Street-Style Thai Coconut Ice Cream

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Video Cocnut milk ice cream

This ice cream recipe is as old-school as it gets. It’s something I grew up with, and ice cream made and served this way is harder to find nowadays. The flavour of the ice cream itself is pure; with nothing but coconut milk, coconut water, palm sugar and pandan leaf – preserving the original, authentic taste. It also happens to be vegan. We serve it with sticky rice inside a fluffy bun, with some fun toppings, just like they do on the street!

coconut ice cream bun
Old-school Thai street cart vendors sell ice cream served with sticky rice in a fluffy bun, topped with peanuts, corn, and other toppings.

My Quest for Real Coconut Ice Cream

Growing up in Thailand, coconut ice cream was THE base flavour. It was our “vanilla”; our default. It tasted of nothing but pure coconutty goodness. As sweets in Thailand became modernized, milk and dairy products became “trendy.” So ice cream vendors started incorporating dairy, making it taste more like Western ice cream because that was the cool thing to do.

Fast forward to my years in Canada, and I’ve started seeing coconut ice cream in stores over the past few years. “Dairy free” they all say. But still somehow it doesn’t taste much like real coconut – and what’s with the added vanilla and guar gum? I soon realized that its real purpose is not to be coconut ice cream, but to be a vegan substitute to regular vanilla ice cream. Not what I was looking for.

I realized that the only way to have the true stuff of my childhood is to make it. And turns out … it’s much simpler than I would have thought. Several years ago I shared my first coconut ice cream recipe, which is wonderfully light thanks to a generous amount of coconut water. It has a sorbet feel to it, perfect for the summer. But this time, I wanted something richer and creamier for when I’m feeling more indulgent. This is it.

Ingredients: Very few, but very important

There are only 4 basic ingredients; plus the pandan leaves which are optional but nice to have. Because of the simplicity of this recipe, it is extremely important that you use good quality ingredients; especially the coconut milk. Here are a few pointers:

  • Choose coconut milk in a UHT carton, and with no more than 2 ingredients on the label. Here’s my video on how to choose a good coconut milk.
  • Choose coconut water that is 100% pure with no added sugar and with no flavour additives. You should try a few of the brands that are available to you, and see which is more flavourful. Here’s an article on why some brands are better than others, EVEN if they all say 100% coconut water.
  • Choose palm sugar that has a smooth, not-grainy texture. It’s not as important as making sure you have good coconut milk, but good quality palm sugar will definitely help. Here’s more on how to choose good quality palm sugar.
  • Extra Credit: If you want to learn more about how coconut milk is made, and why the UHT carton is better than canned, check out this short documentary that I filmed in Thailand!
coconut ice cream bun ing
Coconut milk, palm sugar, salt, coconut water, pandan leaves.

Step-By-Step:

Here’s a bird’s eye view of the process, but be sure to check out the full video tutorial in the recipe card below to ensure success!

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1. Combine all ingredients in the ice cream mixture in a pot. 2. Add pandan leaf, if using. 3. Bring to a simmer. 4. Chill mixture until fridge-cold.
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5. Churn in the ice cream machine. 6. Freeze ice cream for a couple of hours to firm up before scooping. 7. Serve with coconut sticky rice inside a fluffy bun for Thai street-style. 8. Top with roasted peanuts or other toppings of your choice!

How to eat ice cream, Thai street style

Cup VS cone? No, cup VS bun!

Though not always available, most traditional, old-style ice cream vendors give you the option to have your ice cream in a fluffy bun, similar to a hot dog bun. You can use any fluffy buns or rolls for this, though ideally from an Asian bakery where the buns tend to be fluffier and softer.

If not serving in a bun, you can also cut up some fluffy bread cubes and use them as toppings. Makes it easier to eat!

Sticky rice

My favourite part of eating ice cream Thai style is the sticky rice! It is optional, but I highly recommend it. It’s easy to make but it takes a bit of time. The good news is it’s the same sticky rice that we use for mango and sticky rice or durian and sticky rice, so you can get 2 desserts out of 1!

Sweet sticky rice also goes well with many ice cream flavours, even non-Asian ones! So make a bunch and try it with any other ice cream you have! Sticky rice also freezes well, so you can make a bunch; and more on how to freeze sticky rice in the FAQ below.

I’ve included how to make the coconut sticky rice in the recipe card below, but check out this video for 7 different ways to make sticky rice to see all your options in terms of equipment. However, for making sweet coconut sticky rice I don’t recommend using one of the no-soak methods, as they tend to yield softer rice, that then might become mushy when mixed with the coconut milk.

Toppings

As with any ice cream, toppings are optional, but where you get to have some fun! I show a few toppings below, but feel free to experiment with other things. I’d say the roasted peanuts (or some sort of crunchy nuts/seeds) are a must, but the rest are all optional.

  • Roasted peanuts. A must!!! To me, it’s not the same without the peanuts. If you can, roast them from raw, as it does make a biiiiiig difference. I always roast mine from raw for all kinds of cooking. Simply spread them out on a sheet pan and roast in a 350°F oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Timing will depend on the size of the peanuts.
  • Toasted mung beans. A good substitute for peanuts for those who are allergic; see how to make them in the mango and sticky rice recipe.
  • Sweet corn.
  • Pineapple, canned or fresh.
  • Taro or sweet potato. In Thailand they usually simmer the sweet potato cubes in syrup to sweeten them, but I think simply cubed and steamed is fine for either of these.
  • Attap palm seeds. Not super common but I love these. They come in cans at some SE Asian markets. Simply rinse them in water to remove the gooey syrup before using.
  • Nata de coco. If you like jelly-like toppings, these are great and available at most Asian markets where they’re sold in glass jars. You can use them straight out of the jar.

Pro Tip: Creamiest Ice Cream

The faster ice cream freezes, the creamier, less icy it will be. So make sure you pre-freeze the container you’ll use to freeze the ice cream, and if you can, use something wide and flat to maximize surface area. Also, note that if you decide to reduce sugar or coconut milk in the recipe, it will result in ice cream that is harder and is less creamy, because sugar and fat helps keep ice cream soft when frozen.

Frequently Asked Questions

No machine? Try these no-churn ice cream recipes!

Before you start, be sure to watch the video tutorial to ensure success! I always include little tips and tricks not mentioned in the blog post. The video is in the recipe card below, but you can also watch it on YouTube!

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