It was a sticky, hot and humid day as we disembarked from the small boat and clambered on to terra firma. Having just visited the most amazing floating market on the Mekong, we were now in a little Vietnamese village. When I say village it was a few shacks with a local shop. Although we were one of many visitors to this village, the children still came running out, giggling, to meet us. We refilled our bottles of water and took respite from the midday sun. In the shade of the shop a few children were playing keepy-uppy with a large white feather that had been weighted at the quill with a few beer and soft drink bottle tops. It was quite ingenious, and these kids were pretty skilful at keeping this object airborne. Being the Englishman I am and with the footballing aficionado rivalling the best and with a somewhat misguided notion that the practical skills match the knowledge I entered the game with the kids. Initially it started off great, some sharp little skills and some showboating; I was also fervently perspiring. But then I had to do the typical dad thing – at that time I was years off being a father but the instinct was there nonetheless. I attempted to do a head height roundhouse kick to knock the feathered object back into the circle and I as I did so – well nearly anyway – the sound of an almighty rip penetrated the air. I was wearing some light long combat pants that I had bought in Saigon, and as I looked around the kids were on the floor rolling around in hysterics. I looked down and saw a rip along the whole inside seam from one ankle to the other. I retreated sheepishly. It was funny though.
The significance of this story and its relevance to the dish is more about the visit to the sweet factory immediately after this jocular pit stop. When I say factory it was another shack that housed a roaring fire with an enormous wok over it – where they made the sweets, an area for the sweets to set and a packing area. The sweets were then loaded on to a boat for delivery. It is here, however, that I discovered one of my all-time favourite Vietnamese flavour combinations; coconut and pandan. The flavour of these sweets has never left me and so years later I have recreated the flavour in the form of this super little ice-cream.
Serves: A few | Preparation: 1½ hours | Cooking: Resting overnight plus 2 hours
430ml Full-fat milk |
450ml Single cream | Approximately 35% milk fat solids.
270ml Coconut cream |
5 large Egg yolks | Large eggs are roughly 58g each with a yolk yield of about 18g.
250g White sugar |
10 Dried pandan leaves | Pandan can be bought at Asian grocers. Fresh can be used also – maybe half the amount as fresh leaves have more oomph than dried.
To a heavy based pan add the milk, cream, coconut cream and pandan leaves; bend the leaves so that they fit into the pan and become submerged. Gently bring the milk and creams to just below the boil then remove from the heat, cover with a lid and let the pandan leaves infuse for twenty minutes.
Meanwhile add the egg yolks and sugar to a bowl and with a sturdy whisk beat until you have an airy and smooth mix. The consistency should be ribbon-like when you pick some up with the whisk and let it gracefully flow back in to the bowl.
Through a sieve, slowly pour the milk and cream mix into the egg yolks and sugar (therefore removing the pandan leaves), whisking continuously to ensure that the heat of the milk does not curdle the egg. Put the resulting custard mix (it is now officially a custard) in to a clean pan over a low heat. Using a wooden spoon continually mix the custard until it thickens – do not let it boil or else you will scramble your custard. A good test is to run a finger down the back of the wooden spoon and if the mark remains the custard is ready. Remove from the heat.
Put an ice-cream container (one that has air-tight lid) over a bowl of ice, and through a sieve pour in the custard mix. Stir for 5 minutes or so until the custard cools. Put the lid on the container and put the custard in the fridge overnight.
Churn the ice-cream in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you are using a compressor based churner, turn it on about 10 minutes prior to churning the ice-cream so that it is chilled. The reason being is that it is really important to freeze ice-cream as quickly as possible to ensure a smooth result.
Once churned freeze for a further two hours before serving.
- To serve the ice-cream it is good to remove it from the freezer about 15-20 minutes prior to serving. Not will it be at perfect temperature to eat, it will also be easy to quenelle if you are at all feeling ‘cheffy’.