Big Girls, Test Kitchen: Coconut Caramel Ice Cream


OTHER SWEETS YOU’D NEVER GUESS WERE DAIRY FREE: Sweet Almond Pancakes with Fresh Raspberries; Peanut Butter Granola Bars; Pumpkin Pancakes; Double Gingersnaps; Banana Coconut Crumb Cake

When you live in the city, and you have a small kitchen, you have to say no to a lot of kitchen tools and devices. While, sure, it would be nice to own the right equipment for every occasion, we really have to weigh what there is room for in our cabinets. Would our baking be more efficient if we owned the right equipment for each and every need? Maybe. But we’d feel like pack rats, and that’s no good. Among the things I don’t own: a citrus squeezer, a cherry pitter, a fancy wine opener, and an ice cream maker. Yet.

As you guys know, Alex can’t eat dairy, and as he likes to remind me with a smile, I enjoy the challenge of creating meals that satisfy the requirements of his restriction, just as I honestly do love making meals with the limited resources of a small kitchen. You might think I’m crazy, but he’s right–I do enjoy the challenge most of the time. There are moments, though, when I encounter unbeatable obstacles. You can’t make a margarita pizza without cheese (you can make Potato-Pesto Foccacia and Merguez Grill Breads though) and dairy-free icing for birthday cakes is a tough sell too (unlike the cake itself, which I’ve solved with banana, almonds, pecans, and carrots). As for ice cream, well, like anything that uses the word “cream” in the title, it’s not the easiest dish to turn dairy free. But: I did (not to ruin the end of this story).

I’m not the first to solve the ice cream dilemma for Alex. I can’t take that claim away from his stepfather, Stuart, an ice cream virtuoso. He presides over a professional-level churner, turning out custards and sorbets and ice creams like it’s his job, which it technically isn’t. Their family’s Christmas Eve tradition features a homemade ice cream sundae bar, but Stuart makes ice cream, both dairy and non, at all times of the year. Every time Alex comes back from a visit home, he brings tales of yet another new flavor: Coconut Almond Swirl. Mint Chocolate Chip. Fresh Cherry. With caramel sauce, hot fudge, fruit compotes. My mouth tends to water.

What Stuart figured out was that coconut milk is the only dairy-free liquid that incorporates enough fat to make the texture of the finished ice cream as luscious as if it were made with cream.

Now I like coconut as much as the next girl, but at first glance, it does limit the potential range of flavors. Still, lots of great ice cream flavors marry beautifully with coconut: chocolate, for example, plus nuts, citrus, cherry. And caramel.

I developed this recipe a few months after bookmarking this recipe for Coconut Cajeta Fondue on Food52. The process of cooking caramel down with brown sugar and salt to make a dessert dipping sauce seemed genius (the original recipe called for chocolate too), and from reading the comments on the post, it seemed that neither the flavor and the texture would scream “non dairy”. A perfect base for my future coconut-based ice cream creations, I thought the moment I saw the cajeta. When I finally got access to an ice cream maker, I went for it.

The result? So. Good. Make this–no one will know it’s dairy free. Tell the non-dairy folk, though, so they can safely taste it; after they do, they’ll be forever grateful.

From my kitchen, dairy free yet creamy, to yours,



Coconut Caramel Ice Cream
Serves: 1 pint
I can imagine varying this by adding pralined nuts, swirls of melted cherry, or toasted unsweetened coconut flakes (only if you love coconut). A teaspoon or two of espresso powder would be wonderful too.
  • 2 cans coconut milk (not lite)
  • 1 cup light muscavado sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Combine 1 can of coconut milk, the brown sugar, and the salt in a medium saucepan. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally so that the sugar dissolves. Once boiling, reduce the heat slightly and continue to cook until the mixture has darkened and reduced, about 20 to 30 minutes. It should be very thick--like lava--resembling caramel.
  2. While the caramel is reducing, beat the egg yolks in a large, heatproof bowl and set aside.
  3. Add the second can of coconut milk to the coconut caramel and heat, stirring to integrate the caramel. When the mixture is very hot, but not boiling, temper the egg yolks: slowly whisk 1 cup of the caramel mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks.
  4. Turn the heat to low and pour the tempered yolks back into the pot. Cook, stirring constantly, just until the mixture has thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a heatproof bowl. Stir in the vanilla extract. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.
  5. Pour the custard mixture into an ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer's directions. Freeze for 4 to 6 hours before scooping and serving.


