Servings: 6 (makes 3 cups)
A year ago I got infected with the homemade ice cream bug (a figure of speech that has taken on a whole new meaning) and bought an inexpensive ice cream maker. That’s when I discovered just how challenging it is to make a creamy vegan ice cream that doesn’t freeze into an icy block after a day or two in the freezer. Since then I have scoured the World Wide Web in search of the one perfect recipe.
Guess what? The divine path to vegan ice cream Nirvana doesn’t exist out there on the Inter Webs. My quest revealed not one but myriad approaches, ingredients, and techniques—so confusing! In an attempt to adhere to the scientific method, I made successive batches, tweaking one element after another. During a low point, when buying ice cream on a whim was no longer possible because of a pesky worldwide pandemic, I even endured an ice cream fast. Finally, a year after my first experiment I arrived at my own, original solution that cracks the code for the three criteria I consider indispensable: flavor, texture, and simplicity.
First of all, I discovered that there is indeed a magic ingredient after all. After a year of ignoring any post that included it because it seemed like such a non sequitur in a frozen dessert, it turns out cornstarch—yes, that cheap, ubiquitous pantry staple commonly used in baking and frying—cuts down on iciness in the finished ice cream like nothing else I’ve tried, so now I’m an enthusiastic convert. (A tablespoon of tasteless alcohol like vodka is purported to do the same thing, but I prefer to keep my recipes non-alcoholic as much as possible.)
I have also read that including at least some liquid sweetener such as agave nectar or maple syrup helps prevent ice crystals from forming. While I cannot confirm the science of that claim, I did it and it worked, so that’s another arrow in the non-icy quiver.
Finally, I concluded that canned coconut milk by itself was not the answer—its unctuous fattiness and caloric overload makes me feel like I’m eating a stick of butter. So although sufficient fat is mandatory to make believable ice cream, substituting soy milk—the highest in fat of all the shelf-stable nondairy milks—for some of the canned coconut mixture solved the mouth feel riddle.
- Since I have a small (1-quart) ice cream maker, I have adjusted the proportions to make about 3 cups. If you want to make a full quart, use 1+1/3 cans of coconut milk, 2/3 C. soymilk, and 2 T. cornstarch.
- Timing: The ice cream machine bowl needs to freeze overnight. The base mixture needs to be refrigerated for at least four hours, preferably overnight, before churning. The churned ice cream needs to freeze until firm, at least 4 hours. So bottom line, if you make the base and freeze your bowl the day before, you can churn ice cream the next day.
2 C. full fat canned coconut milk (1 14-oz. can)
1 C. soy milk
1 heaping T. cornstarch
½ C. sweetener (I used ¼ C. sugar and ¼ C. agave nectar)
Pinch sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla
Optional: About 1/3 C. chocolate chips, toasted nuts, fruit puree, etc.
TIP: Leftover coconut milk freezes perfectly.
Directions: Freeze ice cream machine bowl overnight and refrigerate prepared ice cream base for at least 4 hours or overnight if possible.
- Blend coconut milk and soy milk until frothy. Remove about 2 T. milk mixture and combine with cornstarch in a small bowl to form a smooth slurry.
- Pour remaining milk mixture into a medium saucepan and add sugar, agave nectar, and sea salt.
- Warm to a simmer over medium heat, then remove from heat and gradually whisk in cornstarch slurry. Return mixture to medium heat but do not allow to boil, and cook for about 1 minute, stirring a few times until slightly thickened with a consistency close to heavy cream. (If cornstarch boils it will breakdown and lose some of its thickening power.) Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. (If vanilla boils it will lose some of its intense flavor.)
- Pour mixture back into blender pitcher, seal, and refrigerate for at least four hours or preferably overnight. The pitcher will make it much easier to pour mixture into chute of ice cream machine.
- When you are ready to churn, turn on ice cream machine, pour in chilled ice cream base and spin until thick and creamy—about the consistency of soft-serve ice cream, 25-30 minutes for most machines. Just at the end of churning, mix in any extras like chocolate chips or toasted nuts for the final few spins.
- Pack ice cream into freezer container, press a sheet of parchment paper directly on the surface, and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours. Thaw 10-15 minutes before scooping.