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(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through the Blogging for Books program.)
I've been vegetarian since 1996, and went vegan in the mid-aughts. Along with vegan pizza, vegan ice cream is my absolute favorite - and have tumblogs dedicated to each to prove it. I own one ice cream maker (a Cuisinart Ice-45) and covet a second one (the KitchenAid Stand Mixer & Ice Cream Maker Attachment). No fewer than five vegan ice cream cookbooks line the bookshelves in my pantry. I've been allergic to milk my entire life (technically it's galactose - milk sugar - that's the problem, but same diff), and have never been able to have "real" ice cream. Growing up as I did in the 1980s, I still remember the Dark Days of vegan processed food: when vegetarianism was fringe and my mom bought my dad's meatless links in the basement of the local Unitarian Church, and I was ecstatic to have two (TWO!) vegan ice cream options in the mainstream grocer's freezer: Rice Dream (*shudder*) and Tofutti (which will forever occupy a special place in my heart).
I'm a bit of a vegan ice cream connoisseur, is what I'm saying.
I purchased Jeff Rogers's VICE CREAM way back in 2009, but as of yet haven't tried a single recipe. For whatever reason (the abundance of cashews? the insistence on juicing everything? the multiple steps and machines required for each recipe?), none of the recipes really appealed to me. So when I spotted a new and revised edition - now called VEGAN ICE CREAM - on Blogging for Books, I decided to give it a try, in the hope that Rogers had tweaked his formulas. As it turns out, the updated edition contains twenty or so new recipes - along with the seventy originals - but all use the same bases found in VICE CREAM. Hopes, dashed.
Just scanning through the book, I had my doubts. From my experience using cashews to make vegan cheeses, I could tell that they alone wouldn't thicken the batter substantially, and certainly not to the pudding-like consistency needed to make a smooth, dairy-like ice cream. Nevertheless, I did experiment with two recipes prior to writing this review: Chai and Chocolate Pecan.
(Normally I wouldn't dream of reviewing a cookbook based on just two recipes - but seeing as the bases are almost all the same, I don't really expect to get drastically different results no matter how many versions I try. Plus I was eager to move on to my next project: veganizing some choice Ben & Jerry's flavors.)
Chai (page 116) - Prepared exactly as directed, this raw, cashew- and coconut water-based dessert came out hard and flaky. It proved impossible to scoop right out of the pint; instead, I had to microwave it for about twenty seconds before I was able to penetrate it with a spoon. It was tasty - Rogers nailed the Chai flavor - but not terribly creamy, like ice cream should be. I've had banana-based ice creams that are smoother than this.
Chocolate Pecan (page 32) - Here, I swapped out the 1 1/2 cups of water for 1 cup of soy milk. This batter - which is also cashew-based, but not raw like the Chai - came out a little thicker than the Chai, and was also creamier and easier to scoop when frozen. I wasn't in love with the taste, though; the cashews didn't play well with the chocolate.
So where did I go wrong? Let's start with the cons.
VEGAN ICE CREAM is roughly divided into four sections: the basics, ice cream, raw ice cream, and sauces. The "regular" ice cream recipes rely on a base of cashews, water, coconut milk, coconut water, and/or fruit and vegetable juices, while those recipes specifically labeled "raw" use a mix of all of these plus nut milks and dates. I'm not an expert in raw foods, but it seems to me that save for those recipes that feature chocolate and maple syrup, nearly all of the recipes found in VEGAN ICE CREAM are raw (or can easily be made raw; e.g., swap out cocoa powder for cacao, and maple syrup for dates), regardless of their classification. Rogers notes that some raw foodies eschew cashews that are mechanically hulled - but truly raw cashews are available in specialty stores. Besides, he includes cashew-based recipes in the raw ice cream section, so the issue is kind of moot. This is a (mostly) raw vegan cookbook.
I don't have anything against raw food per se; but when it comes to vegan ice cream, I find that I get the best results when I use a thickening agent, such as arrowroot - which requires heat to work properly. The closest to a thickener that any of these recipes come are cashews (1 1/2 cups per quart) and the occasional dates, neither of which gets the job done. Prior to freezing, the batter should be the consistency of pudding (in fact, the smoothest ice cream I ever made was from an "accidentally vegan" pudding mix that didn't quite set right, so I ran it through the ice cream maker instead!); but the one recipe I made as directed (see above) was thin and runny. Not surprisingly, the finished ice cream came out hard and flaky - more like a sorbet than an ice cream.
