This dairy-free vanilla ice cream is possibly my favorite ice cream on the blog yet. It’s perfectly sweet, vanilla-infused, with just a hint of coconut flavor you’d only pick out if you knew you were looking for it. Because this vegan vanilla ice cream is churned, it’s super creamy with a fluffy, airy texture. The recipe is vegan (dairy-free, egg-free), grain-free (gluten-free), soy-free, and refined sugar-free.
The inspiration for this vegan vanilla ice cream came from Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss. The texture and flavor of Coconut Bliss is largely indistinguishable from premium ice cream. It’s smooth, creamy, decadent, and so satisfying.
I clearly remember my first Coconut Bliss experience. It was my birthday, and my husband decided to get a dessert to celebrate. He came home with two pints of Coconut Bliss ice cream – Vanilla and Chocolate Peanut Butter. It took us the first spoonful to completely fall in love with Coconut Bliss. If it wasn’t my birthday, I am pretty sure we would have fought over the last bite.
Fast forward five years, and grocery stores now carry a plethora of delicious non-dairy frozen desserts. If you have your own ice cream machine, you can even churn your own ice cream and get equally delicious (if not better) results!
Sure, vanilla nice cream (aka banana ice cream flavored with vanilla) is delicious, but nothing compares to homemade ice cream made in an ice cream maker, especially to this homemade vegan vanilla ice cream. It’s bursting with sweet vanilla flavor but not too sweet that you can’t enjoy more than one scoop. The texture is rich and creamy but still cooling and refreshing.
Want to hear more? Let’s make this!
Tips for Making Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream
This homemade vanilla ice cream comes together with just five basic ingredients:
- Coconut milk: the only liquid in this recipe is full-fat coconut milk. Make sure you use canned full-fat coconut milk. Other plant-based milks, such as almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, or even lite coconut milk, don’t cut it when it comes to ice cream because of their higher water content and lower fat content.
- Cashews: to balance/mute the coconut flavor, cashews are the second base ingredient in this ice cream. Since cashews are high in fat, they also improve the ice cream texture.
- Coconut oil: another fat-based ingredient is coconut oil, which improves the overall mouthfeel and also slows down the melting of ice cream.
- Maple syrup: the primary purposes for using a sweetener in ice cream are to provide sweetness, enhance creaminess, and make ice cream easier to scoop. I like maple syrup because of its depth of flavor, but you can use any sweetener you like. Coconut Bliss uses agave syrup, So Delicious uses dried cane syrup or monk fruit extract, and Dream has brown rice syrup and agave. I do recommend using a liquid sweetener so it dissolves quickly in the cold ingredients.
- Vanilla: since this recipe is for vegan vanilla ice cream, a fresh vanilla bean is a must. While vanilla beans are more expensive than vanilla extract, they have a more intense vanilla flavor. They are the purest form of vanilla. The seeds are not only loaded with flavor, but they also add visual interest to the ice cream. That being said, pure alcohol-based vanilla extract also has its place in this recipe. It adds more flavor, and the alcohol helps prevent ice crystals.
How to Make Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream
So, you have your ingredients! Here’s a simple method for making vegan vanilla ice cream:
- Freeze the bowl of the ice cream maker. At least 24 hours before you want to make homemade ice cream, freeze the bowl of the ice cream maker. The bowl must be fully chilled for the ice cream to firm up.
- Soak the cashews. Add the cashews to a medium bowl, cover them with water, and let them soak for at least 8 hours to soften up and blend easily. You can also add 1 tsp./5.7 g of salt to the soaking water to help activate the cashews and neutralize enzyme inhibitors in the nuts. When the cashews are done soaking, drain the water and rinse the nuts thoroughly.
- Blend. Add the full-fat coconut milk, cashews, maple syrup, coconut oil, and vanilla to a high-speed blender and blend on high until smooth. Blending all the ingredients makes the ice cream mixture nice and smooth for silky ice cream at the end.
- Churn. Pour the ice cream mixture into the ice cream maker and let it churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. I have the Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker and typically churn the ice cream base for 25 minutes. Churning accomplishes three things. It incorporates air into the mixture, making the ice cream light and fluffy. It reduces the size of the ice crystals by freezing the base fast, creating tiny ice crystals for a smooth, creamy (rather than icy) mouthfeel. It breaks up the ice crystals that do form as the mixture freezes. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can manually break up the ice cream ice crystals as the mixture freezes (see instructions in the recipe card below). However, manual churning will never create the same texture as an electric ice cream maker.
