How do you transform a recipe based around dairy and eggs into something that people vegans can enjoy too? It’s easier than you think. Here’s how to make vegan ice cream.April 27, 2022 4:39 pm August 03, 2021 11:14 am
What are the options?
When you’re making vegan ice cream, you have a few different methods to choose from. For example, you can make ice cream using dairy substitutes but generally following a classic recipe, you can use banana to emulate the texture, or you can make a dairy-free sorbet.
The route you choose to go down will depend on the texture you’re aiming for, and your choice of flavours.
For example, while you can make chocolate sorbet, lots of people prefer the creamier texture provided by the addition of some kind of milk.
Similarly, you might prefer not to use banana in this scenario as, of course, you can taste it in the final product.
What is the classic recipe for ice cream?
There are two main methods of making ice cream: the French method, and the American.
In the French method, you make a custard using egg yolks, cream, milk and sugar. You have to cook the custard first to get the right consistency before cooling and eventually freezing it.
The American method (also known as Philadelphia style) doesn’t use eggs, and you don’t have to make a custard. You simply churn milk, cream and sugar together with your chosen flavourings.
Philadelphia-style ice cream is easier and faster to make, but the resulting texture isn’t quite as creamy.
What about gelato?
If you’ve ever been on holiday to Italy you will know that the Italians have their very own method of making ice cream – and it’s also very delicious!
Italian ice cream is often called gelato.
Gelato simply plays with the ratio of the key ingredients of ice cream. Usually, gelato has a higher proportion of milk and a lower amount of cream. It may use a small amount of egg yolk, or none at all, depending on the recipe.
Generally speaking, gelato is also churned at a slower speed than normal ice cream, which incorporates less air. The result is a denser, thicker and less fluffy ice cream.
As it uses more milk, it is also lower in fat than other types of ice cream. While this has a minimal effect on how healthy it is (it’s still full of milk and sugar after all!), it does mean that your chosen flavours come through a bit stronger.
Can ice cream and gelato recipes be adapted for vegans?
Yes! There are many vegan ice cream recipes out there to enjoy.
However you will be better off choosing a recipe which is specifically created with vegan ingredients. This is because the ratio of the different ingredients will change depending on which you use.
For example, you could use coconut milk and cashew cream instead of the dairy versions, but their textures aren’t completely equivalent.
So, choose an ice cream recipe which has been developed with vegans in mind.
How to make vegan ice cream
Now, let’s get into the vegan varieties of ice cream you can make with plant-based ingredients. First up, sorbet!
What is sorbet?
Sorbet is a great option for vegans as it only contains fruit, sugar and water. There’s no need for any dairy products or eggs in the classic recipe.
Compared with ice cream, sorbet is much lighter (thanks to the lack of fat from dairy). However, a good sorbet will still have a creamy texture.
This is down to some chemical wizardry that happens when sugar and water are frozen together. The sugar lowers the freezing point of the water, but eventually the water freezes into small crystals. As water is removed, the sugar syrup becomes more concentrated, lowering the freezing point even further. Meanwhile, churning stops large ice crystals from being formed.
The point of all this is that despite being made mostly of water, sorbet won’t freeze into a solid block of ice. Instead it remains smooth and scoopable.
Be careful not to confuse sorbet with sherbet. While they look similar, most sherbets do contain a small amount of dairy (usually milk). So, if you see them both on a menu, choose sorbet if you’re vegan.
The most famous flavour of sorbet is a classic Italian lemon, which is delicious and refreshing on a hot day.
However, you can make lots of different flavours of sorbet, from fruits such as strawberry and watermelon to chocolate. You can even add in a touch of your favourite tipple, if you like.
How to make sorbet
To make a basic fruit sorbet, start with a fruit purée of your choice. To make a quart of sorbet, you should use about 4-5 cups of fruit purée.
Next, make your sugar syrup by mixing sugar and water together and simmering gently until the sugar is fully dissolved. Start with a cup each.
The tricky part comes next. How much sugar do you need? This will vary depending on the type of fruit you’re using. Naturally sweet fruits like strawberries won’t need much at all, whereas a lemon sorbet would need quite a bit.
Emma Christensen from The Kitchn has a great way of working this out, using an egg.
Simply pop an egg into your sorbet mix and start to add your syrup. Once the egg pops up through the surface of the liquid, you have added enough sugar.
If you don’t buy eggs, but are planning to make sorbet quite often, it may be worthwhile to invest in a refractometer, which measures the sugar content scientifically.
Add a little lemon juice to taste. Some people also like to add in a small amount of alcohol, such as vodka, here as it can help improve the texture.
