Slurp-tastic Homemade Ice Cream, With and Without a Machine
Here’s how to make 15 dreamy ice cream flavors, from classic vanilla bean to vegan salted double chocolate
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For many years, nightly ice cream was a ritual for me and my husband. When our son was little, we’d enjoy a small bowl each, in bed, after he’d gone to sleep. It gave us one small moment at the end of the day that was just for us, focused on nothing but pure indulgence. Now that our kiddo is a teenager who goes to sleep later than I do, ice cream eating is more of a family affair.
Keeping a creamy treat on hand with a voracious teen around is proving to be a challenge — I’d have to shop pretty much daily to avoid running out. Making ice cream at home is one obvious, and very enjoyable, solution. But most machines require freezing the bowl for 24 hours beforehand, and our apartment-sized freezer can’t give up the precious real estate. So I’ve learned to adapt. It turns out it’s entirely possible to make amazing ice cream both with and without a gadget — and sometimes without any actual cream.
How to make homemade ice cream
Whichever way you’re making your homemade ice cream, certain tips apply:
1. Chill before you freeze. The faster your base goes from liquid to solid, the creamier it’ll be. Room temperature ingredients slow the process, giving larger ice crystals time to form. If my ice cream has any crunch, I want it from yummy add-ins, not ice. If you’re in a rush, you can chill down the ice cream mixture in an ice bath rather than the fridge before you freeze it.
2. Add egg yolks for the smoothest, creamiest results. Ice creams that use yolks are known as custard ice creams, because before chilling you cook the milk, cream, sugar, and yolk mixture until it’s — that’s right — custard.
3. Don’t skimp on the fat content. That luscious mouthfeel comes from fat. Reduced-fat ice creams exist in the supermarket, but they usually have added emulsifiers and stabilizers. For most home cooks, low-fat milk leads to an icier product. That said, many recipes opt for a combination of heavy whipping cream and whole milk, or half and half, for a rich but not too rich texture.
4. Try adding alcohol — but not too much. That vodka you keep in the freezer never solidifies because alcohol has a much lower freezing point than water. So using a splash of bourbon in your vanilla ice cream, say, helps make a soft, creamy texture. But pour in too much and your ice cream won’t harden enough. Go for no more than 1/4 cup per quart.
5. Save mix-ins for the end. Let the ice cream freeze to the consistency you’re looking for, then stir in chocolate chips, nuts, crushed Oreos, etc. And if you’re going for a swirl of fudge or caramel, put a layer of ice cream into the storage container, drizzle with syrup, then repeat. Don’t stir at all — when you scoop, you’ll have swirls.
Now let's dive into 15 homemade ice cream recipes to get your game on.
Jump ahead to:
Classic ice creams with an ice cream maker
Before branching out into more playful flavors, it’s always a good idea to master the ones that have made children happy for generations. To reach the consistency most of us picture when we think of classic ice cream, each of these starts with an egg yolk custard base. They're also all made in an ice cream machine.
I was born loving chocolate ice cream, I’m pretty sure. When I’m in the mood for simple, I look no further. In this recipe, bittersweet chocolate, cocoa powder, and a wee bit of instant coffee boost the chocolate flavor sky-high, and egg yolks make it extra-creamy.
To me, vanilla ice cream is meant for topping fruit pies and crisps, or being topped with hot fudge sauce. But sometimes, I just want a straight-up bowl of the vanilla-iest ice cream possible. Infusing the milk with the seeds from a whole vanilla bean, as in this homemade vanilla ice cream recipe, definitely does the trick.
Yes, you can make strawberry ice cream with bagged frozen strawberries. But you’ll never match the uber-strawberry flavor you get when you use peak summer berries, fresh from the market. This recipe calls for no fancy flourishes — just basic ingredients, perfectly combined.
