Ben Van Leeuwen’s Pro Tips for Better Vegan Ice Cream

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kati Molin)

Your days of failed attempts and sad-tasting vegan ice cream are officially over: Ice cream mastermind Ben Van Leeuwen is here to help. Van Leeuwen is part of the trio behind Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice, which humbly started in a pale yellow truck on the streets of New York City, and has since expanded into brick-and-mortar shops in NYC and Los Angeles. They also released their first ice cream cookbook this past June. And today, he’s sharing his pro tips to help you make your best vegan ice cream yet.

1. Forget vanilla and go for stronger flavors.

It’s hard to beat a really great vanilla ice cream, but making one is actually pretty tricky — it’s a delicate flavor that’s hard to capture well.

Instead Ben encourages you to go bolder with flavor choices. Strong flavors are your friend! He suggests anything that uses tea — black, green, earl grey, or whatever your favorite tea variety happens to be — because it comes through especially well in vegan ice cream. Other flavors that work well are peppermint, chocolate, anything nut-based, and acidic fruit flavors.

2. Cashew milk is your ticket to the vegan ice cream of your dreams.

You might be used to seeing coconut milk as the base for vegan ice creams, but you should be considering cashew milk. Many of Van Leeuwen’s vegan ice creams use a blend of cashew and coconut milk. “Including cashew milk was a no-brainer,” says Ben. “It’s used in so many other vegan desserts, so why not ice cream?”

Cashews are a neutral-tasting nut, which makes for a more versatile base than other nut milks or coconut milk on its own. You have the ability to make a wide variety of flavors by using cashew milk. Plus, you don’t have to strain it like you would almond milk, so there’s less waste and you’re saving time. It gives the ice cream a necessary “chew” and thickness.

3. You must blend constantly when adding fats.

Some vegan ice creams use cocoa butter, coconut oil, or a blend to create a truly rich and creamy dessert. The real key is how these fats are blended into the base. The best way is to use an immersion blender, which should be constantly working; it’s the only way the fat is going to really get properly incorporated. Skip this important step, and the results are disappointing. Without constant blending, the fats seize up when they hit the liquid and don’t get fully incorporated, leaving you with a grainy (read: gross) ice cream.

4. Above all else, follow the recipe.

One of Ben’s strongest words of advice to home cooks is simply to follow the recipe. Let’s repeat that again: Follow the recipe. We love making swaps and substitutions — adding more of our favorite ingredients and leaving out the ones we don’t like — and while this almost always works in cooking, it does not work with making ice cream. A good batch of vegan ice cream is so dependent on following the recipe.