姜汁撞奶 Ginger Milk Pudding
We love to have desserts whenever we are in Hong Kong. The Cantonese folks are very much dessert lovers like us, and they are extremely well-known for their assortment of 糖水 “tong shueis” which are both delicious and therapeutic at the same time. The desserts are available all year around, with a menu that changes with the seasons. Summer welcomes the ice blends and chilled items, most notably being 楊枝甘露 Mango Pomelo Sago which is immensely popular especially with the young to combat the heat. For those who are looking for more traditional desserts, there is 南北杏木瓜炖雪耳 Double-boiled White Jelly Fungus with Papaya which is not only sweet, but boast to have a hoard of beneficial properties like soothing the throat and clearing phlegm. As the weather turns cold, the hot desserts become immensely popular, be it the “paste-based” desserts like 芝麻糊 sesame paste, 花生糊 peanut paste, 核桃糊 walnut paste, 杏仁糊 almond paste or even a simple bowl of 番薯姜汤 ginger soup and sweet potatoes with 汤圆 glutinous rice dumplings to warm the tummy.
As such, dessert parlours and tong shuei stalls are found literally everywhere in Hong Kong. Strange it may sound however, one of the places to enjoy these sweet numbers is not at dessert joints like 許留山 Hui Lau San and 大良八記 Dai Leung Pak Kee, but at 牛奶公司 “dairy companies”. And to further bewilder the already perplexed, these “dairy companies” do not produce milk but are actually tea shops or cafes affectionately known to the locals as 茶餐厅 “cha tzan teng“. Now are you confused already?
澳洲牛奶公司 Australian Dairy Company and 義順牛奶公司 Yee Shun Dairy Company are two household names in Hong Kong. They are also popular amongst tourists visiting. The former was named by its previous owner who had worked in a farm in Australia in the 1940s prior to returning to Hong Kong after WWII. It has only one shop in Jordan, Hong Kong but remains extremely crowded all day long. Yee Shun has since expanded to have several branches around the former British colony. These shops are well known for serving colloquial Hong Kong styled all-day breakfast sets. Scrambled eggs on butter and toast, macaroni soup with ham and hot dogs, not to mention 鸳鸯 “yuen yeung“, which is essentially a blend of milk tea and coffee. Desserts wise, their selection is far fewer compared to proper tong shuei shops, specialising only in milk-related desserts. Well, they are “dairy companies” after all. 雙皮奶 Double-skin Steamed Milk and 冰花燉蛋 Stewed Egg Custard , whose origins can be traced back to 顺德 Shun Tak in the Guangdong province, China, are what they are most famous for. Yet another dessert which is popular in these dairy companies is 姜汁撞奶 Ginger Milk Pudding, a ginger-infused sweet custardy milk pudding from 番禹 Panyu that requires hardly any cooking but nonetheless much dexterity in its making.
In the making of 姜汁撞奶 Ginger Milk Pudding, the make or break lies essentially in the milk. It has to be full fat, full cream milk packed with milk proteins for proteases, which are enzymes found in ginger to work on. Skim milk and low fat are no go. In fact, the latter two can hardly be called milk at all. And always full-cream, full fat with the highest level of milk proteins available. That will teach you to read the labels the next time you pick up a carton of milk. Pasteurised milk is ok but homogenised milk generally yields less desirable results. The latter is basically reconstituted milk with the milk proteins already tempered with. They would have difficulty curdling and coagulating even after the ginger proteases are introduced. UHT or fresh… well, a bit “iffy” here. Some folks have yielded some results but otherwise, most have failed. For me, I’d used organic milk from a gourmet food shop. The results were quite encouraging.
Next is the ginger. Old ginger and only old ginger must be used. Old ginger is characterised by the hairy fibrous strands you’ll see when you snap a piece off the rhizome. Generally, the older the ginger, the more fibrous it becomes and the “hairier” it would look. That said, no two pieces of ginger are the same. A bit of experimentation is needed here. Essentially what is required from the ginger are the enzymes to coagulate the milk proteins to form curds, The more milk proteins there is in the milk and the more enzymes from the ginger, the more curds you get and the firmer your ginger milk pudding your be. The amount of ginger juice to be added varies with the recipes I’d read. Some call for 4 tbsp of ginger juice for every 250 ml of fresh milk used, while others used only half that amount of ginger juice and yet managed to get their milk to form nice curds. Some were quite generous with the ginger to ensure success in the curdling but end up with a pudding that is far too gingery and spicy for pleasant consumption. I’d modified the method slightly by extracting more juice required. With my wasabi grater, I extract twice or even thrice as much more juice than what is required for the recipe, i.e. if the recipe calls for 2 teaspoons, I would extract 4-6 teaspoons’ worth. The ginger juice is not used immediately, but instead left to stand for the “starchy sedimentation” to settle. This is where experimentation and experience kicks in. Observe the amount of powdery sedimentation at the bottom of your bowl. If it seems too little for comfort, extract some more juice. The clearer liquids near the surface are decanted off leaving behind the thicker layer at the base, which is what I’d use. Wasting ginger you’d think? Well, milk is more expensive than ginger to start with, thus wasting the former I would rather not. The decanted ginger juice can be used in cooking as well as making teh halia. So nothing is wasted. In summary, the basic ratio is 250 ml of milk (1 bowl) to 2 tsp of sugar and 2 tsp of ginger juice.
