The secret to really good dairy-free ice cream

My dreams are of cheese and yogurt and ice cream. Great pools of them all — I swim in currents of dairy.

Ok, I haven’t actually had that dream — but maybe I can tonight, if I think hard enough about it? I certainly spend enough time during my conscious hours, pondering a list of cheeses I miss most, ordered in various arrangements of preference according to menu and quality.

And last night, after both our kids read their poems at the downtown library, I talked Emily and her family into a celebratory ice cream jaunt to Goose the Market instead of the chain frozen yogurt shop. I wasn’t even going to eat it, but darnit if I wouldn’t rather vicariously eat some good local-ish gelato over a cup of trucked-in frozen reconstituted powdered milk that oozes out of a spout in the wall (I know — they have toppings — and wisely so, because by the time you choose a bunch, weighing in at 49¢ an ounce, your ice cream cup costs about $8).

See? I even have strong opinions when I can’t eat the stuff.

Dairy-free ice cream is tough. The store-bought attempts I’d had years ago did nothing to satisfy my primal ice-cream needs — and these days I pretty much make all varieties of this dessert in our house, using my trusty thrift-store Cuisinart and David Lebovitz’s ice cream book.

Ice cream is one of those things where the dairy isn’t easy to convincingly replace.

Ice cream needs fat. And the best non-dairy fat I’ve found is coconut fat.

I’d made a dairy-free vanilla ice cream a few years ago — but these days, I am only allowed honey as a sweetener, and unless I want honey-flavored ice cream (not always a bad thing), strong flavors are in order. Inspired by a casual flipping through the well-worn pages of The Perfect Scoop, my bag of frozen sour cherries from last year’s harvest came to the rescue.

Sweet-tart and creamy, with just a hint of coconut. A splash of almond extract (don’t measure over your bowl — it comes out fast!) gives it the perfect finish. While I won’t claim that coconut milk can eternally replace the wonders of cow’s milk cream, this recipe will do me just fine until that glorious day when I once again swim in daily pools of dairy.


Recipe: Sour Cherry Coconut Ice Cream (dairy-free, refined-sweetener-free, GAPS-friendly)

: makes about a quart

Do not use lowfat coconut milk, or delicious ice cream you will not make. You can sub unsweetened coconut cream for the canned milk, but do not add water to thin or it will make the frozen dessert icy.

I have no qualms about using raw egg yolks in this ice cream — but only do so with eggs from pastured local chickens that are happy and healthy. You can omit the egg yolks if raw eggs cause concern, or if you do not have no access to fresh local eggs.


  • 1 (14oz) can full-fat coconut milk (unsweetened)
  • 2 cups tart cherries, pitted (fresh or frozen, no need to thaw)
  • 5 Tbsp mild honey (I used clover)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract
  • 2 pastured egg yolks (optional, see note)
  • pinch salt


  1. In a blender, combine all ingredients, and blend until smooth.
  2. Refrigerate until chilled, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to its instructions. When serving, allow to soften a few minutes at room temperature to restore creamy texture.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.


This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.


4 thoughts on “The secret to really good dairy-free ice cream

  1. You read my mind, don’t you? I was just thinking yesterday of how I can recreate that delicious chocolate sorbet we had at your house. It was divine. And yesterday we went to Graeter’s after school because it is now located dangerously close. And I was thrilled that W could get a huge scoop of sorbet in a cone. I have to admit, it was lemon, and it was delicious. But I still longed for that chocolate! And I know it’s hard to believe, I prefer sorbet to ice cream. I know. I know. Nate wonders what’s wrong with me, too.

    1. That sorbet *is* amazing — one of my very favorite recipes in Perfect Scoop. No dairy at all — no coconut milk either. I unfortunately can’t eat it right now because — of course — it’s made with high-quality dark baking chocolate, and we’ve covered the fact that I’m willfully avoiding that right now (by some might outside of myself, I might add).

  2. Im all over this…with just a couple quarts of frozen sour cherries in my freezer left….this seems worthy of ending my stash:) (And July isnt too too far away)

    Also, you are so so much more hard core than me. Ive been splurging on high cacao chocolate for over a month:) (With no ill effects I might add!)

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