Our friend Jeff used to battle the wilderness for a few months before breaking from the Pacific Crest Trail or some tall peak to come share a home-cooked meal and sleep on a “real” bed. He’d flop his heavy pack by the door and my sister and I would have to wait patiently as he ate and caught up with my parents. We loved Jeff: He told us stories about escaping bears, finding his way after getting lost and sleeping high above the forest in a lookout cabin.
The best thing Jeff shared came after dinner. We’d watch him dig too slowly through his pack for king-sized Butterfinger bars. He’d mutter that he’d possibly forgotten this time, and we’d bite our lips with worry until two large Butterfingers appeared. We’d run them protectively to Mom, who’d join Jeff in chopping the bars into small slivers and adding them to a milky vanilla ice cream base she’d prepared for his visit.
He’d always double check that she’d added the secret ingredient — instant coffee.
I’ve since developed a dairy (and egg) allergy, so Butterfinger ice cream is no longer my summer treat. But I still crave that frozen treat, one that’s perfectly icy but also creamy.
Virpi Mikkonen and Tuulia Talvio’s vegan ice cream book, N’ice Cream: 80+ Recipes for Healthy Homemade Vegan Ice Creams promises healthy and delicious alternatives to my childhood favorite. But do they deliver?
There’s a section for last minute cravings, and this is where I started. One caveat for making a traditional custard-based ice cream is time. You not only have to slowly cook the egg base, but then wait for it to cool before you can proceed with churning. Not so with vegan alternatives. Blend up a few ingredients and you’re set to chill. In the case of the “last minute” section, only blending is required.
We made the Coconut Vanilla Sundae with Peanut Butter Caramel. The caramel is really more of a sauce made up of three ingredients whisked together, but it was delicious, so no need to quibble. The sundae was more like a creamy vanilla shake and I had trouble keeping my scavenger kids from finishing it off.
Next we tried the Chocolate Avocado Ice Cream, which promised to be the perfect fix for chocolate cravings. This time I went with the no churn option. It came out a little lumpy and not as smooth as the chocolaty mousse it started as. The recipe calls for two avocados. I figured my Hass was a little large and kept it to one and a half. Still, the result needed more chocolate and sweetness to balance the avocado. We ended up throwing it out. Clearly with avocado, less is more.
The main recipes in N’ice Cream use one of four ingredients in the bases of their ice creams: frozen bananas, avocado, coconut cream and nut or seed butters. (Recipes for some of the sorbets and popsicles use just frozen fruit.) We liked the recipes based on bananas and coconut milk the best. The avocado-based recipes are an acquired taste.
Several recipes are labeled “NF” (nut free) and either don’t use nuts or are adaptable. I noted that several without this label are equally adaptable and a couple with the nut free identifier weren’t actually nut free and no alternate ingredients were listed. However, once you’ve learned the ways to make adjustments these inconsistencies aren’t much of an issue.
(Let’s ignore the fact that the FDA recognizes coconut as a tree-nut while botanically it’s considered a fruit, of which we eat the seed. Either way, if you have a coconut allergy, this book might only have a few options for you.)
There are friendly instructions for churn and no-churn methods, and for many all that’s needed is a decent blender and pre-frozen ingredients.
There are plenty of recipes that caught my eye: black sesame-licorice ice cream, matcha-white chocolate ice pops and a very attractive caramel-peanut ice cream cake. Despite some of the hiccups, it’s a book I’ll be returning to all summer long.
We also tried the roasted banana ice cream (pictured above + recipe below) and mint chocolate chip sundae, but kept coming back to the creamy coconut sundae. With that peanut butter caramel, it’s about the closest I’ve gotten to a Butterfinger ice cream replacement. I’ll tweak the recipe next time, and not forget Jeff’s secret ingredient — instant coffee.
Roasted Banana Ice Cream from N’ice Cream
If you’ve never had roasted bananas, you’re in for a treat. The natural sweetness of bananas is brought out in force when you roast them. If you love that sweet, creamy flavor, then it’s a good bet that this ice cream will be your new best friend.
5 very ripe bananas
2 teaspoons Ceylon cinnamon
½ cup full-fat coconut milk
1½ cups unsweetened almond milk (or other nut milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup raw cacao nibs or crushed raw chocolate
Maple syrup for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Slice the bananas into 1 inch / 2-3cm pieces and spread them on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the bananas with the cinnamon. Bake for 30 minutes, turning once halfway through, until the bananas are brown and soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 30 to 45 minutes.
Combine the bananas, coconut milk, almond milk and vanilla in a blender and blend until smooth. Taste and add more cinnamon or a splash of sweetener if desired. Add the cacao nibs and stir with a spoon.
With an ice cream maker: Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and prepare the ice cream according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Serve straight away or transfer to a freezer-safe container, cover and freeze until ready to be served. Let the ice cream thaw for 10-15 minutes before serving. Drizzle maple syrup on top!
Without an ice cream maker: Pour the ice cream mixture into a freezer-safe bowl and freeze for about three hours, mixing well every 30 minutes. After three hours, scoop into bowls, serve with maple syrup and enjoy!
Makes 6 servings.
Recipe and Photo reprinted from N’Ice Cream by arrangement with Avery Books, members of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2016, Virpi Mikkonen and Tuulia Talvio