Dairy-Free Coconut Milk Ice Cream
I love ice cream. I love it so much, I actually bought myself an ice cream maker in the spring of 2020. I was super pregnant in the Louisiana heat during a pandemic. I was also sore, tired, working from home with a 4-year-old, and there just wasn’t really anywhere we could go.
I know part of going Zero Waste is about eliminating unnecessary things from our lives, but believe me when I say the ice cream maker was absolutely necessary to all of our survival. We made SOOO much ice cream, and the diversion helped get us through some really tough months. Thinking about it still brings a smile to my face.
Of all the many ice cream recipes and variations we came up with, this simple coconut milk ice cream is still everyone’s favorite. The ice cream is so smooth and creamy, you would never know it’s dairy-free. I made it again the other day and halfway through eating it my son said, “Wait, this is made from coconut?”
It does have a nice coconut flavor, though to my tastebuds it almost feels more like intense french vanilla. Also if you’re not a huge fan of coconut, you can make the chocolate version, and the coconut is barely noticeable (see the recipe notes. The notes also contain instructions for making an egg-free vegan version).
You can serve it straight from the ice cream maker soft serve style or you can transfer it to the freezer to harden up for a couple of hours to scoop it like regular ice cream. You can eat it plain or dress it up with any number of toppings. Caramel is a great compliment to the coconut, and so is fruit, chocolate, or nuts.
The best news: This ice cream only requires four ingredients.
Here’s how to make it:
*3 ½ cups of full-fat coconut milk (you can use two cans or make your own. Willamette Transplant has good instructions for making your own).
*½ cup sugar (brown or white sugar works fine)
*4 egg yolks (see note below for ways to use up the whites)
*1 tsp vanilla
Stand Mixer or handheld mixer with the whisk attachment (or a hand-held whisk and a lot of arm power)
Ice cream maker*
A Whisk, stand mixer, or electric hand mixer.
I use this Cuisinart Automatic ice cream maker because I can just put the freezer bowl in the freezer the night before. The liquid inside the bowl’s walls freezes and this automatically chills the custard as the ice cream churns, so you don’t have to deal with ice cubes and ice cream salt. It makes way less mess and way less waste!
*If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can probably make no-churn ice cream with this custard, it just won’t be as creamy.
A stand mixer or handheld mixer is useful too, though it is absolutely possible to do all of the whisking by hand.
1. Separate the eggs. Set the whites aside so you can use them for something later. Put the four yolks in a mixing bowl
2. Add ½ cup of sugar to the yolks. Whisk on high using your stand mixer or handheld mixer (or whisk as fast as you can by hand) until the mixture becomes smooth and a bit fluffy (this will take 1-2 minutes depending on your mixer. It may take up to 5 minutes or more if you’re whisking by hand. If whisking by hand, give it all you’ve got). When it’s ready, the consistency will be similar to marshmallow fluff. If you use brown sugar, the mixture will be a light tan color. If you are using white sugar, the mixture will be pale yellow.
3. Transfer to a saucepan and turn the heat to medium/low. Immediately whisk in your 3 ½ cups of coconut milk a bit at a time until the coconut milk and egg mixture are fully incorporated. Once the coconut milk is incorporated, turn the heat up to medium.
*You do not need to whisk constantly but you will want to keep an eye on your coconut milk custard so that it doesn’t burn or start to boil too hard.
4. Bring the coconut milk custard to the point that it is bubbling but not a full boil. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep your custard at this level. I’ve found that making coconut milk ice cream requires a little more heat and a little bit longer cooking time than dairy-based ice cream.
5. Continue to frequently (but not constantly) stir your custard until it begins to thicken. You will know it is ready to take off of the heat when the mixture begins to stick to the edge of the saucepan, and the mixture clings to the back of a wooden spoon...about 10 minutes but it could be more depending on your stove.
6. Once your mixture is ready, turn off the heat and stir in 1 tsp of vanilla. Then very carefully pour the custard through the strainer into a clean bowl. The strainer catches any eggy lumps that may have formed while the saucepan was on the stove.
7. Let the mixture cool on the countertop for a little while, then cover and transfer it to the refrigerator to chill. I usually cover with a kitchen towel or beeswax wrap. It will take at least an hour for the custard to be cold enough to transfer to your ice cream maker.
8. Once your mixture has chilled, transfer it to your ice cream maker and churn it according to the instructions for your particular ice cream maker. (If you don’t have an ice cream maker, at this point you would transfer your chilled custard to a freezer-safe container and stick it in the freezer to harden).
9. You’ll know your ice cream is ready when it reaches “soft-serve” consistency and is pulling away from the walls of the ice cream maker.
10. You can eat it soft-serve style at this point, or you can transfer it to a freezer-safe container to harden for a couple of hours to achieve “scoopable” consistency.
Enjoy your ice cream! While from a food safety standpoint you could keep this in the freezer for a couple of months, from a taste standpoint, it’s best to use it up within two weeks. This really is the best ice cream I've ever made. The texture is spot-on.
*Don’t waste those egg whites! You can freeze the egg whites for use in a future recipe. You can also use them to make an egg white scramble or some meringue cookies. Or if you happen to be making this ice cream for a “cake & ice cream” scenario, you could make angel food cake or another cake recipe that incorporates egg whites only.
*To make chocolate ice cream, simply add ⅓ cup cocoa powder to the egg/sugar mixture just before you incorporate the coconut milk.
*You could chill the custard with an ice water bath instead of transferring it to the refrigerator if you are in a hurry. I try to avoid doing this because it seems like an unnecessary use of water/ice.
*To make this recipe vegan, you can substitute 4 TBS of cornstarch instead of the eggs. Instead of whisking egg yolks, whisk together the cornstarch and 1 cup of coconut milk until it is smooth (no lumps). Transfer to the saucepan then add the sugar and remaining coconut milk. Continue with the rest of the recipe as directed above. Your ice cream will be less creamy but still tasty. For the vegan method, I strongly recommend using an ice cream maker instead of trying the no-churn method.