Coconut Milk Ice Cream from Scratch, For Real
When my pretty turquoise ice cream machine showed up at my door a few weeks ago, I went crazy. Suddenly, concocting ice cream recipes that weren't packed full of agave nectar, unpronounceable ingredients, or irritants I avoid was as easy as opening a couple of cans of coconut milk into a bowl, whisking in the other ingredients, and adding the whole thing to the frozen bowl of the ice cream machine. After half an hour of churning, I'd have ice cream.
I sort of told myself that I was following Michael Pollan's Food Rule #39: "Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself." The idea behind the rule is that if people made all the junk food they ate, and cleaned up all the associated messes, they'd eat junk much less often, certainly not every day.
In truth, there's nothing difficult about making ice cream using canned coconut milk and a machine. For simple vanilla ice cream, I whisk together two 14oz cans of coconut milk (I like Thai Kitchen brand), 1/4 cup sugar (this makes a not-very-sweet ice cream), 1 tbsp arrowroot powder, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 1/4 tsp salt. Then I run the ice cream machine as instructed.
I recently decided that my next batch of ice cream would be made in the true spirit of Pollan's rule. I would make the coconut milk itself from scratch.
I found some great instructions for making coconut milk at Nourished Kitchen, but these coconuts caused a lot more troubled than I expected. The eyes were tough to pierce in order to drain the water; the flesh wouldn't loosen easily (or even with considerable effort, at times) from the husk. I did get them at Grocery Outlet, so I wasn't shocked. Steve and I slowly worked through each chunk of loosened fruit, scraping off the brown bits.
I actually managed to complete the job without cutting any of my fingers off or open. For me, that is an incredible feat.
After the cutting and cleaning was complete, I added hot water as instructed by Nourished Kitchen and threw everything into an old blender. I strained it all, and by midnight, after hours of work, I finally had a few cups of coconut milk.
For this batch, I replaced the sugar in the recipe with double the amount of maple syrup. After all that work, I wanted it to be decadent, the best ice cream I would ever taste. That night, the ice cream machine's freezer bowl just wasn't cold enough to chill the coconut milk yet, so I stuck it back in the freezer and waited until the next day to finish the job.
The photo on the left shows the ice cream shortly after it was made, topped with mint. The photo on the right shows it one day later. After spending time in the freezer, it turned too hard to even yield to an ice cream scoop, and I had to pick away and loosen small chunks. Perhaps the absence of guar gum from the coconut milk affected the ice cream's creaminess; this had a texture closer to Italian ice.
So, would I do it again? No. I would not. I kept telling Steve, as we hammered coconut shells and stabbed at the innards, "This will be the best ice cream we've ever tasted." It was not. I was glad to have it during Seattle's heat wave, but I've made better ice cream before. I do, however, think this experience might change the way I approach the too-easy task of making ice cream. Remembering the intense focus and mind-numbing labor involved in preparing the coconuts will, I hope, help me to slow down and appreciate the preparation that's already been done by the time I pick up a can of perfect, creamy coconut milk.