Next is the temperature control. The optimum temperature seems to hover around 75 – 85 degrees Celsius. This is achieved by heating the milk to 90 degrees Celsius, i.e. almost at the brink of boiling before letting the temperature drop slightly upon removal from the stove. So having a candy or cooking thermometer helps a lot to keep things in check. Otherwise, carefully observe the milk when it is being heated. Stop heating when small bubbles begin to form along the sides of the pot and the milk (NOT THE POT!) should be hand-hot. I know the latter sounds hardly any scientific, so if you want success with minimal trial and error, do yourself a big favour and go get a cooking thermometer. Speaking of being scientific, please hop over to read about temperature control for making ginger milk pudding in my dear friend, Wendy’s write up. I know cooking isn’t much of an exact science, but I’m afraid temperature control in making ginger milk pudding is.
As the chinese name has aptly put, the heated milk is “撞”, literally to mean “crash” unto the ginger juice in a bowl. Even this gesture needs to be carefully articulated. The enzyme-proteins reaction kicks in instantaneously once the ginger juice meets the warm milk, so do it fast and do it quickly. It is NOT like making teh halia where the milk is being ceremoniously manoeuvred in a somewhat slow-motion fashion from one stainless steel mug into the other. That would cause your pudding to fail as the initial curds formed would be broken up by the continual turbulence conjured from the pouring and would be too fine for a proper pudding to set. And do not be greedy and do too many bowls at one go. By the time you are “crashing” the second bowl, the temperature would have dropped slightly. So do not be tempted to do too many bowls all at once. I would not go more than 4 although I would keep it safe and stick to just two at a time. Making ginger milk pudding seems to have more “taboos” than any other dish I’d prepared but trust me, all these details and precautions are necessary.
The “spoon test” seems to be the unofficial yet unanimously agreed upon means to check if the ginger milk pudding is made successfully. If the curd has set well and is firm enough to take the weight of the spoon, it is good enough to be enjoyed as a pudding. Truth be told, I was quite surprised by the results when I put my first two bowls to the test with two plastic spoons. It worked! The curds formed were slightly on the soft side though, not quite what I had in mind from what I had eaten in Hong Kong. So I modified the method a little and tried again and the results got better. The curds were substantially firmer, closer to what I’d eaten at Australian Milk Company but still not perfect. Good enough for me though. Cheeky me went to take out a stainless steel spoon and put the pudding to the test. I was naturally elated by the results. So here’s what worked for me. Hopefully it would work for you as well… just hopefully.
姜汁撞奶 Ginger Milk Pudding Recipe (serves 2)
500 ml of fresh milk
4 tsp of sugar (I’d used ”台糖二砂“ unrefined fine grain sugar from Taiwan)
4 tsp of juice extracted from old ginger (see “method” below)
To extract ginger juice, first peel ginger and grate finely (I’d used a wasabi grater).
Squeeze as much juice from the finely grated ginger as possible to obtain approximately 10 teaspoons’ worth.
Leave the ginger juice to stand for 5-10 min. Carefully decant off the clearer layer on top and obtain 4 tsp of “concentrated” ginger juice which is equally distributed amongst two bowls, i.e. 2 tsp each. (experimentation required here)
Place fresh milk with sugar into a pot and heat until 90 degrees Celsius or when small bubbles begin to form on the sides of the pot.
Put sugar into a measuring jar and pour in hot milk over it.
Using a thermometer check the temperature and once it drops to between 80-85 deg C, pour quickly into the hot milk from a height between 10-15 cm from the bowl for the milk to crash unto the ginger juice in the bowl. Take care not to spill or scald yourself in the process. Leave the bowls of hot ginger milk to stand undisturbed for 10-15 min.
They can now be enjoyed warm. If preferred, carefully place the bowls in the fridge to chill for a hour and serve cold.
If you are looking for a dummy-proof recipe for making ginger milk pudding that would give you instant success, I’m afraid you have looked up the wrong blog. In fact, ginger milk pudding would not be something you want to make at all. I don’t think there is any blog, recipe, “secret method“ whatsoever that could guarantee immediate results. Frustrating it may sound, making ginger milk pudding is all a game of experimentation and experience. Take it positively and all would be good fun as the suspense and anticipation that hangs by a thread while you wait for that crucial 10-15 min for the curds to set… if they do set that is. Don’t let your heart drop with the spoon in the white curdling abyss even if it fails. Just rethink your procedure, modify it sensibly and start again. At most you’ll end up just a bowl or two of ginger milk that’s all, tasty nonetheless. And that I can assure you!
I am submitting this to Little Thumb’s Up “Ginger” event hosted by Alvin @ Chef and Sommelier.