You love ice cream, don’t you? If you don’t, I’m not sure we can be friends. I mean, unless you give me your ice cream. Then I’ll be your bestie. For life, yo.
I have to say, in the realm of delicious ice cream, homemade ice cream is up on the very tippy top of the list. When made well, homemade ice cream kicks store bought ice cream’s butt. But you have to know how to do it well, and I’m here to give you all the deets. And I’m even telling you how to make amazing homemade low carb ice cream. Yessiree, I still eat ice cream while eating keto.
Homemade Ice Cream Basics
I am sharing a recipe at the end of this post, but primarily I’m talking ingredients and techniques. If you’d like to skip all the info and go straight to the recipe, click here.
The basics of homemade ice cream come down primarily to ingredients, but also equipment. Ingredients matter doubly so when it comes to low carb ice cream because you have to make some substitutions.
One of the biggest complaints with homemade ice cream is that it often freezes very hard and has to be left out of the freezer for a while before it’s scoopable. But you can make homemade ice cream that scoops straight from the freezer if you use the right ingredients.
There are three basic ingredients that will make your ice cream softer: fats, sugar, and additives. Let’s look at each of those categories in detail.
Ice cream generally contains, well, cream. This would be one of the main fats used, so don’t swap out cream for low fat milk products if you want soft ice cream.
In fact, for my ice cream base, I use a significantly greater ratio of cream than other recipes out there. More cream = creamier ice cream. Note: if you can’t do dairy, coconut milk and coconut cream are good options for your ice cream base.
But cream alone won’t make for soft ice cream. The next ingredient you can use is egg yolks. Egg yolks make for a great custard ice cream base, plus they add great nutrition in the form of amino acids; fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K; and essential fatty acids. Unless you have an egg sensitivity, egg yolks are a really great addition to your ice cream.
Another thing you can add that may surprise you is oil. I know that may sound weird, but coconut oil or MCT oil are actually a great way to add nutrition to your ice cream while helping to keep it soft.
Sugar also plays an important role in keeping ice cream soft. But if you’re following a low carb diet, sugar is kind of a major no-no.
Most low-carb substitutes like stevia or sugar alcohols do not function like sugars in ice cream. They will certainly add a sweetness, but if you don’t use other methods for keeping your ice cream soft with these ingredients, your ice cream will be rock hard. Xylitol will result in somewhat softer ice cream than erythritol, but it also contains more carbs.
There is one low carb sweetener, however, that will make for some lusciously soft-from-the-freezer ice cream. It’s our good friend Allulose, which you might remember from our low carb caramel sauce recipe.
Allulose works here because it is a type of sugar. But our bodies don’t metabolize it. So it functions as a sugar without increasing blood sugar. Allulose is more expensive than other low carb sweeteners, but its unique properties make it really helpful for recreating some recipes.
IF you use Allulose in this recipe, there’s really no need to add any other ingredients to help with texture, as you’ll end up with a nice, soft-scooping ice cream.
If you’re not concerned about how many carbs you’re eating, feel free to use regular old sugar.
“Additives” sounds very sinister, and in the case of store-bought ice cream, it can be. Some ice cream manufacturers use things like propylene glycol to keep their ice cream soft. While that ingredient is “Generally Regarded As Safe” by the FDA, it’s not something I’d prefer to consume.
Many manufactured ice creams contain starches and gums of different kinds to help with texture, with varying opinions on the safety of these ingredients.
But there are some more natural (and low-carb) things you can add to your ice cream that will help with the texture.
Mascarpone or cream cheese can be added to your ice cream base to make for a creamier consistency. Mascarpone has a milder flavor than cream cheese, but cream cheese can give a cheesecake-type flavor to your ice cream if that’s what you want.
Alcohol: Because alcohol doesn’t freeze, adding a small amount of alcohol will improve the texture of your ice cream. Grain alcohol is your best bet here because it has a higher percentage of alcohol than other types and is free from carbs. Vodka is easy to add to any type of ice cream because it adds no flavor, but certain flavors of other types of alcohol may be a desirable additive if they pair well with your other flavors.
I usually use about 2 tablespoons of vodka. It’s not enough to taste, but it does not get cooked out in any way. Obviously if you’re avoiding alcohol entirely you should pick a different option for keeping your ice cream soft.
Xanthan Gum: There is a little bit of debate over whether xanthan gum is good or bad, but if you’re familiar with my recipes, you know I use it without qualms. Adding 1/2 tsp to your ice cream base can help with the texture.
