Not So Plain Vanilla Ice Cream

February 5, 2014

I have never understood the use of the term “plain vanilla” to describe something boring. I happen to love vanilla and nothing comes close to the fragrance of a fresh vanilla bean. That being said, there are not so many “plain vanilla” recipes on this blog. That is because vanilla is one of the most difficult flavors to successfully highlight in a parve dessert. Most great vanilla flavored desserts are chock full of dairy, because the neutral flavor of the dairy allows the vanilla flavor to shine. The trick with parve baking and cooking is that none of the great non-dairy substitutes available are as neutral in flavor as dairy milk and cream. While the subtle (or not so subtle) flavors of the base milk can add a depth of flavor to a finished dessert (like the way the coconut subtly complements the pears in this tart or the almond makes this rice pudding taste like horchata), they make it somewhat difficult to make the vanilla the star of the show. When I was a kid I frequently ordered French Vanilla ice cream because I loved the eggy richness of the vanilla studded ice cream custard, so I knew my challenge would be to find a way to make that vanilla-y goodness a non-dairy reality.

My standard ice cream base that I use for many different flavored ice creams is close to neutral, but not quite enough that I have been satisfied with it when I tried to make plain vanilla ice cream. As a result I tend to serve ice cream flavors like cinnamon or caramel instead of vanilla as a side to a slice of pie or a scoop of bread pudding. But there are times when nothing but vanilla will do so I have been tinkering on and off throughout the years trying to come up with a parve vanilla ice cream recipe that truly tastes the way vanilla ice cream should taste. I finally think I have gotten it. The answer, it turns out, is cashew milk and a whole lot of vanilla. It has a much more subtle flavor than almond milk or soy milk and a nice creaminess that works wonderfully in ice cream. Add a high quality vanilla bean to the custard and you have vanilla ice cream worth savoring.

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Ingredients & Quantities

  • 2 1/4 cup (18 oz) cashew milk
  • 3/4 cup (5.6 oz) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz) neutral tasting oil
  • 1 (6 inch) vanilla bean
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) vanilla extract

Preparation Instructions

Set a large bowl aside with a fine mesh strainer on top of it. Place the egg yolks and the salt in another large bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan combine the cashew milk, sugar and oil. Scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean into the saucepan, then add the bean. Heat the mixture until very warm.

Slowly stream the warm mixture into the egg yolks while whisking constantly. Scrape the warmed yolk mixture back into the pan and cook over medium heat stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan with the spatula while stirring. Cook until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spatula. (Or reaches 160 F) Pour the custard through the strainer into the prepared bowl. Place the bowl over an ice bath and stir until cool.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator and then freeze in a ice cream maker according to the manufacturers instructions.

Note: The ice cream will get harder as it sits in the freezer so it has been in the freezer a while let it sit out for 10-15 minutes to soften it before serving in order to get the best texture.

Recipe Times


10 Minutes


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    • I actually used refined coconut oil for the oil. I am going to try making a maple version that is paleo, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

  1. Fabulous. I’ve made vanilla ice cream with coconut milk and almond milk, but not cashew milk. Have to try that. I agree, vanilla is anything BUT boring. There’s a purity, fragrance and flavor that can’t be surpassed. It helps to use actual vanilla pod, as you do, rather than even the best extract.

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  3. Hello Shoshana,
    The recipe really sounds delicious, but we don’t have industrialized cashew milk, it’s ok if it’s homemade and if yes do you think I should do it more dense or not so much?
    The egg yolks should be whisked until pale or just combined?, I’am afraid of the acentuated egg yolk after taste.

    • Homemade cashew milk should work fine. For this recipe you will want it to be slightly thick, but not as thick as cream. To my taste the ice cream is not eggy tasting, and all the egg yolks are what gives it a nice creamy texture. You only need to whisk them until combined.

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