Super-Premium Vegan Ice Cream
Three super-rich and creamy ice cream bases, completely vegan.
They said it couldn’t be done, but I’ll just be darned if I didn’t do it: I made some super-premium, ultra rich and decadent ice cream with no animal products whatsoever.
Three totally different ways.
Every way is important for different reasons, but they all combat the same set of problems constantly plaguing vegan ice cream. It’s too lean and icy. It tastes like soy or almonds or just…off. And when you buy it at the store, it’s so gosh darned expensive…and the price is not always a guarantee of great flavor.
The basic characteristics that a vegan ice cream base has to meet in order to secure deliciousness are:
1. Good, balanced base flavor profile highlighting the desired final flavor.
2. Perfectly smooth base consistency.
3. Enough fat to be comparable to a premium dairy ice cream.
4. Proper viscosity to ensure good mouthfeel.
Essentially, ice cream is built from ice, air, fat, and sugar, plus some other stuff—most of which is there to provide additional flavor and texture. Now, notice that I didn’t list dairy among the required ingredients. Well, that’s because cow’s milk can conveniently provide many of the necessary ingredients, but plenty of other liquids can do the same.
As we go through each base, I will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each so that ultimately you, dear reader, may decide which one is best for your particular application.
Coconut milk (the stuff from the can, not from a box) is probably the most widely known vegan ice cream dairy replacement. It’s easy to tell why if you’ve ever tasted it: this stuff is super creamy, with plenty of naturally-occurring and saturated fats, with a mild sweetness to it that lends itself to making desserts. It’s also one of the simplest one-to-one replacements for dairy you can get in the vegan ice cream world. A mixture of coconut milk and coconut cream, along with a touch of tapioca starch and blended to homogenize the fats, makes an ice cream with impeccable texture.
The obvious downside is that coconut milk will always forever taste like coconuts. Even a strong flavor like chocolate never completely covers it up. When I made a peanut butter ice cream, the coconut flavor faded pretty far into the background, but if you make coconut milk ice cream, the best way about it is to accept that it will taste like coconut and use that to your flavor advantage. My recipe is for a vanilla bean ice cream. Vanilla and coconut were pretty much made for each other. Coconut plays nicely as a second flavor to a surprising number of classic ice creams. However, if you really want to go neutral….
Nut-based ice creams are the sure bet if you want a neutral flavor base. The problem? There’s still not enough fat in most nuts to make a super-premium ice cream. The solution comes in the form of refined coconut oil, which is emulsified through the cashews if you’re making a plain base, or in the chocolate syrup if you’re making my super-rich dark chocolate ice cream. This process is a bit more complicated than just opening a couple cans of coconut milk, but boy oh boy, is it amazing in the flavor and texture department. The cashews disappear completely into a beautiful cream, thinned out by the almond milk to the perfect consistency.
Looking for something quicker and easier? How about one you can whip up in a couple minutes in your blender with absurdly few ingredients? Thought you might be. A simple parts list: avocado, almond milk, a bit of coconut oil, and our sweeteners, plus whatever flavorings you’d like to put in. I recommend using strong flavorings for this particular base: avocados don’t lend themselves to every flavor. Since they’re already green, however, mint chocolate chip seemed an appropriate measure. Avocados provide fat and viscosity that makes for a deliciously textured ice cream, and a distinct grassy note behind our mint.
There you go: not one, not two, but three totally different, totally creamy vegan ice cream bases. The recipes I’ve made are really just suggestions. Want to make a cookies ‘n’ cream, raspberry crisp, pistachio? No one can stop you now.