Vegetable Glycerine: Vegetable glycerine is probably the most controversial additive on this list. Vegetable glycerine is produced from plant oils through hydrolosis. It’s definitely a highly processed ingredient, but it acts as a humectant in a lot of recipes. It is generally considered a low carb sweetener, but I would definitely check your own reaction to it in terms of blood sugar effect.
Gelatin: This one sounds a little strange, but I hear it works well. Plus gelatin, especially a high-quality grass-fed gelatin, has some health benefits, making this a great option. Dissolve a tablespoon of gelatin into 1/4 cup water, then add to the cooked ice cream base while it’s still warm.
Your add-ins won’t effect the softness of your ice cream, but I wanted to make a note about them here.
If you’re wanting to add fruit to your ice cream, it must be cooked or else it will be icy and unpleasant. Cook it down to a jam-like consistency. Adding some sweetener will improve the texture a bit, but isn’t strictly necessary.
Anything you plan to fold into the ice cream base once churned should be very cold. Place in the freezer for a few minutes before adding to the churned ice cream for best results.
If you’d like to add a ripple of ganache or caramel, these will need to be warm, but only warm enough to be pourable. I like to layer them in to the container as I’m adding the ice cream. Then when the ice cream is scooped, bits of chocolate or caramel are swirled in.
Do you really need an ice cream machine to make homemade ice cream? Well, no. There are certain techniques out there that are meant for no-churn ice cream that work fine. In my experience, they’re a bit less rich, though. They generally have a different type of recipe, so you likely won’t be successful trying to make a recipe that calls for churning into a no-churn.
If you make a lot of ice cream, or if you’re an ice cream connoisseur, I would suggest getting yourself an ice cream maker of some kind.
I have the ice cream attachment for my Kitchenaid Mixer, and I really like it. It doesn’t require a whole separate machine that takes up space. The downside is that the bowl must be in the freezer for at least 15 hours before churning ice cream. Since we got a large upright freezer for our basement, I store it in there permanently so I can make ice cream whenever the mood strikes.
The other option is a full machine. I’ve heard good things about this Cuisinart version. The benefit is that you don’t have to keep anything in the freezer or plan ahead, but the downside is that it’s more expensive and takes up more space.
Other options are some manual ice cream makers like this one, or using the technique of ziplock bags with ice and salt, but I’m not confident in how well they work.
I’ve been talking about cooked ice cream bases for the most part, but you don’t actually have to cook your ice cream base.
If you don’t care at all about eating raw egg yolks, you definitely have the option of throwing all the ingredients, cold, into a blender until it’s fully incorporated. This is certainly the easiest option. You skip both the cooking and cooling step and can basically go straight to churning.
But not everyone is comfortable with raw eggs. Eating raw eggs comes with a small risk in terms of exposure to salmonella. Cooking the custard base is a little trickier, which is why I’ve chosen to show this method so if that’s your preference, you can see exactly how to do it and get all my tips for success.
Let’s Make This Thing!
Phew, now that we’ve gotten all that stuff covered, let me show you how to make homemade ice cream with a cooked custard base.
Start off with a medium saucepan. Place your cream and milk mixture in the pan and heat just until you see bubbles on the edges. Turn off the heat.
If you’d like to use a vanilla bean to flavor your base, add your split vanilla bean to the scalded cream and let steep for 15 minutes. Then remove the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds and add seeds back to milk mixture. Then heat again just until bubbles appear around the edges.
While your milk is heating (or steeping the vanilla bean) take eight egg yolks, add your sweetener, and whisk until they become thick and lighter in color.
You can make ice cream without any sweetener at all, if that’s your preference. I know not everyone likes to use sweetener on a low carb diet. If you choose to do this, however, you’ll want to make sure to add several of the options to keep it soft, or plan to leave it out of the freezer for 15 minutes before scooping.
A note about unsweetened ice cream: You will likely find unsweetened ice cream to be lacking in flavor, somewhat. Freezing dulls the flavor a bit, so just be prepared. Swirling some low-carb fruit in the final product can help with this.
Next we must temper the eggs. This means we ladle small amounts of hot cream into the eggs while whisking constantly to avoid scrambling the eggs. This is an important step that must not be skipped.
After you’ve ladled about half the cream into the eggs, pour it all back into the pan and put it over medium-low heat.
This is the trickiest part of the recipe. You absolutely must not step away from the pan at this point. Stir constantly.
You want to cook the mixture to 170°F (77° C) or until the mixture coats the back of a spoon like you see above. You must be very, very careful not to overheat this mixture or your eggs will scramble and you’ll have a mess that cannot be salvaged.
