean, or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • A good pinch of salt

To Serve or Swirl

  • Espresso caramel and/or Candied Cocao Nibs, recipes follow

Method

Combine all the ice cream ingredients in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, whisking often, until the mixture begins to steam. Remove from the heat and leave to steep for 20 minutes.

Using a fine-meshed sieve, or a standard sieve lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, strain the mixture into a bowl. Cover and chill for 3 hours, but preferably overnight. Freeze the base according to your ice cream maker’s manufacturer’s directions.

Spoon 1/3 of the ice cream into a storage container. Smooth the top, and pour over a few tablespoons of caramel in long stripes. With the tip of a knife, lightly swirl the caramel into the ice cream. Layer in half of the remaining ice cream, and repeat the layers two more times, ending with a drizzle of caramel. There will be caramel left over. Set this aside. Cover the ice cream and freeze for at least 6 hours.

Serve as is, or in a sugar cone, or scattered with candied cacao nibs. Then, dive in.

Note: The coffee beans should be medium ground. Café Du Monde French Roast Chicory is the traditional choice for the hot preparation that inspired this cold one. For a milder, rounded flavor, use 2 tablespoons of instant espresso powder or 3 tablespoons instant coffee powder instead of ground beans.

Chocolate fudge can take the place of the caramel.

Masala Chai variation: Replace the coffee with 2 tablespoons black tea such as Darjeeling, a short cinnamon stick, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom and 3 peppercorns. Omit the espresso in the caramel, or omit the swirl entirely.

 

ESPRESSO CARAMEL

Makes about 2/3 cup

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (106 g) dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml)  heavy cream
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon finely-ground espresso beans or espresso powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high, heat the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt, stirring until the butter is melted. Pour in heavy cream and espresso beans. Bring to a boil, whisking until smooth and the sugar is dissolved. Lower the heat and simmer, undisturbed, for 1 minute longer. Remove from the stove and stir in the vanilla. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally. If making ahead of time, cover and refrigerate until needed, then rewarm gently before using.

Note: Any leftover caramel can be used on pound cake, or plain ice cream, or stirred into a milkshake or warm milk. Those sips can be made all the more warming with a share of whisky.

 

CANDIED CACAO NIBS

Makes approximately 1/2 cup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (43 g) cacao nibs
  • 1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter

Method

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

In a wide, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, warm the sugar for a minute, without stirring. Scatter the cacao nibs over the sugar, and leave the pan undisturbed until the sugar begins to melt in spots. With a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, quickly stir the cacao nibs into the liquid sugar, incorporating any unmelted sugar as you go. Once most of the sugar has coated the nibs, remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the butter. Immediately scrape the cacao nibs onto the prepared baking sheet, pressing them into an even layer with the back of the spoon or spatula. Allow to cool.

Break the cacao nibs into tiny clusters by hand. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.

Before we get into things, I should explain that button way up there on the left. I'm honoured to say that this site has been nominated in two (!) categories in Saveur's 2011 Best Food Blog Awards, namely Best Food Photography and Best Original Baking and Desserts Recipe (for this Frozen Raspberry Eton Mess). If you'd like to vote, you can head to Saveur.com because the polls close soon -  if you live outside the US and Canada, pretend we're neighbours and pick either country. Your ballot will be counted without trouble.

In other news we just passed the six year anniversary of me writing here. Once again, I can't thank you enough for reading.

Edited, May 13 - the voting's now closed for the Saveur awards, so I've removed the button to save any confusion. I'm grateful for all the support.

*******

My Mum used to make a drink she called cappuccino, and I remember one of my cousins was particularly fond of it. I took it for granted that the funny preparation of coffee was a peculiarity of our kitchen alone because it was unlike any other cappuccino I'd ever seen. I didn't think much of it. In fact, I don't think I've thought anything of it, let alone made it, for at least a decade.

I pity all those wasted years.

Never fear, I'm making up for lost time. Mum's concoction has been my recent addiction and the undisputed star of this morning's late-morning breakfast.

A few weeks back, Prerna mentioned "Indian espresso coffee" elsewhere and it piqued my interest. When I was a child and we were in India, and when home here, my parents made their coffee in stovetop percolator or Moka pot. They later moved to a French press and there may be a small electric maker tucked away somewhere, but I can't be sure of that. We were, as you might imagine, more of a tea-drinking household; the times that a pot of coffee made an appearance were few and far between. 

