Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Vegan ice cream

I've been trying out recipes for vegan ice cream for a while, and I've finally come up with a foolproof recipe that makes a rich, creamy ice cream with wonderful texture and flavor. The recipe uses my current favorite dessert ingredient: coconut cream. Coconut cream is basically the dense, semi-solid layer that sits atop cans of coconut milk when you first open them, and it is a very good substitute for heavy cream (although the one thing you can't do with it is make whipped cream). I purchase 13.5oz cans of Wonderfarm brand coconut cream at C Mart in Boston for $1.09 each.

Below is the recipe for basic vanilla ice cream. The main steps are simply heating up the ice cream base to dissolve the sugar and incorporate the flavor, chilling the base in the refrigerator to cure the texture and meld the flavors, and freezing the mixture in the ice cream maker. One extra step I added in this recipe is stirring in a small amount of liqueur right before putting the semi-frozen ice cream in the freezer. Because the vegan ice cream has a high water content and no eggs, the alcohol helps prevent it from freezing too hard. Rum works well for vanilla ice creams, and for chocolate ice cream amaretto and Frangelico are quite good.

Once you get the hang of the basic recipe, you can build on it to add whatever flavors you can think of. To make chocolate ice cream, stir in 1/3 cup cocoa powder into the ice cream base. One of my favorite flavor combinations lately is chocolate and banana, so I also included instructions on making chocolate-banana swirl ice cream. To swirl in ingredients, make the base as usual and swirl in the additional toppings at the very end so they don't interfere with the freezing process. If possible, just fold them in by hand.

My ice cream maker is the Cuisinart ICE, and I am very happy with it. The model is simple and easy to clean, and it has worked well every time. Priced at $50 (although you can often find barely-used ones on Craigslist), I think it's the best ice cream maker on the market right now. One thing to watch out for is that if you keep your freezer temperature fairly high like I do, you may want to turn it down a bit lower while you're chilling the ice cream bowl. The main thing which can go wrong when you're making ice cream is that your bowl isn't cold enough so not enough ice crystals are able to form.

This recipe really couldn't be simpler, and it offers many advantages to dairy ice creams: you don't have to purchase and refrigerate the cream, it's cholesterol free, and I think the texture is actually better than dairy ice creams. Something in coconut cream just creates this rich, mouth-filling texture that's just what you want in a premium ice cream. While you're enjoying the wonders of vegan ice cream, check out this cool introduction to the science of ice cream.

3 cups coconut cream (two 13.5oz cans works fine)
1 scant cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped OR 2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp liqueur or rum (your favorite variety)

One day ahead of time, put the bowl of your ice cream maker into the freezer to chill.

Combine all ingredients except the liqueur in a large saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir occasionally and watch carefully to make sure the mixture does not boil over. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Remove the hull of the vanilla bean, pour mixture into lidded container and cool to room temperature. Reserve the vanilla bean for another use. Refrigerate mixture overnight to mellow flavors and texture. Freeze mixture in ice cream freezer according to unit's instructions. The mixture will not freeze hard in the machine. Once the volume has increased by 1/2 to 3/4 times and reached a soft serve consistency (about 25 minutes), spoon the mixture back into an airtight container.

Gently stir the liqueur into the semi-frozen ice cream. Freeze at least 1 hour before serving.

For chocolate ice cream, add 1/3 cup high-quality cocoa powder (I prefer Valrhona) to the base and stir in while the mixture is being heated

For chocolate-banana swirl ice cream, add two mashed ripe bananas and 1/4 cup melted chocolate (cooled to room temperature) just before the ice cream is done churning.


Fearless Kitchen said...

Just this past weekend I was making ice cream for a dinner party. One of our guests was allergic to cow's milk, so I was trying to think of how to pull it off. Thanks for the tip about the coconut cream! I'll have to give it a try the next time this guy comes over.

Anonymous said...

my mom, made dad and I some dessert last night.Vanilla ice cream with fresh cut Strawberries and ripened pineapple chunks.Its just yummy,Jon.

Anonymous said...

Are you using coconut *cream* or full fat coconut milk? The Wonderfarm brand you're talking about doesn't sell coconut cream in cans, but full fat coconut milk (at least that's what I can find online). Are you actually scooping out the cream at the top of cans of coconut milk until you get 3 cups of pure coconut cream to use for this recipe?


JW said...

I recommend buying "coconut cream". I can purchase Wonderfarm brand coconut cream at my local Chinese supermarket. But there's nothing special about this brand, so I suggest buying whatever brand you can of coconut cream. In a pinch, scooping off the cream from coconut milk would work too. Just be wary that it might contain more water so you might need to add more sugar or alcohol or even enrich it with coconut powder.