August 2, 2012
A few thoughts on extraordinary ice cream at Ginger Elizabeth

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Just the other day, I tasted one of the greatest ice creams I've ever had. The flavor? Lemon custard with Graham crackers and blueberry jam, $9 for a pint at Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates (1801 L St. #61, Sacramento).

In the past, I've praised many things about this small midtown business -- the macarons, the hand-crafted chocolates, and the incredible ice cream sandwiches. And I've told you about the proprietor, Ginger Elizabeth Hahn, who has been named one of the top 10 chocolatiers in the country by "Dessert Professional Magazine."

There's more. Ginger Elizabeth ice creams are extraordinary -- and this particular flavor exceeded my lofty expectations. I contacted Hahn to chat about this ice cream and get her thoughts on creating flavor.

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Turns out, the quality comes from doing things the right way. Hahn picked the blueberries by hand in Camino. They use local honey for the housemade Graham crackers. The cinnamon is premium quality.

But how did the lemon custard ice cream taste so perfectly lemony?

"The flavor in lemons comes from the juice," Hahn said. "But the real backing of that flavor comes from the oil in the skin. So we infuse the lemon zest into the cream just as we would for a tea."

After the infusion, the cream is strained, and what's left is squeezed and pressed with a paddle to get even more lemon flavor.

"It's a whole other step. It's very time-consuming," she said of the infusion. "It's $9 for a pint, but there's a difference than what you get at the grocery store."

Indeed, there is a significant difference - the taste, the texture, the clean finish - it's all a cut above.

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The lemon flavor I was lucky enough to buy was only available temporarily, but Hahn says she and others felt it was so good they will make it a regular flavor next year.

"Cinnamon (in the Graham cracker) and blueberries is a classic combination. Then you have the lemon and the blueberries, which are also a classic," Hahn said. "You have all these cross-flavors that are classic combination, and they all kind of worked together really well."

The textures were another component that worked -- the creaminess of the base, the crunch of the cookie, the syrupy smooth quality of the jam.

Even though this particular ice cream is no longer available, Ginger Elizabeth's regular choices are also superb, including a Rocky Road with housemade marshmallow. Give them a try and let me know what you think. $9 for a pint of ice cream is expensive, but if you understand the process and if you appreciate quality, you'll likely agree it is good value.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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