Because Pleasure Doesn't Have to Be Guilty
Ice cream might seem like the ultimate in self-indulgent, diet-busting desserts, but it doesn't have to be. There are plenty of smart and obsessive people with a sweet tooth, and they've come up with a startling number of healthy ice cream recipes. Some use the natural fiber and pectin of fruit to achieve a creamy texture, like the frozen-banana ice cream that's all the rage, while others focus on using lower-fat alternatives to conventional ingredients. These six easy recipes demonstrate both approaches, and offer a range of intriguing flavors.
1. Lemon-Buttermilk Ice Cream
This one's just about the perfect frozen treat for a hot summer day. Mix sugar and lemon juice together – you need the sugar to keep the finished dessert soft – with a combination of whole milk, fat-free buttermilk and half-and-half standing in for the usual heavy cream. The liquid ingredients will already be at refrigerator temperature, so you can pour the mixture straight into your ice cream maker without any further chilling. If you don't have an ice cream maker, just freeze it in an airtight container.
The thick consistency of buttermilk helps keep the ice cream soft, and its natural tang mellows the sharper lemon flavor. Serve this one with fresh berries and lemon-zest garnish on a hot day, and watch everyone swoon.
Inspired by a recipe at Health.com
2. Lightened Classic Vanilla
Losing the fat and saturated fat of heavy cream while still producing a creamy, rich-textured dessert requires a degree of creativity. One useful tool in that quest is evaporated milk, which is much lighter than heavy cream but – because of its low water content – doesn't make your dessert hard and icy.
To make ice cream, simmer a can of evaporated milk with a cup of half-and-half, salt, sugar, a vanilla bean and a bit of corn syrup. The corn syrup helps give a smooth texture, as well. Whisk the hot milk into a bowl of egg yolks, heat it to a food safe 160F, then chill in your refrigerator or a bowl of ice water. Process in an ice cream maker, or freeze in an airtight container.
Inspired by a recipe from Cooking Light magazine at MyRecipes.com
3. Avocado Ice Cream
Ice cream gets much of its smoothness from the high fat content of cream. Unfortunately, a lot of that comes in the form of saturated fats, which aren't your best health choice. Avocados provide a surprisingly good replacement, with their high levels of healthy unsaturated fat as well as pectin and fiber. Their flavor is mild enough that the base recipe can be tweaked with any number of tasty add-ins.
Avocado ice cream couldn't be simpler to make. Take low fat milk and low fat coconut milk, and combine them in a blender with sugar, the flesh from a couple of avocados, and a splash of lemon or lime juice. Drop in your choice of flavorings or add-ins, then freeze and enjoy.
Inspired by a recipe at the Hass Avocado Board's AvocadoCentral website
4. Beet and Raspberry Ice Cream
This one seems like a bit of a stretch, but it's shockingly good. The sweet earthiness of the beets mellows the sharp tang of the raspberries, and gives the finished ice cream its gorgeous magenta hue. It's also high in protein, thanks to the ricotta, so it's a perfect treat to replenish your system after a workout or to pick you up between meals.
Puree the berries and strain out the seeds, then add roasted or steamed beets to the blender along with ricotta cheese, half-and-half, corn syrup and orange zest. Chill the mixture for a few hours, then process it in your ice cream maker or freeze it in an airtight container. Beets stain, so remember to wear gloves and an apron when handling them.
Inspired by a recipe at Women's Running
5. Coconut Ice Cream
Like avocados, coconut milk and coconut cream contain enough healthy fats to serve as a direct replacement for heavy cream in ice cream. As a bonus, coconut milk also works for vegan or lactose-free ice cream.
Combine two cans of full-fat coconut milk or coconut cream – not the sweetened “creamed coconut” used in cocktails – with sugar, a pinch of salt and vanilla. Combine in a blender until creamy, then chill and freeze. Omit the vanilla if you wish and leave the mild coconut flavor at the forefront, accenting it with a hint of cinnamon or warm spices. Alternatively, double down on the coconut content by adding toasted, shredded coconut. It's good either way.
Inspired by a recipe at Minimalist Baker
6. Rum and Raisin Ice Cream
If you're in the mood for an adults-only treat, this ice cream packs all the flavor of this old-fashioned favorite but without the dairy. Start by soaking raw cashews overnight in cold water in your fridge, one of the core techniques used by creative vegan cooks. Meanwhile, soak your raisins overnight in rum.
The next day, drain and puree the soaked cashews with coconut milk and coconut oil, maple syrup, dates—as a sweetener, and to provide dessert-smoothing fiber – vanilla, and salt. Drain the rum from your raisins and add it to the blender until you're happy with the flavor, then chill for a few hours. Process the ice cream in your ice cream maker, then fold in the raisins before finishing it in the freezer.
Inspired by a recipe at Health.com
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.