If you’re new to this type of custard-making, I would highly recommend using a clip-on thermometer to help you keep track of the temperature. If you’re very nervous, you can also cook this in a double boiler (or a bowl set over simmering water) but plan for it to be very slow this way.
Once it reaches the proper temperature, take it off the heat immediately and strain into a clean bowl.
I always strain my cooked custard mixture at this point. Even with being hyper vigilant, I often have little bits on the bottom of the pan that have cooked a little too far and congealed a bit. You don’t want these in your ice cream, so take the extra step and strain it.
This is where we add some of the optional add-ins. Mascarpone or cream cheese, gelatin, MCT oil, and xanthan gum would all be added here. If you didn’t use a vanilla bean, add some vanilla extract here. Mix very well until fully incorporated.
Next we need to cool it down. You could put it straight in the refrigerator, but if you cover it right away you’ll end up with condensation dripping back into the bowl, and we don’t want that. So I start it off on the counter in an ice bath.
Be very careful that you can put your bowl of ice cream base safely in the ice bath without it tipping over or spilling water into the base. Sometimes this takes a little finagling, but just do it carefully. Periodically stir the base (carefully) to cool evenly.
Once it’s room temperature, you can cover it and put it in the fridge until it’s very cold.
You can absolutely make the ice cream up to this point and leave it in the fridge overnight to split up the work over two days.
If you want to add fruit, cook it down to a jam-like consistency, adding a little sweetener as desired.
I used strawberries here and my little secret is to add just a small splash of balsamic vinegar to the strawberries. It intensifies the strawberry flavor without tasting vinegary at all.
Cool the fruit down completely before churning the ice cream.
If you’re adding alcohol, stir it in right before churning.
You’ll need to churn the fully cooled ice cream base according to the manufacturers instructions. I find that the fewer softening ingredients I use, the faster the ice cream will get to the right consistency. You want to get to to soft-serve consistency. Don’t take it past that or you’ll overchurn it and end up with a weird texture.
Fold in any mix-ins after it’s churned, or add them in the last minute of churning if you want them fully mixed. I folded the strawberries into mine just until it was marbled.
For best results, place your container you plan to use in the freezer while your ice cream is churning so it doesn’t melt as much as you’re transferring it. Shallow dishes work best for homemade ice cream.
Freeze for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Scoop and enjoy!
Homemade Ice Cream
3 cups (720mL) heavy cream
1 cup (240mL) whole milk, or almond or cashew milk for low carb
8 egg yolks
8 oz (225g) sugar or equivalent low carb sweetener (see post for sweetener options)
1 vanilla bean, split or 1 tsp vanilla extract
Options to make Ice Cream Softer (Choose two or three):
8 oz mascarpone or cream cheese
1/4 cup MCT oil
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 Tbsp vegetable glycerine
2 Tbsp vodka (or other spirit)
1 Tbsp gelatin, dissolved in 1/4 cup water
Optional mix-ins: 8 oz berries, cooked down to a jam-like consistency, chopped chocolate or nuts, caramel, ganache.
- Heat cream and milk over low heat in a medium saucepan until bubbles form on the edges.
- If using vanilla bean, steep in warm milk mixture for 15 minutes, then scrape out seeds and add to milk mixture. Reheat milk until bubbles form on edges again. (If using vanilla extract, skip this step.)
- While milk is heating, whisk egg yolks and sweetener together until thickened and lightened in color (2-3 minutes).
- Temper eggs by slowly ladling hot milk into eggs while whisking constantly. Ladle half the milk into the eggs, then pour egg mixture into saucepan with the rest of the milk.
- Turn heat back on to medium-low. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture reaches 170°F (77°C) or until it coats the back of the spoon. Heat very slowly. Do not overheat or mixture will curdle and separate.
- Once mixture reaches the proper temperature, immediately remove from heat and strain into a clean bowl.
- At this point, add any of the following optional ingredients: Vanilla, mascarpone, MCT oil, xanthan gum, glycerine, or dissolved gelatin.
- Place bowl in an ice bath and cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate 2-3 hours or overnight.
- At this point, add vodka if using.
- Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions, watching closely as low-carb ice cream may churn more quickly than conventional.
- Fold in optional mix-ins like cooked and cooled fruit, chopped chocolate or nuts, etc.
- Transfer into a shallow container and freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Nutrition for the base ice cream without any optional mix-ins, using no-calorie sweetener, 1/2 cup serving: Calories: 259 kcal; Total Carbs: 2.1g; Fiber: 0.1g; Net Carbs: 2g; Fat: 26g; Protein: 3g