Have you ever noticed that every Thai restaurant has iced coffee on the menu? Order it next time if you’ve never done so. You’ll find a cold, slightly sweet and milky brew with a hint of…what is that spice? Psst–it’s cardamom. Similarly, the Vietnamese have their own version of iced coffee, made with sticky sweetened condensed milk. To make these coffee drinks at home, WikiHow has variations on Thai coffee for you to try, and Coffee Geek has an absurdly detailed (but altogether in character) tutorial on Vietnamese iced coffee.
If that’s enough to send you trundling off to the kitchen to get your caffeine fix for the day, don’t bother clicking through. But if the thought of combining Thai iced coffee and an autumn staple, rice pudding, sounds intriguing, read on…
Confession time: I make rice pudding often, but not very well. The ratio of grain to liquid is hard to nail down, and inevitably I put it in the fridge only to later find a gummy blob more suited to a fork and knife than a spoon. It’s tasty, but the texture is…lacking. And then there’s my propensity to burn it to the bottom of the pot. That doesn’t help matters.
In researching for this post, I was surprised (and perhaps a little comforted) to find that there’s no real consensus on how much milk and how much rice is necessary for this simple pudding. Unlike cooked grains (2 parts water : 1 part grain) or porridge (3 parts water : 1 part grain), the recipes I unearthed, all from reputable sources, called for anywhere from two cups of milk per cup of rice to six. Perhaps my confusion and spotty results are warranted, then.
Even the type of milk is contested: some recipes swear by whole milk alone, some call for whole milk plus cream, some ask you to pour in a can of evaporated milk. In the face of so many valid options, I went with my gut and used coconut milk. Take that, conflicting recipes.
After boldly deciding I didn’t care what sort of milk anyone recommended, I also decided to use jasmine rice despite a notable dearth of recipes calling for it. Jasmine rice + coconut milk = Thai food, right? Right. Nowhere in this equation is there room for squabbling over short grain versus long grain (long grain breaks apart! short grain is too starchy!) or claims of superior puddimgs made from arborio or sushi rice. My sweet spot is making choices that just feel right that technically speaking are anything but.
And then there’s coffee: I made three pots of stovetop espresso trying to get the flavor right. I wanted the pudding to have a pronounced coffee flavor, and a good one at that. Powdered coffee was out of the question, as were two home-roasted varieties we had in the cupboard that I wasn’t wild about. Finally, I broke down and picked up a bag of decaf from our friendly local roaster, Perc Coffee. Should’ve done that from the start. It was just right.
And the rest, as they say, is history. There are some details worth noting, like what kind of coconut milk you can or should use, and the fact that coffee rice pudding technically requires no sugar at all if that’s how you take your coffee. Hate coffee? Use water. Cardamom sounds weird? You’re not alone in that sentiment. Scrape in the seeds from a vanilla bean instead.
Don’t skip making the coconut whipped cream, though. (I constructed the recipe in such a way that it’s basically unavoidable, ha!) The technique is from Oh, Ladycakes and it’s not to be missed. I’m a little thrilled every time it works, even if getting there means discerning between the three identical but completely different brands of coconut milk at our local Asian grocer to find the one that will separate in the fridge. (Chaokoh, it turns out.)
Hassles with coconut milk and coffee aside, the resulting Thai iced coffee rice pudding was a perfect crossover dessert for our Indian summer weather. It’s October and iced coffee is in the rear-view mirror, but with a little mad science in your kitchen, you too can make the perfect dessert for those oddly sultry autumn days.
- 1 can full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight until separated
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 Tablespoon sugar -or- 1/2 teaspoon stevia, or to taste
- 3.5 ounces (1/2 cup) jasmine rice
- 2 ounces (1/4 cup) sugar -or- powdered stevia, to taste (a few teaspoons)
- 1 can lite or regular coconut milk
- 1 cup strong coffee
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 5 cardamom pods
- 1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 Tablespoons water
- Scoop coconut cream (the semi-hardened part that resembles shortening) off the top of the refrigerated can of full-fat coconut milk--roughly 1/3 of the contents of the can. Reserve remaining coconut water. Put cream in the bowl of a stand mixer with vanilla and sugar or stevia, and whip on high speed for 2-3 minutes, or until light. Scrape into a bowl and refrigerate for later.
- Put remaining ingredients and reserved coconut water into a medium saucepan. Whisk to combine and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, for 30 minutes.
- Pour in cornstarch slurry and cook pudding another minute until it thickens. Remove from heat, pick out cardamom pods, pour into serving bowl(s), and refrigerate 4-6 hours until chilled. Serve with coconut cream.