Reduced-Guilt Vanilla Ice Cream

I’ve been trying to “lean in” to some positive lifestyle changes, to better care for my body after the less-than-ideal results of my recent bloodwork. What I have realized is that I have no problem adjusting my cooking to suit the health and dietary concerns of others, so I have the knowledge and ability to do it for myself. But taking care of me is something I have never been as good at, so this has been an important exercise for many reasons. The biggest bummer about this recent “watch what you eat” recommendation is, well, the timing.

The doctor meant no harm, I know, but his admonition to “cut back on fat intake” is not exactly what I want to be thinking about on the first day of National Ice Cream Month! As much I’d like to put my fingers in my ears and sing, “la-la-la-la-la,” I realize that doing so will only come back to bite me. If I put off getting healthier until August, I would only find an excuse to put it off until September, and so on. I gained a little more than 15 pounds since the COVID pandemic began, and that is not OK. My cholesterol numbers are “mildly elevated” for the first time ever, and to get a handle on that quickly, I am taking a new approach wherever I can, starting right here with my favorite summer treat.

My goal with this ice cream was to whittle back the fat content without losing all the creamy, indulgent texture that makes ice cream so enjoyable. I remember back in the day, my grandmother occasionally had something called “ice milk” in her freezer, and it was boring at best. A treat is only a treat if it satisfies—what I wanted was the best of both worlds, and friends, I think I have cracked the code.

Serve this luscious ice cream by itself, or as a creamy pairing to cobbler, pie or cake!

I’m not going to claim that this ice cream is health food—it isn’t. But it does have lower overall fat than my usual sweetened condensed milk base and it was so easy to make, with only a few ingredients and an ice cream machine. This condensed milk style of ice cream was already on the fast track to becoming my go-to base recipe—it requires no eggs or cooking, after all—but now that I know that it can be lightened up and still be this delicious? Game over, and everyone wins!

A few easy swaps from my usual no-egg ice cream base, and it turned out terrific!

The first swap I made was the condensed milk itself—I opted for the fat-free version of this shortcut ingredient, figuring that the thick, syrupy texture would hold its own in the absence of the milkfat, and I was right. For extra body, I blended in a small container of Greek yogurt, which only added 3 grams of fat. Half and half was swapped in for the usual cup of heavy cream, which saved more than 50 grams of fat in the whole batch. And a half-cup of light whipping cream, which is decadent but still lighter than heavy cream, contributed a bit of silky richness. Here’s how easy it was to make:


In case you’re wondering—no, your eyes are not fooling you; the condensed milk was more beige than cream-colored. I did a little research into this, and it turns out that canned milk can change to a tan color if it has been stored in warmer temperatures, but it isn’t a problem unless the can is bulging, or the milk has visible signs of spoilage (I checked the Eagle brand website to be sure). Mine was fine, and I actually appreciated the color, which lent a visual richness to my reduced-guilt ice cream. It was almost the same color as if I had used a high-fat custard base recipe. Were the substitutions enough to make a measurable difference in the fat content? I wasn’t sure yet, and frankly didn’t want to know the impact of my choices until after I tasted it.  


A generous tablespoon of real vanilla paste gave my ice cream the deep homemade flavor I crave. When my base was all mixed together (which only took FOUR minutes!), I covered it and sent it to the fridge to be completely chilled. No matter what ingredients you put into an ice cream, you want it to be really cold before you add it to an ice cream machine, churning it up into a frosty treat.


The recipe finished as easily as it started. I poured it into my ice cream machine and churned for 25 minutes, then transferred it to an insulated container and held my breath, hoping that my substitutions would not sabotage my desire for a rich, creamy treat.

According to my calculations, and based on the actual product nutrition labels, this version of ice cream is almost exactly 50% lower in fat than the other, with less than 7 fat grams per serving!


Friends, it’s going to be a great summer! I’ll have more fun ice cream recipes to share during National Ice Cream Month.

Happy 4th! 🙂

Reduced Guilt Vanilla Ice Cream

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


A few simple ingredient swaps resulted in this creamy, indulgent ice cream that just happens to be half the fat of a regular condensed milk ice cream recipe.