Chill your mix overnight, and then simply pop your mix into an ice cream maker and churn away.
"Simply pop an egg into your sorbet mix and start to add your syrup. Once the egg pops up through the surface of the liquid, you have added enough sugar."
Banana ice cream
Next up: using banana as your ice cream base. This is sometimes called banana ‘nice cream’ – presumably because its ‘non-ice cream’, but it’s also very nice!
This is the easiest and simplest method out there for making vegan ice cream. Essentially, you let the banana do all the hard work for you; there’s no need to make a custard or even a simple syrup.
Plus, as the banana is naturally sweet, you won’t need to add as much (or any) sugar to your mixture.
Banana ice cream works best if you’re planning to incorporate the flavour or banana into your finished ice cream. For example, plain banana ice cream is lovely (especially if drizzled with melted dark chocolate!).
However you can also add complementary flavours such as chocolate, peanut butter or other fruits.
How to make banana ice cream
To make plain banana ice cream, simply chop bananas into large chunks and freeze them overnight on a baking tray.
Once frozen, throw them into a high speed blender and blend.
Now, banana ice cream has the alarming tendency to go through several textural stages before it reaches a lovely creamy consistency, so don’t lose heart.
At the start of the blending process, your blender will simply smash the frozen banana up into shards. Keep going: it’ll go through a crumbly stage, and a gooey stage, before finally reaching banana nirvana.
You can eat it straight away, or if you’d prefer a firmer texture, scoop into a container and pop it back in the freezer to firm up.
Erbology banana ice cream recipes
Alternatively, for a version that’s perfect for a hot summer’s day (and that kids will love), try our banana ice pops with granola.
Ice cream made with non-dairy milk
It is possible to make ice cream with non-dairy milk. As the lack of eggs prevents you from making a custard, this type of ice cream is usually American of Philadelphia style rather than French.
The tricky part is emulating the texture of classic ice cream ingredients.
While it’s fairly easy to replace dairy milk, cream is more difficult. But you can mimic the texture using cashew cream or coconut cream.
Alternatively, you can make a lighter gelato-style ice cream just using plant milk.
How to make non-dairy ice cream
A quick Google search will reveal hundreds of recipes for non-dairy ice cream. However, they all follow the same principles of trying to emulate the texture of eggs, dairy milk and cream.
How you make it will depend on the flavours you want. For example, if you’re making a tropical flavour, coconut milk might be the best choice. If you fancy chocolate, a subtler flavour like almond may work better.
For a no-frills coconut milk ice cream, we love My Darling Vegan’s recipe which uses only pantry ingredients.
Or if you’re after a chocolate fix, try Minimalist Baker’s vegan chocolate ice cream, which uses a blend of coconut and almond milk sweetened with dates.
Do I need an ice cream maker?
It is possible to make vegan ice cream without an ice cream maker (as the Minimalist Baker recipe above demonstrates).
Simply look for ‘no churn’ recipes, which can be frozen straight into the container.
However, for the best texture and optimum deliciousness, an ice cream maker is an excellent asset.
Ice cream makers churn your ice cream mix as it freezes, which prevents large ice crystals from forming. This is what creates that lovely, smooth and creamy texture.
It’s quite hard to recreate that without a machine, but there are a few good tips to follow if you don’t have one.
One great way of stopping those ice crystals from forming is by freezing your mix in a shallow dish first. Check on it every 15-20 minutes, raking the mixture over with a fork. This stops any large areas of ice forming.
After about 3 hours, transfer your mix into your normal container and leave it to freeze completely. Then you can enjoy as normal.
Other recipes, like Minimalist Baker’s, have a naturally moussy texture with air whipped in, which also helps those large crystals forming.
Other ice cream tips
To make the perfect scoop, we have a couple of tips to bear in mind.
Think about the texture you’re aiming for. Do you want something rich and creamy? Include a plant-based ‘cream’ such as cashew or coconut. Something lighter? Try a sorbet or a gelato-style recipe.
Before you put your mix in to freeze, try and get it to taste slightly ‘too’ sweet. Add sweetener until you’re happy with the flavour, then add a touch more.
This is because freezing tends to take the edge off sweet flavours, so go a bit further than you usually would in order for the ice cream itself to taste perfect.
Remember to plan ahead. While ice cream mix can be easily made in an hour, you’ll need to chill it thoroughly overnight before you can churn it. You might also want to freeze it after churning to get a firmer texture.
Many ice cream makers also depend on the bowl being frozen for 24 hours before use, so factor this into your prep as well.
After that, all that’s left is to pile your vegan ice cream into a crisp cone and top with your favourite treats.
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