Chocolate may be my comfort food flavor, but mint chip is my go-to. This version will give you the freshest mint flavor possible, since it starts by steeping mint leaves in milk, sugar, and cream. No extract here! And instead of just stirring in chips, you “scribble” in melted chocolate, then stir vigorously. You wind up with a blizzard of little bits, spread evenly throughout.
No-churn ice cream recipes
Though I’ve seen plenty of recipes for making ice cream with a machine that say you can use the same mixture without one, in my experience it’s never quite as good. On the other hand, recipes that are intended for making the ice cream by hand work beautifully. (You’ll often see them labeled “no-churn.”) Usually they feature two ingredients: sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream. One of these recipes is a great place to start if this is your first time making ice cream.
That name says it all. Think of this as the mother recipe, the place to learn the technique and let your creativity take over (though it does also include some intriguing combos, like Cinnamon Bun and Nutella Peanut Butter). Whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form (either a hand mixer or a stand mixer is fine). Fold sweetened condensed milk and any flavorings into the whipped cream, and freeze.
I love love love this flavor combination, and the recipe achieves it in such a clever, pantry-friendly way: Along with sweetened condensed milk and whipping cream, you use a can of cherry pie filling, almond extract and toasted almonds, and a splash of almond-flavored liqueur.
Because the two-ingredient ice cream base is so easy, this recipe lets you get your hands dirty by making brownies and caramel sauce to stir in at the end — but if you want to get this into the freezer in less than 15 minutes, go with store-bought.
My son is an absolute sucker for anything that includes marshmallow, chocolate, and graham crackers. This recipe includes all that plus a chocolate fudge swirl. If I stopped working and made this right now, my son would eat the whole thing before dinner.
Non-dairy ice creams that are still creamy
Whether you’re vegan, allergic to dairy, or kosher, you might need a creamy, frozen dessert that doesn’t call for milk or cream. Enter these delicious options. Most have the extra benefit of using very little added sugar. The first two call for an ice cream maker.
Paleo ice cream? You betcha. Soaked and pureed cashews and almond milk lend the creamy texture, maple syrup and golden raisins make it sweet, and vanilla extract makes it, well, vanilla.
If you don’t tell anyone this ice cream is made from silken tofu, they’ll never guess. The coffee flavor comes from instant espresso powder, accentuated with seeds from a vanilla bean. Whirring the mixture with coconut oil makes the scoops extra-rich and creamy.
Coconut cream and more of those soaked, pureed cashews make up the body of this indulgent-feeling but actually quite healthy treat. The double-chocolate part comes from cacao (or cocoa) powder and cacao nibs.
Two cans of coconut milk, pitted dates, oil, cinnamon, orange juice, maple syrup, and peaches: It hardly feels like an ingredient list that will lead to something as decadent and perfectly summery as this.
Bonus: Healthy banana “ice creams”
I discovered this miracle when my son was in preschool: If you puree frozen chunks of overripe banana long enough, they turn into a magical, one-ingredient ice cream. It satisfied his constant yearning for sweets, and he didn’t care at all that it wasn’t the real deal. Thanks to my overly optimistic estimation of my family’s banana-eating in lockdown, I always have plenty of frozen bananas ready to go. Make sure you wait until they’re good and brown before freezing, or the end result won’t taste sweet enough. And be aware: These ice creams tend to freeze up rock-solid, so I like to make just enough for us to eat in one sitting.
It really is as simple as put frozen banana in food processor, but I thought you might like to see it written out and demonstrated. This version suggests adding peanut butter powder, too.
This is the current favorite in my home, nothing but bananas and berries. In less than 10 minutes, we’re enjoying soft-serve ice cream that’s nothing more than fruit. My son (he of the constant yearning) likes to top his with chocolate syrup. Of course.
When we’re buying Ben & Jerry’s, Chunky Monkey is always my husband’s first choice. I can’t tell you how tickled I was to realize I can recreate it in such an easy, healthy way. Bananas, walnuts, and dark chocolate make a ridiculously nutritious treat, without even a quarter cup sugar added.