Choose the right path — so says the sermon, convocation and nature guide. But if a trailhead offers only one route, and you’ve hiked it every autumn forever, you’re good to go.
Underfoot, your path is springy with pine needles. Overhead, it’s shady and cool. Ahead it promises water crashing a narrow canyon and a boulder, wide and flat as a piazza, perfect for a picnic.
You walk. You talk. You find your rock, scrabble up and are met not with waterfall, but with flat field, and, in the distance, abandoned truck.
You retrace your steps to the right path. You stride up the rock and gaze out on field and truck. You’ve found the same wrong rock, twice.
Stumped, you stretch out and stare up. One cloud, a dragon, unfurls its claws. It dissolves into a ship gliding the soft white waves. You spend the afternoon adrift in the whipped-cream panorama. Surely you’re on the right path.
VIETNAMESE COFFEE PUDDING
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up
3 / 4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1 / 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 / 8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 / 4 cup whole espresso beans
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 / 2 cup whole milk
1 / 2 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split, scraped
1 / 2 cup prepared espresso (about 4 shots)
1. Prep: Drop butter and vanilla into a large bowl. Top with a fine-mesh strainer. Set aside.
2. Whisk: In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, cornstarch and salt.
3. Crack: Slide espresso beans into a zip-close bag. Roll over the bag with a rolling pin, cracking, but not pulverizing, the beans.
4. Scald: In a large saucepan, bring condensed milk, milk, cream, vanilla bean (and its seeds), espresso beans and espresso just to a boil.
5. Temper: Slowly pour about 1 / 2 cup of the hot mixture over eggs, whisking constantly. Pour egg mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thick, about 1 minute.
6. Strain: Pour custard through the sieve onto the butter and vanilla. Discard contents of sieve.
7. Blend: Swirl smooth with an immersion blender, standard blender or whisk. Let cool. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the pudding. Chill until cold (or up to 3 days).
8. Serve: Scoop pudding into 4 demitasses (small coffee cups). Top with whipped cream. Enjoy.
Whipped cream: Whip to soft peaks 1 cup heavy cream, 1 / 2 teaspoon vanilla and 1 tablespoon sugar.
Provenance: Adapted from a recipe by pastry chefs Zoe Nathan and Laurel Almerinda of Cassia in LA.
Prep: 15 minutes, Cook: 10 minutes, Makes: 4 servings