When working in the kitchen, it is not unwise to have a certain number of expectations in mind. You know what you want to accomplish, you have at least a vague prediction of how your accomplishment should turn out, and you hope that, should your kitchen excursion produce something slightly outside the realm of what you anticipated, you’ll be able to fix whatever went awry. What is sometimes most difficult to overcome, however, is not a dish that can’t be fixed, but rather a dish that should not be fixed, no matter how much you want to.
This point was well illustrated two weekends ago in my own kitchen, when I set out to make a batch of ginger ice cream. Using as my guide the best ice cream manual in all the land, David Lebovitz’s The Prefect Scoop, a cookbook that has yet to produce a disappointing result (I truly believe that the deliciousness of his lemon speculoos ice cream is quite capable of sending a person to the moon and back in a state of unmatched rapture), I got to work slicing and steeping the fresh ginger, then preparing a rich and velvety custard.
It was then, right before I poured the gingered custard into the ice cream maker, that I began to let my instincts go a bit haywire. Not one to shy away from brisk and bracing flavors and sensations in food, I expected—and wanted—this ice cream to provide a spicy flare of gingery heat in each bite. When I stole a quick taste of the pre-frozen custard, however, what I found was a subtle ginger profile enveloped by the rich taste of cream. Seeking a more pronounced flavor, I whisked in a bit of ginger extract and poured the amended mixture into the ice cream machine.
Twenty minutes later, the ice cream churning into a thick and luscious concoction, I snuck another taste. Still not gingery enough. I grated some fresh ginger and added it to the whirring machine. Two minutes later, I tasted it again. I added more ginger. I tasted it again. I added more ginger. By this point, realizing that I was nearly out of ginger, I opened up a cupboard and prepared to let loose once more with the bottle of ginger extract.
As I was unscrewing the cap to the bottle of extract, I watched the ice cream folding and turning over itself, its lovely yellow hue exaggerating the ribbon-like waves that followed the dasher with each rotation. That ice cream sure is a lovely color, I thought to myself. Then I paused, placing the bottle of ginger extract on the counter. I stopped the machine, removed the lid, and plunged a spoon into the fresh ice cream. The taste was magical. It was fantastically smooth, unbelievably rich, and the ginger came across as a bright flash that cut through the soft cloud of creaminess.
Somehow, forgetting that I was making a custard-based ice cream, I had become focused on making the ice cream bracing, spicy, and aggressive, when what I was working against, and shouldn’t have been, was an ice cream that was velvety, subtle, and refreshing. This was an ice cream that was not meant to stampede one’s taste buds with ginger, but rather provide a gentle kick. I may be aware of what I like, but I am also very aware of when I am wrong, and my misguided attempts at creating the Most Gingery Ice Cream in the World most definitely fell into that category. Thankfully, it was an easy problem to fix. All I had to do was set down my arsenal of ginger and pick up a spoon.
Though I now see the error of my ways when it came to making this ice cream, I do still believe that the ice cream benefits greatly from the addition of some grated fresh ginger, as it adds an undeniable freshness to the creaminess. If you desire, you can also add in a bit of ginger extract, though I want to stress that it is entirely optional, and not at all a necessity.
Fresh Ginger Ice Cream
Very slightly adapted from The Perfect Scoop
3 ounces unpeeled fresh ginger
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon ginger extract (optional)
1 heaping tablespoon grated fresh ginger
Cut the ginger in half lengthwise (making it more stable for slicing), and then cut it into thin slices. Place the ginger in a medium, nonreactive saucepan. Add enough water to cover the ginger by about 1/2 inch, and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then drain, discarding the liquid.
Return the blanched ginger slices to the saucepan, then add the milk, 1 cup of the cream, sugar, and salt. Warm the mixture, cover, and remove from the heat. Let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.
Rewarm the mixture. Remove the ginger slices with a slotted spoon and discard. Pour the remaining 1 cup heavy cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Stir until cool over an ice bath. If using, whisk in ginger extract.
Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the grated fresh ginger.