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I’ve stumbled into a recipe that is officially a staple in my diet. I LOVE soft serve ice cream, but without an ice cream machine, it’s not very easy to make your own.
Especially not a healthier version.
When it comes to “healthy” ice cream (or protein ice cream) you’re left with two options:
- Buy a protein pint of ice cream. To me, most of them taste like a combination of ice and chalk.
- Make your own with some kind of combination of protein powder and ice, or “nice cream” with banana. But that’s not ice cream… that’s a thick protein smoothie, and it tastes like it.
No, we want ice cream.
More specifically, smooth, fluffy, soft-serve ice cream that you’d get from an ice cream shop.
And my friends… I’ve accomplished exactly that. Without a soft serve machine!
The ENTIRE batch of ice cream is only 300 calories with 0g of fat and 24g of protein!
That’s on par with any “protein” ice cream you’ll ever find!
Even better, you need just 3 main ingredients to make this magic happen:
- Evaporated Milk
- Powdered Sugar
- Vanilla Extract
We’re going to add a pinch of salt and an extra dash of milk, so if you want to get technical, it’s 5 ingredients in total. But those 3 ingredients are the backbone here!
I recently learned that you can whip evaporated milk into a whipped cream rather easily. Just combine it with some powdered sugar and whip it up with a hand mixer. I’ve seen people then freezing that to make ice cream, but when I tried that, it just froze into a complete rock. Not at all what I wanted.
It whipped up nicely initially, which got me thinking: what if I freeze the evaporated milk first, THEN throw it into a food processor to blend & whip it into ice cream?
I’ll admit, I did not expect it to turn out, but I think it’s safe to say that it came out beautifully.
If you only have a blender, that should work, but a good food processor changes everything. I’ve recently started using this Ninja food processor and it has changed everything for me. If you want a really smooth result, I highly recommend picking up a quality food processor!
UPDATE: YouTuber Will Tennyson actually gave this recipe a try in one of his videos, so if you want to see the recipe in action (and what he thinks of it), check that out below (it should start right at the right spot):
What ingredients do you need for this No-Churn Soft Serve Ice Cream?
You’re going to be tempted to substitute ingredients, so I’m going to tell you exactly why I use each ingredient I used.
If you want the same result I got, I wouldn’t make substitutions. That being said, I did play around with 2 different dairy-free versions if you need dairy substitutions, so I’ll break those down for ya here.
But for the authentic vanilla soft serve, these are the ingredients we need…
Milk in a can might be off-putting to some, but it is the absolute best ingredient to use here. It is NOT condensed milk.
They’re very similar, but condensed milk is going to have a ton more calories, so be careful. Both evaporated milk and condensed milk are milk that has had most of the water removed, resulting in a thicker, creamier product.
But the major difference is that sweetened condensed milk contains a ton of sugar and calories, and evaporated milk is unsweetened, containing only the sugars found in milk.
You CAN buy evaporated milk with fat, but I went with the fat-free variety for this recipe:
The whole can is 300 calories, and those are the only calories contributing to our ice cream!
Powdered Sugar Substitute
I typically use Swerve in my recipes because I thoroughly enjoy the taste- a lot of sugar substitutes taste really fake, and this is the closest to the real thing I’ve been able to find.
You can use regular powdered sugar in this recipe, or any other brand you have, and you should achieve the same result.
If you don’t have any powdered sugar at all, make your own! You can throw any granulated sugar into a spice grinder or food processor to make your own super easily.
(*Note that since first developing this recipe I have begun experimenting with different brands for sugar substitutes, so if I recommend a different brand in the recipe card, it just means it’s what I am currently using!)
For years, I’ve been using imitation vanilla extract. It’s significantly cheaper and you can buy a much bigger bottle. It always works in my recipes, but for this one, REAL vanilla extract makes a huge, huge difference. I cannot overstate it!
If you want an authentic ice cream flavor, a good vanilla extract is an absolute must. If you only have imitation vanilla and want to give it a try, you definitely can, but that authentic flavor is going to come from a good vanilla extract.
Throw in a pinch of salt, and you’re good to go! I’ve tried other ice cream recipes in the past that require you to make a mixture, add to the freezer, mix it up again, add it to the freezer again, and continue repeating until you have the consistency you want.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not trying to spend all day making ice cream. Instead, this recipe is just prep, wait, and make! You just make the mixture, let it completely freeze, then blend it up. Easy as that!
How to make Healthy Soft Serve Ice Cream
The process for making this soft-serve ice cream is very simple, but let’s walk through it together.
Step 1: Mix together the milk, vanilla extract, powdered sugar, and a pinch of salt. Give it a quick whisk to mix everything well.
Step 2: Pour your mixture into a large freezer bag and seal it tight without any air, then let it fully freeze (it will take about 8-10 hours, so I recommend leaving it overnight to make it easy). I like this method because it makes it super easy to break up the frozen mixture rather than trying to blend a large frozen block. An ice cream tray will also work great here.
Step 3: Add the pieces of the frozen mixture to the food processor and let it run for about 30 seconds. It’s going to be crumbly and not quite ice cream… yet!
Step 4: Add 1-2 tablespoons of milk (any milk will do just fine) to the food processor and run it on high until everything blends up into smooth, fluffy ice cream!
