First off, I promise you there are no tricks to this ice cream. This isn't "ice cream" in quotation marks. You're not going to get your hopes up only to have them dashed with a bowl of icy, flavorless frozen dairy substitutes. This vegan ice cream is the real deal.
Yes, it's creamy. Yes, it tastes like a real dessert that you'd drizzle with caramel sauce and sprinkle with nuts. Yes, it's dairy-free and vegan too (no eggs!). Here's what you need to know.
I have to give a massive shout-out to our recipe contributor Megan Gordon for putting this type of ice cream on my radar. A few months back, she shared her recipe for Vegan Coconut Almond Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, and she followed it this summer with her Vegan Strawberry Swirl Ice Cream. I started wondering, Is there anything this vegan ice cream base can't do? It's high time we shared it with you.
What's the Secret to Vegan Ice Cream?
The secret is nothing more than coconut milk. Full-fat, creamy coconut milk. Other vegan milk substitutes, like almond milk or soy milk, just don't cut it when it comes to ice cream. You need the fattiness and unctuousness that can only be found in a can of coconut milk.
Along with the coconut milk, we add a little cornstarch. You can also use arrowroot starch, if you prefer. Either way, you combine the starch with the coconut milk and a sweetener, and then cook it on the stovetop until it becomes thick and almost pudding-like. My friend, there is your ice cream base!
Let's back up to that sweetener for a second. I love this ice cream made with agave, especially since the syrupy nature of agave helps prevent ice crystals from forming, keeping the ice cream very smooth. If you're OK with honey in your diet, you can also use that. Alternatively, you can use maple syrup or a granulated sugar like cane sugar or turbinado. Whatever sweetener works for you!
Does This Ice Cream Taste Like Coconut?
Yes, since this ice cream is almost entirely made of coconut milk, it definitely tastes like coconut. I love it plain, all on its own, but coconut is a great flavor base for just about anything, from the nuts and fruit swirls Megan added to mint or basil, dark chocolate, and tropical flavors. Use this recipe as a base and experiment with your own add-ins!
If you're not a fan of coconut flavor, take a look at Sara Kate's recipe for 3-Ingredient Ice Cream. She uses a smaller proportion of coconut milk, along with a good amount of fruit juice, making more of a fruit-forward creamy sorbet.
It is not stretching things too far to call this ice cream life-changing. Whether you're a vegan or an omnivore, this ice cream is a delicious summertime treat that's totally worth making.
More Vegan Ice Creams & Inspiration
To make vegan ice cream, you need: 2 (13- to 15-ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk; 1/2 cup agave, honey, turbinado sugar, or cane sugar; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 2 tablespoons cornstarch (or 1 tablespoon arrowroot starch); 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
At least 24 hours before you plan to churn the ice cream, put the base in the freezer to freeze. It should be frozen solid before using (you should hear no liquid sloshing inside when you shake it).
How To Make Vegan Ice Cream
Makes 1 quart, serves 6 to 8
What You Need
2 (13- to 15-ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk
1/2 cup agave syrup, maple syrup, honey, turbinado sugar, or cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch (or 1 tablespoon arrowroot starch)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Optional extras: nuts, chocolate (or carob) chips, fruit puree, cacao nibs, etc.
Measuring cups and spoons
Glass or plastic dish, for cooling the base
Ice cream machine (at least 1 1/2 quart capacity)
Freezer container, like a loaf pan or pint container
Parchment or wax paper
→ At least 24 hours before you plan to churn the ice cream, put the ice cream machine's bowl in the freezer to freeze. It should be frozen solid before using (you should hear no liquid sloshing inside when you shake it).
Shake the coconut milk: Cans of coconut milk separate into a thick, creamy layer and a thin watery layer on the shelf. Before opening them, shake the cans of coconut milk thoroughly to incorporate the layers.
Set aside 1/2 cup coconut milk: Open the cans of coconut milk. Measure 1/2 cup and set this aside.
Pour the coconut milk into a saucepan: Pour the remaining coconut milk into a 2-quart sauce pan.
Add the sweetener and salt to the coconut milk: Measure the sweetener (agave, maple syrup, honey, or sugar), and add it to the coconut milk, along with the salt.
Warm the coconut milk on the stove: Warm the coconut milk on the stove over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sweetener has completely dissolved into the coconut milk, 1 to 2 minutes.
Whisk the cornstarch into the reserved coconut milk: Measure the cornstarch and add it to the reserved 1/2 cup coconut milk. Whisk thoroughly until the cornstarch is totally dissolved.
Add the cornstarch mixture to the coconut milk: Pour the cornstarch mixture into the warm coconut milk while whisking gently.
Heat the ice cream base until thickened: This is your ice cream base. Increase the heat to medium. Stirring occasionally, continue cooking the base until it has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, 6 to 8 minutes. Do not allow the base come to a boil.
Stir in the vanilla: Remove the base from heat and stir in the vanilla.
Chill the base: Pour the base into a shallow container. Let the base cool slightly on the counter so it's not hot when you put it in the fridge. Before refrigerating, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface — this coconut milk base doesn't form a skin quite as badly as a milk-and-egg base, but it doesn't hurt! Cover the container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or for up to 3 days.
Begin churning the ice cream: Remove the base from the fridge. It should be completely chilled and slightly pudding-like in texture. Pour the base into your ice cream machine and begin churning.
Churn until the ice cream is the consistency of soft-serve: Churn the ice cream until it thickens considerably and is roughly the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. Depending on your machine, this could take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes — keep an eye on it! If you want to add any extras, add them now and churn a few more seconds until they are fully incorporated.
Transfer to freezer container: Scrape the ice cream into your freezer container. Press a piece of parchment or wax paper against the surface to prevent ice crystals from forming.
Freeze for at least 4 hours: Transfer the container of ice cream to the freezer and freeze for at least 4 hours to harden the ice cream.
Warm slightly before serving: If your ice cream is too hard to scoop, let it warm a few minutes on the counter before scooping. I find that coconut ice cream melts a little more quickly than milk-based ice creams, so don't wait too long!
(Image credits: Emma Christensen)