Like beer cocktails and microwave risotto, no-churn ice cream is one of those things that sounds like it shouldn’t work, but actually totally does. As it turns out, as long as you have the right technique and ingredients, you don’t need any special equipment to make the creamy, dreamy summer treat we all know and love. To get you started, we asked members of our test kitchen team to break down the process—and share some of their favorite tools for the job. Whether you’re making your first batch or you’re ready to experiment with custom flavors and wacky mix-ins, here’s what you need to know.
What is no-churn ice cream?
Typically, churning is a crucial step in the ice cream-making process: It agitates and incorporates air into the ice cream base as it freezes, which creates a creamy, light texture. On the flip side, if you were to take a standard ice cream base and freeze it sans churning, you’d likely end up with a dense, icy mess. That’s where no-churn ice cream comes in. By being smart about our ingredients, we can mimic the properties of ice cream—namely its creamy, borderline-fluffy texture—without the need for any specialty equipment. The secret? It’s simply the combination of whipped heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk.
The no-churn technique allows home cooks to avoid the main challenge of making ice cream at home: the equipment. “A lot of people don’t have an ice cream machine,” says Emily Ziemski, Food52’s Food Editor. “They’re expensive, they require a lot of real estate in your kitchen, and if you’re not a die-hard, regular ice cream maker, buying the machine can feel like a big sunk cost.”
In the headnote of a recent recipe for Strawberry & Rhubarb No-Churn Ice Cream, recipe developer Jesse Szewczyk described this particular machine-less alchemy well: Whipped cream “lightens the ice cream and gives it a ‘churned’ texture without having to use an ice cream machine,” while sweetened condensed milk “provides an ample amount of sugar content that prohibits ice crystals from forming, along with a naturally low water content.”
Though the combination of whipped cream and sweetened condensed milk can approximate the creamy, churned texture of ice cream, it’s important to note that it probably won’t be exactly the same. “While [it] does do a nice job at getting close, I’ve never had a no-churn ice cream that fooled me,” says Test Kitchen Assistant César Pérez. “I can always tell that it’s no-churn. It just isn’t as smooth as real ice cream, in my opinion.” However, if you manage your expectations and embrace no-churn ice cream for what it is, you’ll be pleased with the results.
How Do I Make No-Churn Ice Cream?
There are a couple of ways to put together your no-churn ice cream base, but they’re all super simple. Often, recipes will instruct you to make whipped cream, gently fold in sweetened condensed milk, and put it in a container (a standard 9-x 5-inch loaf pan often works well for this task) to freeze, adding any additional mix-ins or swirls you’d like along the way.
Amazingly, this process can be simplified even further. Take Nigella Lawson’s beloved No-Churn Coffee Ice Cream, which requires just a single step: Use a hand mixer or stand mixer to combine heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, espresso powder, and espresso liqueur. When the consistency reaches soft peaks, just transfer it into a container and freeze it.
Once you have the process down, feel free to experiment with different flavors for your ice cream base. To make a chocolate ice cream, for example, follow Carolina Gelen’s lead and add sifted, Dutch-processed cocoa powder to your sweetened condensed milk. Swap the chocolate out for pumpkin purée and bourbon to make Emma Lapperuque’s No-Churn Pumpkin Ice Cream. Or, keep things simple with Eric Kim’s Scotch- and vanilla-scented version.
Once you’ve decided on a base, it’s time to think about mix-ins. Add cacao nibs and shaved chocolate for a twist on chocolate chip ice cream. Add brown butter and toasted pecans for the ultimate scoop of butter pecan. Go crazy with honeycomb candy, goat cheese, or even tortilla chips. The possibilities are endless.
We asked Emily what tools she’d recommend using for her own batch of no-churn ice cream. Lucky for us, they’re all versatile kitchen multitaskers—no bulky appliances here! Her suggestions? A whisk or hand mixer, some prep bowls, and a couple containers for freezing and storing all your no-churn creations. Oh, and don’t forget pretty ice cream bowls and dessert spoons for serving.
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