Feb 03

In a recent post I talked a little bit about my culinary trip to Vietnam and how much I learned from our guide Mai Pham.  Two years ago, on route to the Worlds of Flavor Conference: Southeast Asia, I made a special detour to Sacramento to eat at Mai’s restaurant. As aromas of fish sauce, lemongrass and ginger wafted up from the platefuls of food that arrived at our table I was transported back to Vietnam. I had a similar feeling from the trip of wanting to savor every last aromatic bite, despite being uncomfortably stuffed.  I finally surrendered to the fact that there would be food left to take home as I surveyed the remaining bits of shaking beef, tiger prawns and clay pot catfish. When Mai circled the table suggesting we order dessert, I politely declined, even though it is rare for me to pass up something sweet at the end of the meal. Truth be told, I am not crazy about Asian style desserts, and since I was already quite full from our meal it seemed superfluous to order anything else.

“You must try our ginger ice cream,” she said.

Some desserts might tempt me to splurge in spite of an earlier conviction, but ginger ice cream is not one of them. It took several more minutes of persuasion for her to convince me that I could not leave the restaurant without trying this “specialty” of the Chef.

Unassuming in appearance, the small dish arrived with a large, solitary scoop of caramel colored ice cream surrounded by a pool of thick, orange-flecked syrup. But on the first bite its cover was blown.  The warm spice of ginger was tamed by a mellow sweetness of caramel, maple and cream. The sauce, spiked with Grand Marnier, added a fragrant citrus note that gave each spoonful a lusciously exotic taste.  Before I knew it, all that remained was a small, tan puddle of cream that I worked quickly to lap up from the plate.

The taste of that ice cream stayed vivid in mind over the last few years, and yet it was not until a few weeks ago that I decided to attempt making it at home.  The recipe is mysteriously absent from Mai’s cookbook, and while I found a version online that claims to be it, I could tell from the list of ingredients that it was not. The flavor I remember has maple undertones, and so when I reworked the recipe I used maple syrup as one of the sweeteners. I also incorporated sweetened condensed milk in with the standard milk and cream base, not only because it is commonly used in Vietnamese desserts but also since it adds a softer texture to the finished ice cream.  Fresh, grated ginger forms the backbone of taste but small slivers of candied ginger add bits of chewiness and pops of sweet spice throughout.  The heat of ginger adds warmth of flavor, which is a delicious contrast to the creamy coldness.

Ginger Ice Cream


1 C maple syrup

2 Tbsp freshly grated ginger

2 C heavy cream

1 C whole milk

½ C sweetened condensed milk

1 whole egg

3 egg yolks

pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

¼ C  chopped candied ginger


In a small saucepan,  heat the maple syrup to a boil and reduce the liquid by half. In another saucepan, heat the cream and whole milk together with the fresh ginger over medium heat.  When the mixture reaches a simmer, turn off the heat and allow the ginger to infuse for 15 minutes.  Strain the ginger off, then reheat the milk and cream with the maple syrup.  Combine the egg and yolks in a small bowl with a whisk and when the milk comes to a simmer, slowly whisk a little but of the hot liquid into the eggs. Off the heat, add the egg mixture into the milk.  Cook this mixture over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until it just begins to thicken. Off the heat whisk in the sweetened condensed milk and salt.  Strain the mixture through a chinois then stir in the candied ginger.  Chill the mixture completely before freezing in an ice cream machine, according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Grand Marnier Sauce


1 C sugar

¼ tsp lemon juice

½ C orange juice

4 Tbsp Grand Marnier


Combine the sugar, lemon juice and 2 Tbsp of water over high heat and allow it to cook until it reaches an amber color throughout. Off the heat add the orange juice then continue to cook it over low heat, whisking to combine. Once the sauce comes to a boil, take it off the heat again and add the Grand Marnier.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

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