- Freeze. The ice cream will have a soft texture immediately after churning, similar to soft-serve ice cream. To achieve a more scoopable consistency, transfer the churned ice cream to a freezer-safe container and place a piece of plastic wrap or foil directly on the ice cream to prevent ice crystals from forming. Freeze the ice cream until scoopable, for 2-4 hours, depending on how firm you like your ice cream and how deep/shallow your ice cream container is. I used a stainless steel 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.0-inch loaf pan.
How to Serve Vanilla Ice Cream
Vanilla ice cream is perfect on its own, but it’s even better when combined with toppings or sauces. Here are a few topping ideas to get you started:
- Drizzle it with sauce. You can transform this vanilla ice cream into a sundae by drizzling it with salted caramel sauce, strawberry sauce, chocolate ganache, or almond butter.
- Serve it with fruit. Vanilla ice cream is also delicious when served with fresh fruit – berries, cherries, or mango – poached pears, or grilled peaches.
- Keep it classic. Of course, you can never go wrong with coconut whipped cream. And if you want to go all out, serve the ice cream with apple crisp or berry crisp.
How to Store Homemade Ice Cream
- Freezing: keep the ice cream in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 month. If the ice cream is too firm to scoop straight from the freezer, let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften. As ice cream sits in the freezer, the ice crystals grow by re-crystalization. This increase in crystal size eventually reaches a point where the ice cream develops a coarse texture, at which point it has surpassed its shelf life.
Vanilla Ice Cream Variations
Not into plain vanilla?
To make a different ice cream flavor, fold two cups of finely diced mix-ins into the ice cream immediately after churning. This could be chopped strawberries, shaved chocolate, mini chocolate chips, or cookie crumbles. Another option would be to add a little bit of instant espresso powder, peppermint extract, or even almond extract.
Finally, if you like boozy ice cream, add a splash of whiskey or bourbon (a maximum of 3 Tbsp./45 ml as the recipe is written; otherwise, the ice cream might not freeze properly).
More Homemade Ice Cream Recipes
- Berry ice cream: this churned berry ice cream has everything you want in ice cream – sweetness, a vibrant strawberry-raspberry flavor, creaminess… It’s also scoopable and so easy to make!
- Chocolate ice cream: coming soon!
If you try any of these recipes, please, leave a comment and rate the recipe below. It always means a lot when you do.
Vanilla Ice Cream
- 2 (13.5-oz) cans full-fat coconut milk
- 1 cup raw cashews , soaked
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 3 Tbsp. coconut oil , melted
- 1 vanilla bean pod
- 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
- Freeze the bowl of the ice cream maker. At least 24 hours before you want to make homemade ice cream, freeze the bowl of the ice cream maker. The bowl needs to be fully chilled for the ice cream to firm up.
- Blend. Add the full-fat coconut milk, cashews, maple syrup, coconut oil, and vanilla to a high-speed blender and blend on high until smooth.
- Chill (optional). If the ice cream mixture gets too warm during blending, pour the mixture into an airtight container and transfer it to the refrigerator to chill. The mixture should be cold before churning.
- Churn. Pour the ice cream mixture into the ice cream maker and let it churn according to the manufacturer's instructions. I have the Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker and typically churn the ice cream base for about 20 minutes.
- Freeze. The ice cream will have a soft texture immediately after churning, similar to soft-serve ice cream. To achieve a more scoopable consistency, transfer the churned ice cream to a freezer-safe container and freeze it until scoopable, for 2-4 hours, depending on how firm you like your ice cream and how deep/shallow your ice cream container is. I used an 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.0-inch stainless loaf pan.
- Churning Without an Ice Cream Maker. Pour the ice cream mixture into a shallow pan and keep checking on it every 30 minutes after it's been placed in the freezer. As the ice cream begins to freeze near the edges, remove it from the freezer and stir it vigorously with a spatula, whisk, or hand mixer (a hand mixer will give you the best results). Really beat it up and break up any frozen sections. Then, return the ice cream to the freezer. Keep checking periodically and stirring (by hand or with the electric mixer) while the ice cream freezes until completely frozen. It will likely take a few hours to be ready. Note: manual churning will never create the same texture as an electric ice cream maker.
- Store. Leftover vanilla ice cream keeps well in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 month.