Do you follow a casein-free, lactose-free, dairy-free, low-sugar diet? Are you allergic to or wanting to avoid soy milk and soy protein for other reasons? Do you avoid high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats, refined vegetable oils, and artificial flavorings and colorings? Have been disappointed by commercial non-dairy ice cream alternatives that leave an unpleasant aftertaste?
Consider making your own non-dairy frozen desserts using coconut milk in place of milk and cream. Premium (regular) coconut milk contains approximately half the fat and calories of cream. It provides a creamy taste and texture and pairs well with so many ingredients.
Photo credit upper right: Reed Hamel, Photographer (cover shot from The Ice Dream Cookbook).
Almost like mother’s milk
Best of all coconut milk contains lauric acid, one of the same fatty acids found in human mother’s milk. It has antiviral, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties, so it’s great for boosting your immune system.
Not to be confused with the liquid inside a coconut, which is actually coconut water, coconut milk is made by blending coconut meat with water to produce a thick and creamy liquid. You can make it from scratch with fresh coconuts, using an ice pick, hammer, and a food processor or Vita-Mix, but it’s messy and time-consuming and potentially dangerous unless you find young coconuts with soft meat you can easily scoop out with a spoon.
I know you can buy Bliss or Turtle Mountain Truly Decadent coconut-based ice cream alternatives, but why stop at that when you can make so many more flavors at home? You can reduce the amount of sugar calories by 30 to 50% (agave nectar still provides sugar calories) and cut the cost by 30 to 50%.
It’s in the can
For convenience and consistency in texture, flavor, and calorie content you can purchase coconut milk by the can or case or in quart-size aseptic cartons. Look for a brand that contains no added sugar, preservatives, or additives such as sulfites (potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite). Sulfites can trigger allergic reactions or migraine headaches in susceptible individuals. The addition of guar gum is not a problem; some companies, including one of my favorites, Thai Kitchen< add this natural vegetable gum to ensure a more even texture and to reduce separation in the can.
Premium (full-fat) coconut milk produces the best textured ice cream alternative. For a lower fat dessert, consider using half regular coconut milk and half lite. Using 100% lite coconut milk usually produces a frozen dessert that becomes hard and icy if it is not consumed within 24 to 48 hours.
So many delicious options
You can make classic flavors like Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, and Fudge Ripple. You can make kid-friendly favorites like Pumpkin Pie, Orange Cream, Carob-Banana, Peanut Butter & Jelly, and Vanilla Brownie Crumble, or sample sophisticated pleasures like Dried Apricot Pistachio in white wine, Date Rum Pecan, Banana Daiquiri, Green Tea, Avocado, or Chai Tea.
I’ve been making coconut-based frozen desserts for the past 10 years. In that time I’ve
devised so many wonderful flavors. I’ll get you started with the vanilla basics here. If you want to explore more check out my Ice Dream Cookbook.
Why Does Homemade Ice Dream Freeze Harder Than Store Bought Brands?
Commercial ice cream is churned in high-speed machines that whip in extra air (called overrun). Adding more air to each pint, quart, or gallon of ice cream increases their profits and improving the texture. Commercial frozen desserts also contain more sugar and often unpronounceable preservatives, additives, stabilizers, and emulsifiers that make their products more shelf stable and more scoopable right from the freezer.
Because ice cream makers for home use don’t churn as fast or have as much power as commercial machines, your homemade desserts won’t have as much air and will be more dense. By adding unflavored gelatin or agar agar, you can counter this problem to some degree, but not completely.
To make matters more challenging, most home freezers are colder than the ideal serving temperature. So you’ll need to temper your frozen desserts, which means remove them from the freezer 15 to 45 minutes before serving to allow them to soften enough to scoop. You can reduce this time by adding 2 to 3 tablespoons of alcohol (rum, cognac, brandy, white wine, kirsch, Cointreau, Kahlua, crème to menthe, and other flavored liqueurs) to the custard, but don’t go overboard. Too much alcohol can inhibit freezing. Omit the alcohol if you’ll be serving children or anyone who avoids it.
Alcohol works like anti-freeze, preventing ice cream from freezing too hard. This reduces tempering time in most cases, allowing you to remove a container from the freezer, scoop, and serve your treats right away. Batches without liqueur may need to temper (sit on the counter) for 10 to 15 minutes before serving to make them soft enough to scoop. Larger contains take longer to soften than smaller containers, another reason to freeze your desserts in small containers.
