Ice Cream/Frozen Desserts

How to Make Dairy-Free, Vegan Coconut Ice Cream

February 28, 2014

It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today: Ashley McLaughlin from Edible Perspective's homemade coconut milk ice cream will change the way you think about vegan ice cream forever -- and that's a fact.

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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.

More: Here are all of the recipes you need to build the perfect ice cream sundae.

Vegan Vanilla Bean Coconut Milk Ice Cream

Serves 6 to 8

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.

More: If you like coconut ice cream, wait until you try homemade coconut butter.

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.

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Ashley McLaughlin

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Hello! My name is Ashley, and I'm the photographer + writer behind the blog, Edible Perspective. LOVE // the husband // family // cooking for others // farmers markets // the first winter snow // cycling // snowshoeing // snowboarding // bluegrass // architecture // our pups // farm fresh eggs // mountains // boxed wine // breakfast // biking to breweries // clean sheets // traveling


Jessica February 19, 2015
I loved this recipe. I used corn starch because I didn't have any arrowroot. I'm wondering how this would be converted into a coffee ice cream? I'm thinking I'll just steep the coffee grounds in the base mixture once it's heated, and then strain. I guess I'll let you know how it turns out!
tessa September 22, 2014
I am just wondering if you just use the coconut cream in this recipe? or you use the whole can of coconut milk. Because it looks like the coconut milk has been put in the fridge overnight and has separated, why would you need to do this if you are using the whole can of it?..
Ashley M. September 22, 2014
Hi Tessa! Yes, you do use the whole can, specified if you click to see the full recipe. "Step 4. Empty entire contents of both coconut milk cans into a medium-sized pot." Many times my cans stay separated just sitting in my pantry without refrigeration. Thanks!
anna September 13, 2014
Adding the arrowroot is genius! I subbed Kahula or Amaretto for the vodka (for chocolate and vanilla ice creams), used all coconut cream (from Trader Joe's), used maple syrup for the sweetener and did not heat it. Just mixed everything together, put it in a mason jar to cool overnight before processing it in the ice cream maker. The texture and taste were spot on -- even fooled my "I'm not eating any fake healthy crap that doesn't come from the store" boyfriend. Thank you for the secret to the best ice cream, vegan or not, that I've ever had.
Jeanne July 17, 2014
Hi Ashley,
Thank you for such a quick reply! Trader Joe's sells coconut cream in a can, with the tagline, "Extra Thick & Rich." One time I made coconut ice cream with coconut milk and it got icy. Now I'm thinking maybe I'll make it with one can of coconut cream, one can of coconut milk, 2 tsps vanilla extract, the arrowroot and the vodka (what a novel idea!). I do have a question on the sweetner... I'm not a fan of brown rice syrup or coconut nectar. Do you think I could use just plain (organic) cane sugar? If so, how much would you use?
Thank you for a great sounding recipe!
Ashley M. July 17, 2014
Right, I know what you mean. Typical coconut milk ice cream does turn a bit icy after freezing, but the vodka and arrowroot totally get rid of that! However, mixing 1 can of coconut cream and one of coconut milk will make it even creamier. Go for it! The liquid sweetener also helps avoid ice crystals forming which is why I like to use it. If you're not vegan I would recommend using honey but you could use cane sugar instead. I would first blend the cane sugar with the milk and then go on with the rest of the directions so you don't have any crunchy bits in the ice cream.
Jeanne July 17, 2014
Do you think it would be possible to make this with coconut cream instead of (or along with) coconut milk? Would it help to make it richer and thicker? Also, could you use 1-2 tsp of pure vanilla extract instead of the beans?
Ashley M. July 17, 2014
Hi Jeanne - Can you buy cans of solely coconut cream? If so, I had no idea! The full-fat coconut cans are about 2/3 coconut cream and provide a ton of fat and creaminess to the ice cream. I'm sure using all coconut cream could work, but it's probably not necessary. And yes, using 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla would work but the flavor won't be as intense. I would avoid using more than 2 teaspoons as the vanilla extract flavor can start to taste a bit overpowering/fake even using the "pure" kind.
mae July 2, 2014
Best vegan icecream ever. How do I get more vegan recipes - Is there a specific vegan book Ashley? I am vegan.
Ashley M. July 2, 2014
There are vegan ice cream books out there. Search "vegan ice cream" on amazon. I'm not sure how similar they are to this recipe, though. You could also make different variations using this recipe as a starting point.
mae July 2, 2014
Best vegan ice cream ever. More recipes please.
Ashley M. July 2, 2014
So happy to hear it!!
Joanna E. June 8, 2014
I make similar ice creams without heating/boiling at all, and they taste great to me... This isn't the first time I've seen a recipe with heating as a step, and I'll probably try it to experiment and see if I like it better - but, I"m curious, Ashley, have tried this without heating?
Ashley M. July 2, 2014
Nope, I haven't. I'm sure it would still work!
Kathryn R. April 27, 2014
Can you put the ice bath mixture in the fridge to speed up the chilling?
Ashley M. July 2, 2014
Yes! But the ice bath cools it down pretty quickly and I'm not sure the fridge would really speed it up. The ice bath is kind of like putting it in the freezer.
Dawn M. April 14, 2014
I am dying to try this. Any idea of the calories, fat, etc?
Andrea March 31, 2014
Ashley...the coconut milk looks solid in the photo! I've always been able to pour from a can. What kind is used here?
Ashley M. July 2, 2014
Full fat coconut milk [sorry for the delayed response!]. The "light" or "low-fat" won't work as well.
sylvanna March 17, 2014
I've never made ice cream. i don't even know how its done. This is the first recipe i've read to make ice cream. I need to know, because i want to make this, Do i need an ice cream maker to do this?
thepatternedplate March 4, 2014
I made this yesterday and it is delicious! Yes, it does freeze rock hard as I didn't use the alcohol (kids..what to do!) but letting it soften for 5-10 minutes got it to the perfect consistency. There is a slight, ever so slight chalky texture to it, but that's seriously splitting hairs. Fabulous recipe. Thanks so much for sharing :)
Barbara M. February 28, 2014
Arrowroot? is the same as tapioca?
Ashley M. February 28, 2014
Arrowroot is more similar to cornstarch. I have used tapioca starch before but haven't tried it in this ice cream recipe. Sorry I'm not positive on this!
Orange N. February 28, 2014
Can this be made without the Vodka?
Sarah J. February 28, 2014
I think that the vodka is a necessary so that the ice cream doesn't get rock hard. On the recipe, Ashley says that If you want an even softer ice cream, use 1 1/2 tablespoons.
Becky W. February 28, 2014
I often make coconut milk ice cream without any alcohol--it still turns out great. It will be harder, so just take it out of the freezer 15 minutes before you want to scoop it.
Ashley M. February 28, 2014
You 'can' make it without the vodka but the vodka really helps to not form ice crystals. Every other time I've made coconut milk ice cream it turns pretty icy and rock hard. This really helps avoid those things!
Glen L. February 28, 2014
love the ice cream scoop. what brand?
Gina P. February 28, 2014
That's a zyliss ice cream scoop.
Gina P. February 28, 2014
That's a zyliss ice cream scoop.
Crystal February 28, 2014
Could maple syrup be used instead of brown rice syrup?
Ashley M. February 28, 2014
Maple syrup is much thinner than brown rice syrup, so I'm not sure of the exact results. Coconut nectar can be used, though.
Em H. February 28, 2014
This looks so skilful yet absolutely do-able at the same time! Gorgeous photography, too.
Ashley M. February 28, 2014
Thank you, Em!