When I was a kid, making homemade ice cream was never an option. "We don't have an ice cream maker," my mom would remind me all of the many times I'd ask. She'd appease me with store-bought ice cream, but I still couldn't stop dreaming of the day when I could buy my very own ice cream maker and make all the ice cream I wanted.
Fast forward to now when I technically have an ice cream maker, but it's locked inside a storage unit in Brooklyn far from my home in Berlin. Big and clunky, it wasn't something I could reasonably take with me on my travels without getting all kinds of looks and extra baggage charges, probably. I thought I had no choice but to resign myself to an existence without homemade ice cream, at least for the time being.
Except, I was totally wrong. When summer showed up this year, I took a peep around the web for ice cream recipes I could make without a machine and found that there are tons of options. I selected four of the most popular methods that seemed doable and delicious and tested them out to find out which makes the most authentic ice cream. The recipes include two traditional variations made with cream and milk, as well as two trendier options that are totally vegan, all flavored vanilla—you know, for science. Each one required a completely different method, and the results genuinely surprised me. Here's everything you need to know about how to make ice cream at home from these four recipes, plus a rating for both difficulty and flavor—measured in scoops, of course.
1. Frozen whipped cream and sweetened condensed milk
I'm not going to even pretend to save the best for last. I've been meaning to try this simple method from Foodie Crush for ages. All you have to do is whip cream until it's stiff, incorporate a can of sweetened condensed milk, as well as whatever flavorings or toppings you like, then stick it in the freezer for a couple hours. I chose vanilla, but you could easily do anything.
Initially I was worried that it would be dense and icy, because it doesn't include the churning process that makes traditional ice creams light and airy. But I was worried for nothing, because it was the lightest, creamiest, most pillowy ice cream of the lot. I polled my roommates, and they agreed that this one was far and away the best, despite the fact that it was also the easiest. So if you're looking for an easy way to make ice cream this summer, without any fancy equipment, this method is the way to go.
Flavor: 10 scoops Difficulty: 2 scoops
2. Traditional ice cream made with ice and rock salt.
I went into this project assuming this recipe from Bon Appétit would be the best one, because it's the most traditional, made with an egg custard base. It calls for an ice cream maker, but since I don't have one at the moment I reached out to Nicholas Morgenstern, owner of Morgenstern's Finest Ice Cream in NYC, to find out what to do instead.
He suggested using an old timey crank like this one, which works the way an electric ice cream maker works, except you have to do it by hand. Instead of buying one, I jury-rigged my own and the results were…interesting.
In the second grade, there was one time my class made ice cream by filling a ziploc bag with ice and rock salt, putting another ziploc bag with the cream mixture inside of it, and shaking it until it froze. What I did for this story was basically that, but on a larger scale.
Here's what I did: I filled a large pot with crushed ice and salt, then I set another, smaller pot filled with the ice cream mixture inside of the big pot so that it was surrounded by ice, and then I stirred, and stirred, and stirred the mixture until it turned into ice cream.
I'm not going to sugar coat it: This recipe was hard! The stirring never ended and I had to heat and cool the custard mixture, like, three times. In the end, it tasted like legit, I-got-this-at-a-parlor ice cream, but at what cost? The cost of my sanity, that's what.
Flavor: 8 scoops Difficulty: 10 scoops
3. Banana "nice" cream made in a food processor.
I had extremely low expectations for this recipe from Pure Ella because it's literally just frozen bananas blended with vanilla extract, but I was pleasantly surprised! All you have to do is throw some chopped, frozen bananas into a food processor and let the food processor do the rest of the work. It was definitely very banana-y, but the texture was spot on. In the future, I'm going to try amping it up a little bit with a dollop of sweetened condensed milk, but if you'd rather not do that, it makes a great, vegan dessert option as is.
Flavor: 7 scoops Difficulty: 1 scoop
4. Frozen whipped coconut cream.
To make this, I riffed on a recipe from Minimalist Baker for vegan, chocolate, no-churn ice cream. The process was simple: All I had to do was whip coconut cream, combine it with sugar, a bit of vanilla, and stick it in the freezer. It was so easy, I figured there had to be a catch. And there was. The ice cream was virtually unscoopable. I couldn't do more than scrape up a few flakes to serve in a bowl. It tasted good, albeit very coconutty, and while I enjoyed it, I don't think I'd make it again.
Flavor: 4 scoops Difficulty: 2 scoops