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(pictured: Raspberry Cheesecake Ganache Ripple Ice Cream)
Confession: I have an ice cream obsession.
But you probably already knew that. I mean, the ice cream cone logo is kind of a giveaway.
A few people have picked up on my obsession with ice cream, and some have even dubbed me “The Ice Cream Queen”. It’s a badge I bear with great honor, dignity (ahem…most of the time), and no small amount of responsibility. Such responsibility has lead me to write this post so that you too can enjoy ice cream – guilt free! Because ice cream and guilt should be mutually exclusive. Even if you eat naughty, sugar-laden ice cream, enjoy it and do better next time. 😉 That stuff really isn’t good for you though, so thankfully we have options. Lots of options. Keep reading to find out more about the equipment I use, how different ingredients affect ice cream recipes, and how to store ice cream.
The Sales Pitch
Ice cream is one of the easiest healthy desserts to make (in my unbiased opinion). Blend some stuff in a blender, pour it into an ice cream churn, eat. A countertop ice cream churn with a freezer canister is hassle-free and easy to clean.
So what equipment do you need to make ice cream? I recommend a good blender and a countertop ice cream churn. These are the ones I use:
Sometimes I use an immersion blender in my ice cream recipes that involve cooking a custard and blending hot ingredients. (Blending hot ingredients in a covered blender can lead to pressure buildups and explosions.)
Most of the recipes on my site are made for a 1.5 qt. ice cream churn. I have also used a 6 qt. traditional ice-and-rock-salt churn (and I have a recipe of that size here), but a smaller countertop model is definitely easier to use with less mess. I have been using our Cuisinart for several years now, and it’s still running great! The ice cream maker comes with an aluminum canister that you keep in your freezer. When you’re ready to make your ice cream, simply place the canister on the ice cream machine, lock the plastic blades inside the canister with the plastic cover, turn the machine on, and add your blended ice cream mixture! In 20 minutes or less, you have soft serve ice cream! When the ice cream is finished, remove it from the canister (I use a plastic spatula so I don’t scratch the surface of the freezer canister), and enjoy! If you want a firmer product, you can put the ice cream in your freezer for an hour or so.
I don’t put any of my ice cream maker equipment in the dishwasher because I want it to last as long as possible, but it’s all quite easy to hand-wash. The exterior plastic cover rarely gets very dirty at all. Both the blades and the aluminum freezer canister take about 30 seconds to wash by hand.
Is a countertop ice cream maker worth the money? In my opinion, definitely yes. They are easy to use, and they churn out my favorite healthy dessert of all time with minimal effort.
If you don’t have an ice cream maker and don’t want to invest in one, you have a couple of options:
- Make a no-churn ice cream. I personally haven’t had much success with this, but I haven’t given it many tries either. Most no-churn ice cream recipes rely on sweetened condensed milk or something similar to give them a nice consistency, but I’ve seen a few healthy (sugar free) no-churn ice cream recipes floating around Pinterest. Since I have an ice cream maker that’s so easy to use, I haven’t tried any of them yet. The time or two I did try a no-churn recipe, I was just bumbling along making up my own and I didn’t use nearly enough cream. As far as I can tell, no-churn recipes need a pretty high fat content to stay remotely scoopable.
- Use your blender. Quite a few ice cream recipes can be made using a blender, although the texture won’t be as nice. Simply freeze the ice cream mixture in ice cube trays, soften the cubes a bit, and blend them with a little unsweetened almond milk or cream in a high-powered blender until a soft serve consistency is reached. Freeze the ice cream in your freezer for an hour or so to firm up more, if desired.
- Use an ice cream ball (although if you’re spending that much, you might as well buy a countertop ice cream maker).
- Try the plastic bag/ice/rock salt method (click here for a video).
CLICK HERE for my Basic Scoopable Vanilla Ice Cream recipe that implements my latest tips and tricks!
Cream | Put simply, the more cream you use, the creamier and softer and more scoopable your ice cream will be. The trick is to find a happy medium between “calorie overload” and “good ice cream.” I use various amounts in my recipes depending on my mood. 😉 For special occasions I make recipes with two cups of cream, like this Special Occasion Ice Cream, but when I want more frequent treats I stick to 1/2 – 1 cup of cream.
Half and half | Half and half isn’t as calorie dense as cream but it stays creamier than almond milk when frozen, so I often use it as part of the volume in my ice cream recipes.
Unsweetened almond, cashew, or coconut milk (the very light kind from the carton with about 40 calories per cup) | I use this to make up the rest of the volume for the ice cream, just like you would use milk in regular ice cream recipes. Nut and coconut milks tend to get more icy than dairy milk does when frozen, so if a recipe isn’t as creamy and smooth as you’d like, try substituting more cream or half and half in place of some almond milk. Keep in mind that this increases the calorie load!
Cottage cheese | Cottage cheese is one of my favorite “secret ingredients” to make recipes creamy without a lot of extra calories. You can’t taste it (provided that you don’t use too much), and it adds a nice protein boost!
Eggs | Eggs (especially their yolks) can really improve the texture and taste of homemade ice creams! Cooking a custard base for an ice cream, then chilling it before churning takes time, but the results are worth it. I do this in some of my recipes, but in others I omit the eggs in interest of quick and easy. You can add raw eggs for extra richness if you’re comfortable with that, but the ice cream’s consistency will be better if the eggs are cooked into the ice cream base.
