In spite of the fact that the Chinese were the first of the world’s peoples to have ice technology, and ice-chilled fruits and fruit juices were fashionable throughout Chinese history, ice cream as such never took hold of the Chinese imagination. Even in periods when mare’s milk and cow’s milk were blended with fruits or aromatics and plunged into ice pits to chill as a sort of Chinese frappe, it was considered unhealthy to eat thoroughly iced things. It was left to Chinese in the West to add ice cream to a Chinese menu, where one usually finds it cloyingly creamy, lumpy with ice, and a poor partner to even a hope-filled fortune cookie.
To make the syrup, heat the water and ¼ cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar is dissolved, add the fresh ginger. Stir to disperse, then bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer the syrup uncovered for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
In another pan combine the milk, 2 tablespoons sugar, and the minced preserved ginger. Stir over medium heat until the milk comes to a scalding temperature, just short of a simmer, then remove the pan from the heat. Scrape the fresh ginger syrup into the milk mixture, and stir well to blend. Cover and steep 20 minutes to infuse the milk.
In a small bowl beat the egg yolks and ¼ cup sugar until the mixture is pale yellow, thick, and falls in ribbons from the beater.
Put the heavy cream in a medium-size bowl. Nest the cream bowl in a larger one lined with ice cubes and place a large, fine mesh strainer alongside.
When the steeping time is up, bring the milk mixture to scalding again, stirring. Slowly add ¼ of the scalded milk to the egg mixture, whisking constantly to temper the eggs, then pour the egg mixture back into the remaining milk, continuing to whisk. Cook over moderate heat, whisking slowly but steadily, until the mixture reaches the custard stage, thick enough to coat and cling to the back of a spoon, 180° on an instant-reading thermometer. Do not let the mixture boil lest the eggs scramble.
Immediately pour the custard through the strainer and into the bowl of cream set over ice. Scrape the pot clean, then slowly stir the liquid trapped in the strainer in order to coax it through the mesh. Press firmly and repeatedly on the ginger to extract all the liquid, then finally scrape the bottom of the strainer to claim every last drop for the cream. Discard the ginger solids. Allow the cream mixture to cool completely, stirring occasionally.
Once cool, the mixture may be sealed airtight and refrigerated 1–2 days before freezing.
Just before freezing, adjust the mixture with ½–¾ teaspoon fresh lemon juice, stirring and tasting after every several drops just until the ginger flavor is perceptibly heightened by the lemon.
Freeze in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or freeze in a shallow tray and beat with a food processor. The food-processor product is dense and rich, akin to a frozen cream.
When the freezing process is completed, pack the ice cream into a clean plastic container, poking deep into the mixture, then pressing it with a spoon or spatula to eliminate any air bubbles. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream to prevent the formation of ice crystals, then return the mixture to the freezer for at least 2 hours to firm up and “ripen.”
If frozen solid, allow the ice cream to soften slightly in the refrigerator before serving. For the full flavor and bouquet, it should be eaten slightly soft.
Serve the ice cream unadorned in well-chilled goblets or bowls.
The ginger flavor is keenest the first 24 hours. It is still sprightly after 2 days, but then begins gradually to fade.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.