Storing Homemade Frozen Desserts
Choose the smallest container possible for storing homemade frozen desserts. You don’t want a container that leaves a lot of air space for ice crystals to form. Multiple small containers work better than one large container because repeated thawing and refreezing will adversely alter the texture of homemade frozen desserts. Try 4-, 6-, 8-, 12-, or 16-ounce containers. Consider using small jam jars used for canning and Pyrex glass and CorningWare containers to avoid leaching of hazardous chemicals from plastic.
Another option is containers made from 100% non-toxic, biodegradable food grade cardboard. Look for SOLO Double Poly Paper Food Containers. They look like the pint ice cream containers found in the freezer section of supermarkets and health foods stores… without the labels. You can buy them in packs of 25 with lids at many outlet stores, warehouse, discount, and restaurant supply stores. They’re inexpensive and you or your children can decorate the outside of the containers with colorful marking pens before you fill them. Some stores also sell cardboard half-pint (8-ounce) containers with lids. Regardless of what kind of container you use, cover the ice cream with a layer of parchment or wax paper before you place the lid on it to reduce freezer burn.
Reprinted with permission from The Ice Dream Cookbook: Dairy-Free Ice Cream Alternatives with Gluten-Free Cookies, Compotes & Sauces by Rachel Albert-Matesz (Planetary Press, 2008)
And now for a sample recipe.....
Vanilla Ice Dream
Hands-on: 20 minutes/Churning: 20 to 25 minutes/Yield: 5 to 6 cups; 8 servings
Like conventional vanilla ice cream, this dairy-free ice cream alternative goes well with almost everything. I like to serve it over fresh fruit, a mixed fruit salad, a cooked fruit sauce, or with Poached Pears or Apple Compote. For a fancier presentation, top it with homemade Chocolate, Fudge, or Caramel Sauce (see The Ice Dream Cookbook for recipes).
Note: Of all the Ice Dream flavors, this one has the strongest coconut flavor. If you plan to share this with someone who isn’t wild about coconut, use a combination of regular and lite coconut milk. Better yet, make one of the Ice Dream flavors that contains added fruit or chocolate, which mute the strong flavor.
1/3 cup cool or cold filtered water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin or 3/4 teaspoon agar agar powder (not flakes)
1/4 cup honey or agavé nectar; additional 1 to 2 tablespoons as needed
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pure stevia extract powder or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon clear stevia extract liquid (start with less; add more only if needed)
1/8 teaspoon finely ground, unrefined sea salt
3 1/2 cups (two 14-ounce cans) unsweetened, preservative-free coconut milk (regular, not lite)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract or alcohol-free vanilla flavoring
1. Add 1/3 cup water to a small saucepan. Slowly sprinkle with gelatin or agar agar powder. Let stand for 2 minutes until it softens and dry spots disappear. Warm over medium-low heat, without stirring, until gelatin or agar agar dissolves. Scrape the mixture into a blender, Vita-Mix, or food processor. Cover and process until smooth.
2. Add honey, stevia, and sea salt. Blend. Add the coconut milk and vanilla, and blend until smooth, stopping to scrape the sides with a spatula. For a sweeter taste, add an additional 1/8 teaspoon stevia and/or 1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar. Blend, taste, and repeat if needed.
3. Pour into one or more wide mouth jars. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours before churning or chill more quickly with an ice bath.
4. Scrape the chilled custard into the canister of your ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
5. Serve immediately or spoon into several 8- to 16-ounce freezer-safe containers. Cover and freeze for 3 or more hours for a firmer texture.
6. Soften solidly frozen dessert by placing it in the refrigerator for 30 to 45 minutes or on the counter for 15 to 30 minutes before serving.
1 serving (regular): 247 calories, 2 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrate, 18 grams fat, 55 milligrams sodium
1 serving (half lite): 170 calories, 1 g protein, 13 grams carbohydrate, 12 grams fat, 61 milligrams sodium
* Lite Vanilla Ice Dream: Replace half of the coconut milk with lite (reduced fat) coconut milk. Alternatively, use 100% lite coconut milk, but plan to use the batch immediately or within 24 hours before it becomes hard and icy.
* For suggested mix-ins and sauces, refer to The Ice Dream Cookbook by Rachel Albert-Matesz (Planetary Press, 2008).
Source: The Ice Dream Cookbook: Dairy-Free Ice Cream Alternatives with Gluten-Free Cookies, Compotes & Sauces by Rachel Albert-Matesz (Planetary Press, 2008).