Ginger Milk Curd – or Lack Thereof

I’ve written plenty about my adventures in the kitchen. Today, I come to you with a (hopefully amusing) story of my frustration and failure to get this one write. I come forward in hopes that someone, anyone can tell me what I’m doing wrong, so that I can finally enjoy this dessert.

The dessert in question? Ginger milk curd.

The ginger milk curd is a Chinese dessert – jelly-like, milky, with a very strong ginger taste. It doesn’t rely on any gelling agents such as gelatine or agar-agar to solidify. Instead, it makes use of a very clever chemical reaction: the enzymes in the ginger juice curdle the warm milk, solidifying it and turning it into a delightful, jelly-like solid that can be easily enjoyed with a spoon.

I fell in love with this dessert ever since my friend introduced me to it. Its utter simplicity, the way the gel broke in my mouth at the slightest pressure, the tang of ginger, accompanied by the mild sweetness… I wasn’t content just eating it. I wanted to recreate it at home.

Except as it turned out, it was far more complex than I’d expected it to be.

Supposedly, the steps are simple. One, take some ginger root – the older, the better – and grate. Two, squeeze ginger juice into a bowl. Three, take milk and sugar, and warm through till hand-hot. Four, pour milk and sugar mixture into ginger juice, wait fifteen minutes, and voila! Ginger milk curd.

My first try was with ingredients cobbled together wherever I could at home – as was my custom. When I completed the recipe, my hopes of having a delicious ginger curd were smashed – or rather, liquefied. It had curdled, yes, but the result wasn’t a gel. It was a suspension of milk solids in vaguely transparent liquid. The taste was acceptable, but it wasn’t the curd. It was just… ginger-flavoured milk.

I tried a second time, after consulting Google. I found a recipe, and followed it to a tee. I repeated the steps, waited a second time, and this time, it set. It even had the jiggle when I wobbled it. But when I placed a spoon on top to see if it had set enough – alas. There was no mistaking the lack of firm curd.

I begged my older relatives – far more successful cooks than I could ever hope to be – for help. I received a myriad of tips: the milk had to be heated to no more than 70°C, I had to use brown sugar, the ginger root had to be at least three weeks old, make sure I sieved out all the residue from the ginger mush, you had to pour it at 10cm above the bowl, swirling the ginger juice before mixing, I had to cover it with a plate for fifteen minutes to prevent heat from escaping…

Even my scientifically-minded brother, weighed in. The enzymes in ginger were killed at 65°C, so we concluded it needed to be at 60°C.

I bought a candy thermometer, used full fat milk, added brown sugar, made doubly sure the measurements were correct and the milk did not overheat, poured it in at the specified height, and then covered it with a plate. I went back to work, crossed my fingers, and said a silent prayer. Please let this work.

It didn’t. It was less liquid, yes, but it was still not entirely set, and the dessert was still fluid enough for me to drink it out of the bowl instead of eating it with a spoon. No firm curd. To add insult to injury, the dessert had cooled, despite the plate on top.

I’m not planning on giving up yet. If anything, I’ve been subjecting my poor family to night after night of failed ginger milk curd, to the point my mother has begged me to take a break off to make something else. My next course of action is to find a different type of milk – preferably with a higher fat content. Failing that, is to take a page out of Heston Blummenthal’s book and add semi-skimmed milk powder to up the protein content for the ginger juice to react with.

But if anyone has any clues on what to do, or what I’m doing wrong – please, do comment and let me know. For now, it’s back to the drawing board, uh, kitchen with me until I resolve this mystery.



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