Non-Dairy Milks in Ice Cream Custards: Almond Milk

I thought about starting with the obvious, coconut milk, but then decided I would prefer to talk about almond milk. Why? I don't know. We can pretend it's alphabetical order. Unless I talk about soy milk next. We can find a new excuse then. It actually works really well in custard, though I would not recommend it as a dairy substitute in non-custard (Philadelphia/american style) ice creams...or, you can, but you'll have to treat it more like a sorbet and take it out of the freezer early and let it warm up a bit. Almond milk has a low far content, lower than whole milk (more like skim or 2%), and we usually don't make ice cream just with whole milk, never mind skim. (Though you might be able to if you used corn syrup. More on that some other time).

So, almond milk is delicious and can make a lovely vanilla custard. Why? Because of eggs yolks. If you follow Bravetarts Vanilla Bean Ice cream, you can safely pour in 20 ounces of regular almond milk ("original/regular" if possible - "unsweetened" gets more complicated. The original seems to have roughly as much sugar as milk does, so it is similar sweetness. You would need to add a few tablespoons of sugar or honey, or just end up with a lower sweetness. The sugar and honey might actually work out to be delicious, but as lower sugar contents lead to harder ice cream, you might not want to go without them in this case. Though if you want a softer custard, you could substitute some honey for some of the sugar - the syrup should help keep it softer and smoother at lower temperatures. Also, honey vanilla almond ice cream sounds delicious.). Egg yolks are pretty fatty, and there are a decent number of them. Enough for an angel food cake from the leftover egg whites, if you like those. Or a few batches of macaroons. It's the first of Advent today, so Christmas cookies are completely reasonable. Coconut Macaroons are pretty traditional Christmas cookies, so have fun!

Something to pay attention to: watch your custard carefully on the stove - almond milk can separate and the whole thing will curdle into  a mess shortly after it comes together as a smooth and perfect custard. It will come together and then start going again quickly, so when it does thicken and coat the back of a spoon, don't keep going "just a little longer". If it goes just a little bit, don't worry about it. It will smooth out again in the ice cream maker. You'll see if it does go to the point of unusable. Mine separated into almond chunks with eggs, and water. It was an unrescuable, lumpy, mess, too thick to go through the sieve at all, just water going through.
That is pretty easily avoided though. Just take it off once it has thickened, and coats the back of a spoon/spatula. If you've made regular dairy ice cream custard before, you'll know what it should look like, if not, this is a little more delicate than dairy custard, but you can do it! Just pay attention. It will be fine. If in doubt, use lower heat, keep stirring, and it will turn out fine. Small lumps come out in the strainer, if bigger ones start forming, take it off the heat now! It might still work out, you never know.
 After chilling. Not perfectly smooth, but it will be ok.
After stirring. You can see tiny graininess the strainer couldn't catch.
The good news is, if the strainer could not catch it, it probably won't matter, in this case.

I have also steeped bananas in almond milk, overnight, for Bravetarts Banana Ice Cream. The only real substitution was almond milk instead of dairy. Thanks to the egg yolks, it turned out fine.
I also tend to add a nice tablespoon of liquor of some sort - bourbon, rum, vodka, which probably helps a bit, but is optional. So if you don't feel like adding that in, it will still turn out fine.  The almond milk worked well with the bananas, which are pretty strong in flavour. That banana-nut should taste good will probably surprise nobody. So, anything that you want to try steeping in there, will probably be fine. (A ridiculous part of me wants to steep toasted hazelnuts in almond milk. Then add chocolate. For the nuttiest nutella ice cream, File that one under "seemed like a great idea at the time".)
Still working on a good almond milk chocolate ice cream - I think I came close once, by chopping the chocolate and stirring it straight into the hot custard at the end, after straining. The only thing I did learn from a previous, icy, attempt, is that you can't just pour together hot almond milk and chocolate and add that to the custard. All that non-custard-bound almond milk created a hard, icy texture. Still tasted pretty good, a nutty chocolate bar sort of thing. It needed a little time to warm up and then it was decent enough. I am just looking for something a little smoother, creamier and more like regular dairy  chocolate ice cream. I'll let you know if I get there.

 Into the churn anyway!
 Not bad, really.
 Looks like ice cream.
 Yup, that one too.
Ready for the spoons!
I mean, ready for the freezer. 


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