A silky smooth, dreamy coconut ice cream to defeat all other dairy-free recipes

Southern Kitchen

When it comes to dairy-free ice cream, there is, in my mind, only one winning variety: coconut milk ice cream. But there are ways to make it right, and ways to make it, well, icy and sad. Here’s how I like to make it at home.

You may be surprised to learn that food allergies and intolerances are fairly common in the food media world. I’ve had a boss with celaic desease and coworkers who can’t eat raw stone fruit. I, for one, cannot eat peanuts or cashews, and more than a few bites of ice cream or sips of milk will, let’s just say, make me mighty uncomfortable. But there’s plenty of room for all of us at the table. I’ve often found that closing the door to one particular food can open lots of doors to recipes and flavor combinations I never would have thought of before.

I’ve played around with making dairy-free versions of just about all of my favorite dairy-filled foods. (And I know of a great hook-up for almond milk cheese. Not lying.) But the holy grail is, of course, ice cream. If I’m shopping for a quick and easy dessert, I always turn to Coconut Bliss, which is, in addition to being dairy-free, is egg- and soy-free, and it actually tastes pretty d*mn good.

But, let’s be real. Coconut Bliss is expensive, so if I wanted to have a constant source of dairy-free frozen desserts that wouldn’t break the bank, I’d need to get serious about making it myself. Still, the brand’s ingredient list is still a great place to start.

For the first few trial runs, I tweaked ratios of coconut milk to coconut cream, and tried out various sweeteners on for size. (Honey is miles away, flavor-wise, from agave or corn syrup.) I simply whisked together the coconut milk(s), honey and vanilla and popped it all into my ice cream machine.

However, I kept running into a churning problem. You see, commerical ice cream manufacturers have ultra-fast machines that make churning relatively thin vegan ice cream bases quick and easy. When you try to churn similar bases in the affordable home ice cream machines most of us have (shout out to my trusty Cuisinart), they churn far too slowly; by the time you’ve reached soft serve-texture, lots of ice crystals have formed, translating to both an unpleasant mouthfeel and an impossible-to-scoop block of frozen sweetened coconut milk.

The solution, it turned out, was to think of my dairy-free ice cream as I would any other recipe and to make it using a custard base. (Sorry, vegans.) Pairing protein-packed egg yolks with honey helps to prevent the water in the coconut milk from forming those pesky ice crystals. Between this method and a splash of vanilla for classic flavor, this ice cream was almost there.

But there was still one problem — richness. Sounds crazy, right? Isn’t ice cream supposed to be rich? The truth is, actually, that ice cream with too much fat in it just ends up coming off as chewy. Not exactly pleasant, I know. The solution is to counter some of that coconut fat with almond milk. You’ll keep the dairy-free nature of the ice cream intact while still lowering the final fat count. Think of it like using half and half, but with zero percent dairy.

With this ingredient list in hand, all you need to do to make the ice cream is to think of it like any other churned dessert. Make a custard base, let it cool down, and then churn, baby churn. You can add in whatever mix-ins you’d like. Keep it simple with chocolate chunks, or play up the coconut with toasted unsweetened coconut flakes.

If you want to go real Southern with it, try a peach cobbler flavor — our recipe simply adds pieces of fresh peach along with crumbled ginger snaps (this is a great vegan brand) for crunch. Pop the whole thing in the freezer to set and you’ll be in dairy-free ice cream bliss — and you’ve gotten there all yourself.