Ingredients

  • 14 oz. can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
  • 5 oz. container Greek yogurt (2% works great)
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup light whipping cream
  • 1 Tbsp. real vanilla paste (or 2 tsp. real vanilla extract)

Directions

  1. In a large pitcher bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk and Greek yogurt until evenly combined.
  2. Stir in heavy cream and half and half, whisking to blend after each addition.
  3. Stir in vanilla paste. Cover and chill the mixture for at least two hours.
  4. Whisk mixture just before freezing, to reincorporate any ingredients that have settled. Freeze in ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  5. Transfer to insulated container and place in freezer to firm up.

Because this ice cream is lower in fat than most, it’s best to consume it within 4 to 5 days. Longer storage results in a slightly icy texture.



Vanilla

When I set out to develop a recipe to properly acknowledge our nation’s birthday, my instinct was to make something that looked like the flag, because isn’t that what everyone does on the 4th of July?

For my culinary tribute to America, I decided instead to focus on the flavors that make a food distinctly “American.” But a funny thing happened during my research into America’s top flavors—the story behind our No. 1 flavor overran everything else on my mind. It’s a tale that involves other countries, explorers and a 12-year-old Black slave whose scientific discovery is still used in the production of vanilla today.

Here’s the short version:

In the early 1800s, Spanish explorers visiting Mexico returned home with some of the orchid plants used to produce vanilla. Back home, they were disappointed to find the plants never developed the long, slender pods that give us the vanilla bean. It was a pollination problem, and European bees couldn’t solve it.

But Edmond, a 12-year old slave in the French colony of Réunion, not far from Madagascar, figured out a way to intervene in the pollination process—sort of a botanical IVF, if you will—and the rest is history. His process of pollinating by hand, by the way, is still used in vanilla production today.

Like so much of what we love in America, vanilla came from somewhere else. And by way of someone whose contribution far outweighs the recognition he received for it. For much of Edmond’s life, he wasn’t even allowed to have a last name. At the end of the post, check out the link to a more thorough telling of Edmond’s story. 

By the way, how ironic is it that a flavor often used to describe anything plain, bland or uninteresting is the most enduring ingredient in American culinary history? I do so love vanilla, and I am grateful to Edmond Albius, who finally received a last name when his owner also gave him freedom and full credit for the discovery. In honor of Edmond, I’m highlighting the familiar warm, floral notes of vanilla—our country’s top flavor—in a bourbon cocktail. A splash of extract will step in with the cocktail bitters, and America’s No. 2 flavor will make an important appearance as well, in the form of a black pepper simple syrup.

Let’s do this.

Ingredients

2 oz. bourbon

0.5 oz. black pepper simple syrup* (recipe in notes below)

1/8 tsp. real vanilla extract

3 drops bitters of choice* (see notes for suggestions)

Combine ingredients in a cocktail mixing glass, add ice and stir for 20 seconds until the glass looks frosty. Strain over a giant ice cube into a double old-fashioned glass.


Vanilla-Black Pepper Old Fashioned

 *Notes

Simple syrup is exactly what it says—simple. The base is equal parts water and sugar, and you can take it anywhere you like from there by infusing it with other flavors.

1 cup filtered water

1 cup cane sugar

2 tsp. whole black peppercorns

2 tsp. cracked black peppercorns (I used a mortar and pestle, but the coarse setting on a pepper mill would work just as well)

Combine water and sugar over medium heat and bring to a light boil. Add peppercorns and turn off heat. Stir to be sure sugar is completely dissolved, and let the mixture cool completely before straining, then refrigerate in a sealed jar.

My husband and I have different taste, so I tried the drink with two different bitters varieties; chocolate for him and 18-21 “Havana & Hide” for me. Use any bitters you like. They don’t stand out much, but serve more to accentuate what’s already good about the drink. You can even skip the bitters and let the vanilla shine brighter.

If you’re a food history junkie like me, you’ll appreciate this article, which delves further into the inspiring story of Edmond Albius, the boy botanist whose legacy became the most prolific flavor of our nation’s entire history.

Cheers to you, Edmond. Thank you for flavoring our world.