Likewise, I cringed visibly every time a recipe called for straight-up water. Water = ice; cream, not so much. At one point, Rogers advises: "if your ice cream mixture does turn out too thick, add some liquid, such as purified water." Say what now? If there's such a thing as a "too thick" ice cream batter, I've never seen it - and if I ever do, it won't be from following any of the recipes in VEGAN ICE CREAM.
When recipes contain fruit, Rogers almost always instructs you to juice them - which seems both unnecessarily complicated (who wants to break out another messy machine?) and ill-advised. After all, the fibrous materials in the fruits and veggies can help to add a little extra thickness to the batter. I cannot stress this enough: thin batter grows up to become an icy ice cream! Plus, blueberries and mangoes are no more difficult to blend than cashews. If smoothness is of the utmost concern, cashew ice cream might not be the way to go. Or go buy a Ninja. Show those strawberries who's boss!
When extracts are necessary, Rogers recommends using alcohol-free extracts, because alcohol inhibits freezing. While technically true, a little bit of alcohol is a good thing: it prevents the ice cream from freezing into a solid, impenetrable block. I've used alcohol-based extracts for years with nothing but good results. Never have I had an ice cream that won't firm up in the freezer.
Another thing to keep in mind: when you use a base with a strong or distinct flavor, this will affect the overall taste of your ice cream. Sometimes this is a good thing (chocolate coconut milk ice cream, yum!); other times, not so much (green tea coconut milk ice cream, ew!). Using cashews as an example, I didn't even notice them in the Chai ice cream, while they seemed to throw the chocolate flavor in the Chocolate Pecan ice cream off.
Before you buy this cookbook, also consider the equipment required. You will need an ice cream machine and a blender that's at least middle-of-the-line in quality. Cashews can be difficult to process into a smooth mash, even when you soak them beforehand (which I highly recommend). Many of the fruit- and vegetable-flavored ice creams also call for a juicer, but you can easily tweak the recipes to incorporate the whole fruits and veggies. The nut milks are made by hand, which also requires special instruments, but the store-bought stuff will work just as well. (Seriously, I can't imagine that many readers have the time to both juice their produce and make their own nut milks from scratch!)
On the positive side, I actually like that Rogers sticks to the same few bases (even if I don't care for the specific bases he uses): this allows the reader to achieve a certain level of comfort with an ice cream formula so that she can go out into the world and come up with her own shiny new flavors. After a few weeks of cooking from Wheeler del Torro's THE VEGAN SCOOP - which uses the same base of soy milk + soy creamer + arrowroot powder throughout - I became confident enough to create my own recipes on the fly.
Also good: the ingredients lists are pretty basic, with just a few hard-to-find items sprinkled throughout. If you ignore the calls to juice produce and milk nuts, they're also pretty simple and straightforward. Additionally, the section on basics does feature some handy advice for making and storing ice cream (e.g., multiple small containers are better than one large one).
Though I doubt that I'll be doing much cooking from VEGAN ICE CREAM, I won't regift my copy quite yet. There are some creative ideas for flavor combinations that may be worth pilfering and adapting in the future.
Likewise, if I feel the need to revisit cashews in the future, I can easily tweak the recipes to include a thickening agent. For example: Mix 1/4 cup nondairy milk with two tablespoon arrowroot powder and set aside. After blending your batter, transfer it to a saucepan and heat on medium until it's boiling. Remove from heat and add the arrowroot slurry immediately. Chill and process according to your ice cream machine's directions. Voila! Creamy, dairy-like vegan ice cream.
In summary: This isn't to suggest that VEGAN ICE CREAM is a bad cookbook; it just isn't for me. Raw vegans are likely to get the most out of it - which is why I wish Rogers had made it fully raw and marketed it as such. I would hate for people looking for an alternative to dairy ice cream to try VEGAN ICE CREAM right off the bat and come away disappointed, thinking that this is the best vegan ice cream has to offer; it's not.
Think of it like this: nutritional yeast is aces, and it makes some pretty awesome cheesy sauces. But if a newbie vegan or veg-curious omni asks me to recommend an alternative to cow's milk cheese, I'll send them to Daiya over nooch every. single. time.
If this is you, cut your teeth on Wheeler del Torro's THE VEGAN SCOOP; the recipes are easy peasy and basic, and the ice cream usually comes out rich and creamy, much like the "real" thing. For more variety, check out Cathe Olson's LICK IT! and/or Hannah Kaminsky's VEGAN A LA MODE, both of which feature a dizzying array of flavor/base combinations and frozen treats. Finally, the internet is your friend: start with the blog A Vegan Ice Cream Paradise and then search for additional recipes online.