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Look What I Made: Vegan Pistachio Ice Cream

Vegan pistachio ice cream (photos by Travis Awalt)

Um, this @#$% is good. Alarmingly good.

I’m trying to write up an intro for this recipe and all I can think of are interjections and superlatives (where are you when I need you, other parts of speech?), so a few quick thoughts, then on to the recipe…

First, forget that this is a vegan recipe (unless you’re vegan, of course) because that’s incidental. There’s no mistaking this dish for anything but ice cream (unless you mistake it for gelato), and that is due in part to the fact that coconut milk is about 20% fat by volume. This is not diet food, mmmkay?

Second, xanthan gum and cooking oil are what really make this recipe work. No, xanthan gum isn’t some comic book bad guy or a roadie for Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie. It’s a powder that does, however, have other-worldly thickening powers -waaaaay more commercial uses than you realize and is available in any supermaket. Xanthan gum thickens the mixture, while the oil, which has a lower freezing point than the other liquids used, stays viscous, helping keep the dreaded large ice chunks from forming (here‘s a more science-y explanation). If you’ve ever made ice cream at home and suffered what the kids call a ‘fail,’ it’s probably because the ice cream was melty straight out of the ice cream maker and frozen solid after sitting in the freezer. These ingredients play a major role in this ice cream freezing smooth and scoop-able.

The best part… it’s so easy to scoop

Last, I know it’s ‘winter,’ but it was like 80 degrees with clear skies last weekend(!). I feel like that’s OK ice cream weather. Here’s a promise: if it ever drops to the 40′s in July, I’ll make a warming stew or whatever.

Vegan Pistachio Ice Cream

special equipment needed: ice cream maker
2 cups coconut milk FULL FAT
1 cup pistachio milk (or almond milk for vanilla ice cream)
(see below for DIY pistachio and coconut milk instructions)
3/4 cup agave or corn syrup
1 tbsp neutral oil (I actually used olive b/c that’s what I had and it turned out fine)
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pistachio pieces (optional)

1. Add all ingredients except pistachio pieces in a blender or food processor (I used a stick blender) and blend thoroughly, 30 seconds or so. It’ll already be thickened from the xanthan gum and more wobbly than sloshy. Chill for at least 2 hours.

Mixed, wobbly and ready to chill

2. After two hours, you’ll have a weird, very gelatinous mixture. Dump it into an ice cream maker and freeze about 30-40 minutes, adding some chopped pistachio pieces in the last 5 minutes, if desired. It’s ready when the mixture is very thick and resembles a slightly grainy, but supple, dough (see picture below). It may seem slightly under-frozen and almost Cool Whip-like. That’s perfect.

Ready for the freezer

3. Transfer to serving vessel (I used a loaf pan, as you can see), smooth out the top, garnish with whole pistachios if desired and freeze several hours or overnight. *This is important.* Typically, when you freeze homemade ice cream overnight, it turns into an impenetrable brick by the next day; this freezes perfectly and scoops easily (without thawing), but it needs plenty of time to fully freeze.

Pistachio Milk

1 cup water per 1/3 cup raw, shelled pistachios
Adapted from Into Shelley’s Belly.

In a food processor, puree nuts and water as smooth as possible. Strain through a sieve. There will be a significant amount of pulp left. Squeeze any remaining milk from the pulp. I save the pulp and use it in smoothies.

Coconut Milk

2 cups water per whole coconut

With a hammer and a long nail, tap holes into two of the coconut’s ‘eyes’ and drain the water (drink it, it’s friggin’ delightful). Place coconut in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. This dries the husk, so that the coconut meat is more easily separated. Split open the coconut and peel back the husk, wedging a spoon in to pry away any tricky pieces. With a vegetable peeler, remove the outer skin from the meat. When all the coconut meat is peeled – just as with pistachio milk – puree it in a food processor, then strain through a sieve and squeeze the remaining milk from the pulp.