Sweetener | I used to use THM Pure Stevia Extract Powder to sweeten all my ice cream recipes…until I found that xylitol helps keep them from freezing so hard when leftovers are stored long-term! Now I usually use mostly xylitol with a few doonks of stevia for extra sweetening power if needed. In my experience, xylitol dissolves just fine when blended into an ice cream base (whether you cook it or not), but if you have a problem with crystals in your ice cream, try powdering your granulated sweetener in a coffee grinder before adding it. Xylitol is poisonous to dogs and gives some people an upset stomach if they’re not used to it, so if you’re not into using it, you could try substituting erythritol or your favorite granulated sweetener that measures like sugar. I haven’t tested anything other than xylitol so I’m not sure if other sugar alcohols will have the same anti-freezing effect in ice cream or not. I prefer the taste (or lack thereof) of xylitol over erythritol.
Vegetable glycerin | This article does a good job of explaining what vegetable glycerin is, so I’ll let you read it instead of trying to put everything into my own words. Basically it’s a clear liquid that helps give ice cream a creamy texture and stay scoopable instead of icy when frozen, then thawed. It also helps keep the ice cream from creating a thick frozen layer on your ice cream canister. I have not received a definitive answer about how much is approved on the Trim Healthy Mama plan, but supposedly it’s safe for diabetics and doesn’t spike blood sugar like regular sugar does. I cannot deny or confirm that, but I only use about a tablespoon in my recipes for my 1.5 qt. ice cream maker, so it’s a small amount per serving. I made ice cream without vegetable glycerin for awhile, but once I started using it, I haven’t made ice cream without it.
I always purchase Essential Depot brand from Amazon, but you can often find vegetable glycerin in the skincare section of grocery or health food stores. I know that NOW brand is food grade. A lot of vegetable glycerin is food grade, but if you find one with a poison warning on the label, I would suggest finding another brand…lol. I’ve heard that some vegetable glycerins made for use in cake frostings can have a funky taste in ice cream, so I’d stay away from those.
Glucomannan | Glucomannan is a natural thickening agent made from the konjac root. Xanthan gum is similar, and they can generally be interchanged in a 1:1 ratio. I’ve found that adding glucomannan to my ice cream recipes makes them nice and creamy. I generally use about a teaspoon in the recipes I make for my 1.5 qt. ice cream maker. Since glucomannan can clump when it comes into contact with liquid, I add it to the blender last, then immediately put the lid on and blend everything together. The glucomannan I purchase can be found at Netrition.com or on Amazon. Trim Healthy Mama has its own brand, which I’ve heard is stronger than what I use, so if you find that it makes the ice cream slimy, try reducing the amount.
Air | The more air ice cream has in it, the fluffier and softer it will be! This is why I use an ice cream churn. I’ve started blending the heavy cream into my cooked ice cream bases to incorporate extra air before churning as well.
Vodka | I have heard that vodka will keep ice cream from freezing hard because of the alcohol content, but I haven’t personally tried this. While I have a conscience against getting drunk, I wouldn’t have a problem with putting a tablespoon or two of vodka in ice cream for a practical purpose. However, I haven’t found a good way to inconspicuously purchase vodka, and right now I’m trying to “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22). 😉
Dairy free | You can still have ice cream if you’re allergic to dairy! I have successfully made dairy-free ice cream using canned coconut milk, and you can find a basic dairy free ice cream recipe here.
Storing Ice Cream
So what if you have leftovers? Wait…who am I kidding?? No, but really, sometimes you have leftover ice cream. (Or at least you should. Theoretically.) What do you do with it? Well, it’ll melt if you don’t put it in your freezer, so I highly suggest putting it in a sealable container in your freezer. You need a container that seals tightly, and the more shallow it is, the faster the ice cream will thaw to a scoopable consistency.
When you freeze ice cream leftovers, they will eventually freeze harder than a soft-serve consistency. How fast they get hard and exactly how hard they get will vary according to the ingredients you used.
When you’re ready to eat your ice cream leftovers, simply let them thaw at room temperature until they are your desired consistency. Some of my recipes thaw quicker than others, so check the individual recipes for notes about that.
A great way to use up leftover ice cream that has frozen solid is to make a milkshake! I have a basic leftover-ice-cream-milkshake recipe here, and a peanut butter milkshake recipe that uses leftover ice cream here.
DO NOT pour your ice cream mixture into your countertop ice cream machine without turning it on first! If the canister is not rotating with the blades in place before you pour the ice cream mixture into it, the mixture will instantly freeze to the frozen canister and then the blades won’t be able to move. You will have a gigantic ice-cream-ice-cube of a fail.
Make sure your ice cream machine canister is completely frozen before trying to make ice cream, otherwise your ice cream will not freeze properly. Your ice cream maker’s instruction manual will have information on how long your specific model takes to freeze. When you first get your ice cream maker and freeze the canister, I recommend letting it freeze for 48 hours to make sure it’s properly frozen. For subsequent batches, I like to give my ice cream canister 24 hours in the freezer just to be on the safe side. If you make ice cream extremely frequently, you might want to invest in an extra freezer canister for your ice cream machine.
I hope that this post has cleared up questions that you’ve had about making healthy ice cream! If you have questions that I did not cover here or some advice of your own to give, please comment below!
Other posts and pages you might enjoy: