Thick, creamy, lightly sweetened ice cream is one of my all-time favorite desserts, and when choosing a flavor, I almost always pick vanilla. Maybe that sounds completely boring, but the simplicity gets me every time. Plus, vanilla ice cream is a blank canvas for all sorts of toppings.
For this recipe, I’ve used full-fat coconut milk instead of heavy cream to make a dairy-free, vegan version. You may have tried to make coconut milk ice cream in the past and found that, while it’s perfectly delicious right out of the ice cream maker, with a silky soft serve texture, it always seems to freeze into a rock of crunchy ice crystals. For this reason I’ve been testing a base recipe for ice crystal-free and slightly softer vegan ice cream. The trick is in the arrowroot starch, liquid sweetener, and vodka.
Make this recipe as is (or throw in your favorite mix-ins) and you’ll be a happy ice cream eater.
1 or 2 vanilla beans 2 cans full-fat coconut milk 1 tablespoon arrowroot starch 1/3 cup brown rice syrup, or coconut nectar 1/3 cup pure cane sugar 1 1/2 tablespoons vodka
Before starting this recipe, freeze the canister of your ice cream maker for at least 24 hours. As tempting as it may be, do not skip this step!
With a sharp knife, trim the ends of your vanilla bean pod and slice lengthwise down the center, cutting only through the top layer. Scrape the vanilla beans from the pod with a dull edge, then measure 1/4 teaspoon and set aside. You may need two vanilla beans, depending on their size. Reserve the scraped pods.
To prepare the ice bath: Find two large, heat-safe mixing bowls (I don’t recommend glass or plastic) that can nest together. Fill the larger of the two about one third of the way full of ice. Place the other bowl on top. Set aside.
Empty the entire contents of both coconut milk cans into a medium-sized pot. Remove a few tablespoons of the coconut milk liquid and place in a small bowl along with the arrowroot starch. Whisk thoroughly until combined.
Pour the entire starch mixture back into the pot with the coconut milk, along with the brown rice syrup, cane sugar, and vanilla beans.
Heat over medium and whisk the ingredients until fully combined. Once combined, add the vanilla bean pods to the pot and bring to a low boil, whisking every minute or so.
Let boil for about 1 1/2 minutes and slowly stir with the whisk.
Pour the entire mixture into the dry bowl of your ice bath, then whisk in the vodka and let the mixture sit until ice cold, whisking every so often. It will take at least 1 1/2 hours to fully chill, but waiting for the mixture to fully chill will improve the texture.
Once cold, pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you're after a soft serve texture, serve as soon as the process is finished.
Otherwise, transfer ice cream into a 8 x 4-inch bread pan or a plastic container.
Pack the ice cream into the container and spread it evenly, then place a piece of parchment paper, wax paper, or plastic wrap on the surface and press lightly so that it’s fully stuck to the top.
For a traditional ice cream texture, freeze for at least 4 hours before serving. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then scoop, serve, and top however you’d like. Place your parchment paper securely on the surface of the ice cream to help avoid ice crystals forming and store in the freezer.