Dairy-Free Coconut Gelato

Dairy-Free Coconut Gelato

If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you might know that my mom has a lot of food intolerances. We don’t get to share as many meals as I would like now that we live in different cities, but I am always looking for recipes and treats to share with her!

Ice cream has been kind of a doozy. When I was in high school, my mom and I used to have “Girls Weekend” regularly—basically two days packed full of shopping, Taco Bell (don’t judge me), chick flicks, and enormous amounts of ice cream. We still talk about doing that, but there are so many roadblocks! I have a toddler; she can’t eat ice cream. The capstone of the whole weekend, staying up late and eating ice cream until we make ourselves sick, has taken on a whole new meaning for her.

I know there are tons of vegan (and therefore dairy-free) ice cream recipes in the world, but since I hate bananas (and all fruits), I have mentally rejected about two-thirds of them out of the gate.

Then, a few months ago, I made a coconut cream pie. And I was struck by the similarities between the coconut custard and the custards that I’ve turned into ice cream in the past: about 3 cups of fatty cream, sugar, egg yolks over heat…

I resolved to turn the custard into ice cream right away. Yum!

(P.S., this is decidedly not vegan, but if you or someone you love is lactose intolerant, then this is the ice cream for you!)

Coconut Milk and SugarStart by whisking full-fat coconut milk (light coconut milk will not work properly), sugar, and cornstarch together in a medium saucepan. I recommend sifting the cornstarch so you are less likely to get clumps, a step which I regretfully neglected while taking these photos.

If you like, you can add a bit of vanilla extract here to tone down the coconut flavor, or even substitute a bit of cocoa powder for and equal amount of cornstarch to make chocolate-coconut ice cream. I really do like the plain flavor, but variety is always nice!

Set the pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. You don’t want it to boil and thicken here, although if it does all is not lost. Basically, we are using a pudding base, but we need to churn it later, so we want it to stay thinner.

Nearly CustardWhen the coconut mixture is warm, carefully whisk it into the egg yolks, a few drops at a time at first so that the eggs warm up gradually.

Slightly Too ThickScrape the coconut-yolk mixture back into the saucepan and return to medium-low heat.  Whisking constantly, cook the custard about 3–5 minutes, until slightly thickened, but not thick enough that the whisk can leave lines in the custard as you swirl it around the pan. (Er…my bad. Got distracted.)

Pour the custard into a large bowl through a fine mesh sieve to catch any wayward bits of cooked egg or cornstarch that didn’t blend in well. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap against the surface of the custard to prevent it from forming a skin.

Let it come to room temperature (you can chill it in the fridge if you’d like, but it may set firmer than you want for churning, so don’t leave it longer than 1 hour without stirring it to check the consistency).

Gelato and a CoconutChurn the ice cream according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. I use the Kitchenaid ice cream mixer, which requires 15 hours of chill time in the freezer prior to churning…mine lives in the freezer so I will never be caught in the middle of making ice cream without the ability to finish the job!

(P.S., if your custard thickened too much, and the churning is turning into a disaster, which definitely happened to me this time, although I’ve successfully churned the ice cream in the past, here’s how you can still end up with ice cream: Let the custard freeze partway, about 30 minutes in the freezer or 2 minutes against the sides of the frozen ice cream maker, then whip it in a mixer bowl fitted with a whisk attachment until thick and aerated. Transfer the ice cream back to the freezer for 30 minutes, then whip again. Return to the freezer to freeze completely. The ice cream may be a bit icier than normal, but it will still be tasty! This also works if you don’t have an ice cream maker.)

Ice Cream TreatAnd voilà! Coconut ice cream without a drop of dairy. Just for kicks and giggles, I cracked open a coconut for a fun presentation. It’s easy! Try it!

Coconut Ice Cream

custard adapted from Annie’s Eats
makes about 1 quart

3 cups full-fat coconut milk
⅔ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch, sifted
¼ tsp. salt
4 egg yolks

Combine the coconut milk, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a low simmer, whisking slowly.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.
Slowly drizzle the coconut mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to prevent the yolks from cooking. Continue adding the coconut mixture until about half the liquid has been incorporated into the yolks. Pour the yolk mixture back into the saucepan and return the pan to the heat.
Continue to cook over medium heat, whisking constantly to avoid letting the mixture become lumpy or burned, about 3–5 minutes, or until the custard begins to thicken. Do not let the custard thicken enough to hold a ribbon of custard on its surface.
Remove from the heat and strain through a fine mesh sieve. Let come to room temperature.
Churn in the ice cream maker, according to manufacturer instructions, about 20 minutes.
Scrape the ice cream into a wide, shallow container, and transfer to the freezer to set firmly. Chill at least 2 hours before scooping.


  1. One year ago: Japanese Cucumber Salad and Veggie “Gyros” with Tzatziki Sauce
  2. Two years ago: Chocolate Truffle Ice Cream
  3. Three years ago: Tomato-Almond Pesto

17 comments to “Dairy-Free Coconut Gelato”

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  1. Dimple@shivaaydelights - July 25, 2014 Reply

    This is incredible! Xx

  2. Dimple@shivaaydelights - July 25, 2014 Reply

    Reblogged this on Shivaay Delights and commented:
    Melissa’s absolutely incredible coconut gelato looks crazy gooooood! I can’t wait to try this. My mouth is watering just by looking at the amazing pictures!
    Awesome work honey!
    Thanks for sharing x

    Much love, D x

  3. theintrovertedchilli - July 25, 2014 Reply

    Looks lovely, really great photo in the shell!

  4. Sarah - July 25, 2014 Reply

    That sounds awesome! I love coconut!

  5. acasadisimi - July 25, 2014 Reply


  6. thespicedeli - July 25, 2014 Reply

    This looks delish 🙂 another dairy-free recipe I can turn to when my dairy-intolerant family members turn up

  7. spiceinthecity - July 26, 2014 Reply

    This looks absolutely divine & love the photography 🙂

  8. Hilda - July 28, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for this delicious recipe. It is pouring rain today, so why not make something to enjoy when the sun returns.

    • Melissa - July 28, 2014 Reply

      Great plan! Hope you enjoy it!

  9. Dairy Free Down Under - April 20, 2023 Reply

    Nice recipe and looks delicious. Thanks for it.

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