According to Amelia Raley, co-owner of Sweet Ritual, Austin might just be the vegan ice cream capital of the U.S. Whether true or not, it’s no surprise that such a creative, vibrant city could be considered the epicenter of a national trend toward dairy-free ice cream. And vegan ice cream isn’t just popular with vegans; people looking to remove dairy from their diet for a variety of reasons are enjoying scoops.
Those who grew up getting that free birthday scoop at Baskin-Robbins may be skeptical. Can vegan ice cream match the creaminess of its dairy-forward counterpart? The answer is a resounding yes, and those at the forefront of Austin’s vegan ice cream scene have already done much of the trial and error for you. Just follow their tips and recipes, and you’ll soon be creating your own snap-worthy cone at home.
While many commercial dairy-free ice creams are whipped with air and use an almond-milk base, the local vegan ice cream entrepreneurs we talked to prefer richer bases, such as coconut milk, coconut cream, almond butter, sunflower-seed butter and avocados, with coconut milk and coconut cream being their favorites.
Jam Sanitchat, owner of Thai Fresh and Gati—a vegan dessert shop set to open on Holly Street by the end of 2018—prefers a coconut-cream base but adds that coconut milk can be used to cut fat content. Sanitchat, known for her cooking classes and delicious noodle dishes, started offering vegan ice creams almost by accident when she had an abundance of mangoes that were going to be wasted if she didn’t come up with a plan to use them. An employee suggested she make ice cream, and because she had plenty of coconut cream on hand (it’s a foundational ingredient in Thai cooking, after all), she made her first batch. Thai Fresh has been a vegan-friendly dessert destination ever since.
“Ice cream is less of a science than baking,” Sanitchat says, “so you can learn faster.” She encourages home cooks to experiment—substituting fruit that’s available seasonally and playing with different ingredients like palm sugar instead of cane sugar. “If you’re worried about the outcome, just make half a batch and taste it. You can improve on your recipe from there.”
Newcomer to the Austin vegan ice cream scene, Chi Ndika started Luv Fats as a vegan avocado-based ice cream pop-up at popular events like Festival de Cumbia en la Capital, Let It Ring! Juneteenth Celebration and monthly BossBabes ATX meetups. Demand for her creations grew, and now Luv Fats is available on Saturdays at the downtown SFC Farmers’ Market and on Sundays at the HOPE Farmers Market. “If you’re going to go to the work of making homemade ice cream, use the freshest ingredients. When I buy avocados, I buy a small amount and use them that day.”
For equipment, Ndika has tried everything from a Cuisinart ice cream maker to the ice cream attachment for her KitchenAid stand mixer, but says by far the best results come from “the old-school wooden bucket that you have to churn yourself” (a product that’s enjoying a resurgence in the market).
Moni Burgin and Rachel Horesovsky opened their Milky Way Shakes vegan milkshake truck at Spider House Café last year—offering a range of milkshakes with fun toppings and mix-ins, such as edible glitter stars, candied pecans and glittery peach slices. While their chocolate and vanilla ice cream bases are made with a mix of coconut cream and coconut milk, they blend their vegan ice cream with almond milk for a satisfying shake. “For my vanilla ice cream, I just use coconut milk, coconut cream, sugar, vanilla and salt,” says Horesovsky. She notes that Fiesta Mart has a great selection of coconut milks that work well in ice cream, while coconut cream is better sourced online.
Amelia Raley started Sweet Ritual with her business partner, Valerie Ward, in December 2011, and on any given Saturday, there’s a line out the door of their shop on Airport Boulevard, with ice cream-devouring patrons flooding out onto the sidewalks of the shopping center. “The cones we use in the shop are from The Konery—a Brooklyn-based company—and they’re available at Central Market, so you can build your own Insta-worthy cones at home!” says Raley. Regulars at Sweet Ritual are also in love with the shop’s toppings, especially the Peanut Butter Magic Shell.
With the tips and recipes below, there’s nothing stopping you from whipping up your own vegan ice cream creations at home with fun toppings! In fact, Anthony Sobotik of Lick Honest Ice Creams even suggests adding a little bourbon to your creation—couldn’t hurt. And, if you do make a few mistakes along the way, there’s sweet relief in knowing there are many options for a last-minute ice cream run here in the vegan ice cream capital.
By Jen Hamilton Hernandez • Photography by Jam Sanitchat & Amelia Raley