That said, those rare occasions weren't the only times there was coffee in our kitchen.

My earliest recollection of Mum's "cappuccino" places me at about 10 years old, furiously mixing a blend of sugar and instant coffee powder in the bottom of a cup. In went hot water and milk, and the combination would magically blend then divide, with a layer of thick foam above a rich, milky coffee below. 

In the memory I'm too young to drink the final preparation, but I remember being fascinated by the process. The phenomenon is not unlike the settling of a pint of Guinness, actually - subtract the alcohol and add a (major) hit of caffeine, and you've got a picture of what it looks like.

What Prerna was referring to was exactly that same drink; in a moment, Mum's brew that had been ours alone was all of a sudden shared in millions of Indian memories, and what I took for granted was in fact an (inter)national treasure. 

I feel a tad flushed-in-the-cheeks to be extolling a beverage made with such an enthusiastic amount of sugar and instant coffee, a substance usually banished to the shadows of the baking cupboard. I'll get over it, no worry there, as while this may not be an everyday kind of drink I'll encourage its once-in-awhile presence at the table. If you're a fan of Vietnamese coffee, then you're already halfway convinced. This coffee has the same uncompromising intensity, the same weighty, toasted, caramel flavours that makes Vietnamese so provocatively good. 

on the bench

To dispel my childhood ignorance, I asked my father about Indian espresso one night after dinner. With a small smile and taking up the spoon I was using to whip up a batch, he told me it was a drink he and his friends used to make to impress girls. Girls before he'd met my mother, even. Scandalous.

According to Dad, an offer to "beat the coffee" was up there with volunteering to do the dishes after a meal. I like that idea, and am tossing my name in for the job, even though my father hasn't lost his touch and still makes it far better than I ever will.

You might consider to do the same, as the effort expended is far outmatched by the accolades that follow. The "beating" is a method as straightforward as you could hope for - while some milk and water heat in a pot, take a cup and stir together instant coffee granules with some sugar, barely dampened with water.

Now's when everything gets interesting; you start to stir and stir with all your might and as quickly as you can muster. As air is incorporated into the mix, it goes first frothy, than fluffy - if ever you've made hollandaise or zabaglione, the coffee behaves much like the egg yolks there. It doubles in size, transforming into an ethereal mass of bubbles - rewardingly smooth, the coffee looks a pale caramel, the same colour as the crema that floats the top of a shot of properly-pulled espresso.

That's the bulk of the work done and dusted, and it only takes a minute or two. After that it's pour and stir to finish the business. 

Mum's away at present. Her return was already anticipated but is now even moreso since we'll be catching up over a cup of her not-so-secret recipe. I've got the date marked on the calendar, and I won't forget the coffee.

frothy indian coffee

FROTHY INDIAN COFFEE

My family's way, with thanks to Prerna for the reminder and Soma for such a lovely story (and super-helpful step-by-step photos for anyone who needs them). An espresso-style instant coffee is best here. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup water, plus around 1/2 teaspoon more
  • 4 teaspoons sugar, or to taste, I like Turbinado
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

METHOD

In a small saucepan over medium heat bring the milk and water to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a cup or measuring jug, stir together the sugar with the instant coffee powder. Add a few drops of water and stir again. The mixture should look moist and sandy but not soaked.

With a spoon, start beating the mixture vigorously; use the back of the spoon to press the granules against the side of the vessel to help break them down. As you stir, the mixture should lighten from dark brown to clay in colour and begin to thicken. Add a few more drops of water only if needed. 

Once the mixture is past clay and truly pale, smooth and quite viscous (it should behave like softly-whipped cream and ribbon back upon itself when dripped from a spoon), pour in some of the hot milk and stir to dissolve, making sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the vessel so that no sediment is left behind. Divide the mixture between two small cups, and then divide the remaining hot milk between the two, giving each a quick stir if necessary.

Enjoy hot, or cold over ice. Serves 2. 

Notes:

  • A word of caution, beating the coffee mixture can etch the sides of ceramic cups. Keep this in mind, or do as I do and use a Pyrex measuring cup to measure the liquids, then use that again to beat the coffee. 
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