  • natalie(thesweetslife)

    oh my goodness! this sounds divine! I’ve been wanting to make coconut ice cream but coconut caramel sounds even better!

  • natalie(thesweetslife)

    oh my goodness! this sounds divine! I’ve been wanting to make coconut ice cream but coconut caramel sounds even better!

    • BGSK

      It’s a fantastic combo!

  • The Tame Lion

    Awesome! Fantastic!

  • Sara Badgett

    Awesome recipe! It sounds delightful. 

  • Jen Cantin

    My testimonial of this recipe:
    …..I ate this ice cream in two sittings. Yes, 1 can coconut milk, 1/2 cup sugar and 3 egg yolks per sitting. I have typed this out and now it’s a fact. Strangely my body did not have a problem with this little snack, what a champion haha. If you like coconut and caramel you cannot do better. If you do not like either coconut or caramel, do not try this recipe. If you do, then you simply cannot do better than this ice cream. Exactly the right amounts of each taste. No words can describe!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • stephanie

    The custard is chillin’ in the fridge ready to go into the ice cream maker.  I must say, the custard is pretty amazing!!!! Can’t wait to taste it frozen!  Now, can you work on a salted ice cream for the dairy free masses???  :)

  • Lisa

    I let the sugar cook a little too long and it burnt onto the pot a little. After having invested so much effort to that point, I decided to continue with what I had. The result was not particularly coconutty, but tasted exactly like toasted marshmallows! Happy accident!

  • Karrin

    Sounds delicious! I have a nice can of coconut milk waiting for me to try!
    I have actually just started a blog devoted to homemade non dairy ice creams and sorbets!
    Thanks for sharing!!

  • ellen

    I’m confused. I just finished cooking this, it’s cooling right now. But it made 1 qt liquid, not one pint? Did I not reduce the first can enough? I hope it still turns out…

    • BGSK

      Yes, you’ll have more liquid than frozen ice cream – condenses as it freezes. Hope it turned out well!

  • Jo

    I’ve just made a batch of chocolate coconut icecream using a different recipe, but I’d love to try this one.
    Could you let me know how much coconut milk you’re using here? I live in Australia and cans of coconut milk come in all different sizes. Thanks!

    • BGSK

      Cans are 14 ounces – thanks for asking!

  • Deborah Florentino

    I came across your website blog while looking for peanut butter ice cream recipes. Love your site!
    A new fan from sunny South Africa xx

    • BGSK

      So glad you found BGSK! Hope you find lots of yummy recipes to make in South Africa, which sounds much sunnier than NYC :)

  • Victoria Armijo

    Definitely going to have to make this for my girls! My oldest has a dairy allergy and LOVES her non dairy ice cream :)

  • Emily

    What sugar would you recommend using in place of the muscavado to give the same result with a less caramel effect?

    • BGSK

      Hm, maybe cane sugar?

  • Lisa

    Can I use regular brown sugar instead of the muscavado, or will that mess up the recipe?

    • BGSK

      You can use it!

  • Nutmeg13

    Thank you SO MUCH for this recipe. It is actually the best coconut ice cream recipe I have ever found, to the point where even non-allergic people will choose this over normal ice cream!

    • BGSK

      So glad you love it!

  • Kristin Hoddy

    Do you have to wait over night?

    • BGSK

      Just til it’s thoroughly cooled!

Need more desserts? A Baker's Dairy-Free Dozen.

Buy the ebook Learn more