When I first made this ice cream and saw that it made some weird, Dippin Dots-style ice cream, I was ready to dismiss this as a failed experiment. But out of curiosity, I added a tablespoon of milk, and slowly watched as the yellow pebbles blended up into smooth, white, vanilla ice cream.
Can you store this healthy soft-serve ice cream in the freezer?
I love soft ice cream, so I dove into the ice cream just as is.
But as an experiment, I froze some of it to see if we could get some regular ice cream out of it.
The best way to re-freeze the ice cream is in a container that you can tightly cover. Air is the enemy of ice cream, and it will turn your ice cream into a rock if you’re not careful.
I used plastic wrap to keep it tightly wrapped, and it worked pretty well. It hardened, but if you leave it out for a minute or two, it softens up enough to eat. If you’ve ever had a pint of “protein ice cream“, it becomes a similar consistency.
The longer the ice cream freezes, the harder it’s going to be. If you were to leave it in the freezer for another full day, you’d be left with very hard ice cream. Since this ice cream is fat-free, there is nothing to keep that creaminess that we like.
If you do want to freeze the ice cream to thicken it up, 2-3 hours in the freezer should do the trick.
In fact, that is what I did for my Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream recipe. Once blended, I added it back to the freezer for about 2 hours, and the result was perfectly scoopable…
How to make Dairy-Free Soft Serve Ice Cream
I tried two different dairy-free options, and I’ll add my favorite to the recipe card down below.
But I want to show you what I chose to use, and how the end result turned out…
Option 1: Lite Coconut Milk
You could use regular coconut milk if you prefer, but the calories and fat will be much higher. Now, keep in mind that coconut milk has no protein, so there’s not going to be any protein in your ice cream. But that’s fine- just get your protein in elsewhere!
When all is said and done, this ice cream weighs in at only 240 calories and 0g of sugar for the whole batch! Not too shabby if you ask me.
Follow the same exact directions as the regular soft serve ice cream, but when it comes to blending, you’re going to need an extra tablespoon of milk at the end to thin it out. The result is not quite soft serve ice cream, but still soft and creamy.
Somewhere in between soft serve and scoopable ice cream, I’d say.
Honestly, much better than I expected, especially for dairy-free ice cream!
I added some Oreos to the food processor in this one to spice it up, but obviously, that is optional.
While this isn’t quite the same soft serve, it was still quite good! I mean, I ate the entire batch and enjoyed it, so it couldn’t have been terrible.
Update: I went back and used this method to make my Dairy-Free Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard.
Option 2: Protein Silk
Can you use regular almond milk without any added protein? Probably, but I wasn’t willing to try.
The issue with nut milk is that they are very much water-based. Remember, we use evaporated milk in the original recipe due to the low water content, so using nut milk changes things up quite a bit.
I chose to go with this one because it’s creamier than typical almond milk, and obviously contains protein! This batch of ice cream ended up being 195 calories and 15g protein- not bad at all!
Much like the coconut milk version, this required a little bit more liquid. When it came to blending, I needed to add an extra 1/4 cup of milk to thin it out. Due to the high water content, this froze very solid and became almost like ice.
The result was definitely icier and not quite as creamy as the others, but the flavor was definitely there.
I’m not going to add this particular version to the recipe card, but you can follow the recipe exactly as-is and just swap out the milk you’d like! I used 1.5 cups of Silk Protein, which is 12oz of liquid.
You can certainly try any other milk you have- even oat milk might work well here! But if you want true ice cream, evaporated milk is definitely the way to go. If you need to do dairy-free, coconut milk was by far my preferred milk to use.
How to turn this into chocolate soft serve
Vanilla ice cream is far superior to chocolate ice cream as far as I’m concerned, but I cannot deny the popularity of chocolate ice cream.
To turn this into chocolate ice cream, it’s actually very easy!
Follow the same exact recipe and add the mixture to the freezer overnight.
The difference will come when blending: instead of adding a splash of milk to thin out the ice cream in the blender, we’re going to use chocolate syrup instead.
I used this lite syrup, but any chocolate syrup will work great.
Since I didn’t measure, I estimate that I used roughly 2 tablespoons of chocolate syrup for this (which will add 60 calories in this case). I started with only about one tablespoon, but had to add more as I didn’t find it to be enough.
The resulting ice cream tasted JUST like a chocolate/vanilla swirl!
To me, this was the perfect chocolate soft serve ice cream.
But, if you want a richer chocolate flavor, you can add cocoa powder to your initial mixture, which will give this ice cream much more of a deep chocolate flavor.
You can check out my Chocolate Peanut Butter Blizzard recipe to see the perfect cocoa powder measurements to use.
More Recipes for Ice Cream Lovers
This past summer, we celebrated Ice Cream Week around here, which was full of nothing but ice cream recipes and ice cream-related content, like my post comparing Gelato, Custard, and Frozen Yogurt.
Here are some more incredible (and healthy) ice cream recipes to explore:
- Healthy Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Bars
- Protein Ice Cream Bars
- High-Protein Fried Ice Cream
- Dairy-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Blizzard
- Low-Calorie Fudgsicles
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Frozen Yogurt Popsicles