Doris Hô-Kane, who runs Ban Bè, a Vietnamese-American bakery in Brooklyn, is particularly fond of chè khúc bach, or “white chunk dessert soup.” (“It doesn’t sound as beautiful in [English] as it does in Vietnamese,” says Hô-Kane about this iconic sweet. Drizzled with sweet coconut cream, this Vietnamese dessert of flavored panna cotta, tropical fruits, and shaved ice is a riot of color and texture. Like chia seeds, basil seeds swell when soaked in water, giving them a mild crunch and a slippery, jelly-like consistency. Be sure to have 3 regular or disposable loaf pans on hand for the panna cotta. Hô-Kane, whose approach is an amalgamation of her Vietnamese heritage and her American upbringing, likes to add beet juice, butterfly pea flower, and coffee to the panna cotta to add both color and contrast to the chè. One tradition she does stick to is cutting the panna cotta with a wavy knife ($5, mrslinskitchen.com), which gives the squares a set of ridges, which are as fun to look at as they are to eat. For the finely crushed ice, use a countertop ice shaver, such as the Little Snowie Max.

By Doris Ho-Kane
June 2021

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Credit: Photo by Greg DuPree / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners / Prop Styling by Heather Chadduck Hillegas

Recipe Summary test

active:
50 mins
total:
8 hrs 30 mins
Servings:
8
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Ingredients

Ingredient Checklist

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Stir together 51/2 cups cold water and agar-agar in a saucepan. Let stand 20 minutes to bloom and soften. Meanwhile, whisk together 1 tablespoon hot water and butterfly pea flower powder in a small bowl until dissolved; set aside. 

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  • Cook agar-agar mixture over medium, stirring constantly, until agar-agar dissolves and mixture comes to a low boil, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in sugar and extracts; cook, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Stir in coconut milk; cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and well incorporated, about 1 minute. 

  • Working quickly, divide the agar-agar mixture evenly among 3 medium bowls (about 2 1/3 cups each). Carefully pour butterfly pea flower powder mixture into 1 bowl of agar-agar mixture, discarding any bits of undissolved powder. Add instant coffee to second bowl of agar-agar mixture; add beet juice to remaining bowl of agar-agar mixture. Stir well until each color is uniform. Pour each color into a separate 8 1/2- x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan; use a spoon to skim off any bubbles from surface. Let stand, uncovered and undisturbed, until cooled to room temperature, about 2 hours. Cover and chill until firm, 5 to 12 hours. 

  • Run a knife along edges of 1 panna cotta in loaf pan. Flip pan over, and gently tap bottom to release. If desired, trim edges of panna cotta using a wavy blade knife. Cut into 1-inch cubes for a total of 32 cubes. Repeat with remaining panna cotta. Set aside. 

  • Stir together coconut cream, condensed coconut milk, and salt in a small saucepan; bring to a low boil over medium, stirring often to prevent bottom from burning. Remove from heat; let cool completely. 

  • Stir together 3/4 cup warm water and basil seeds in a small bowl. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until seeds have absorbed water, at least 20 minutes or up to 1 hour. 

  • To assemble, fill each of 8 serving bowls with 3/4 cup shaved ice, 2 to 3 longans, and 3 to 4 lychees. Spoon 3 tablespoons combined syrups from canned fruits over each bowl. Top each bowl with about 1 1/2 tablespoons basil seeds, 3 or 4 cubes of each panna cotta color, and 1 tablespoon toasted sliced almonds. Drizzle each bowl with 1 tablespoon coconut cream topping. Add additional canned fruit syrup and coconut cream topping to taste. Serve immediately.  

Tips

Find butterfly pea powder, agar-agar, basil seeds, and canned lychees and longans at Asian grocery stores or online at foodsofnations.com. See p. 12 for our favorite shaved-ice machine. 

Make Ahead

Panna cottas can be made up to 1 week in advance. Coconut cream topping can be made up to 4 days in advance; let come to room temperature and whisk until smooth before using.

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