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No ice cream maker? No problem! Make this easy Homemade Ice Cream in a Bag in less than 15 minutes from start to finish for a deliciously fun treat that is the ultimate kid-friendly summer science project!
Easy Homemade Ice Cream without a Machine
We LOVE homemade ice cream around here and make good use our our ice cream makers all year round, not just during the summertime. But it’s always fun to make ice cream in a bag! It’s a great solution if you…
1. Want ice cream FAST (like 10-15 minutes fast),
2. Don’t have an ice cream maker or forgot to stick the freezer bowl back in the freezer, OR …
3. Are looking for a fun project to entertain the kids and maybe even teach them a little science at the same time!
I’m including my easy vanilla ice cream recipe below, which is the one we most often use when making ice cream this way. It’s the perfect base for all your favorite toppings or mix-ins. And you can easily flavor it by adding mint extract or chocolate syrup.
But you can use any of the many ice cream recipes on my site and “churn” them with this method instead of using an ice cream maker. Just keep in mind that you will need to split it into two bags to freeze the whole batch. Just grab some extra helpers to help you shake the bags until the ice cream inside is frozen!
Why this recipe works
The science behind this way of making ice cream in a bag lies in the salt, which doesn’t go into the ice cream itself but is instead used to lower the temperature of the ice surrounding the bag filled with the ice cream base. As the ice melts, it freezes the ice cream mixture by pulling heat out of the base.
Shaking the bag while this heat transfer is happening also helps by adding air to the ice cream, which lightens the texture so the ice cream is nice and creamy.
I have found that it almost always takes about 5-10 minutes for the ice cream to freeze in the bags, although it kind of depends on how vigorously you are shaking the bag. It also helps to start with heavy cream that is right-out-of-the-fridge cold.
Once the ice cream is frozen, it will be the consistency of delicious vanilla soft-serve. You can either eat it right away, straight out of the bag, or scoop it into bowls or on cones. Or if you prefer your ice cream to be more hard-scooped, transfer it to a freezer-safe container and stick it in the freezer for 3-4 hours to harden up.
Ice cream in a bag is best the day it is made if you are using the basic recipe below made with just cream, half-and-half, or milk, sugar, and vanilla extract. If you go with a custard based ice cream that you cook first with tempered egg yolks, it will last a bit longer in the freezer – up to 4-5 days – before it starts getting ice crystals.
- Heavy cream, half-and-half, or whole milk: Any of these will work as long as you have 2 cups of liquid. Keep in mind that your ice cream will be creamier if you use more heavy cream and icier if you just use milk. We have tested a few different approaches and find that 1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream with 1/2 cup of whole milk is just right for us. You could even use coconut milk for a dairy free alternative.
- Sugar: Granulated sugar provides just the right amount of sweetness to the ice cream. It dissolves well just by squishing it in the bag with the cream for a few seconds before churning, so there is no need to whisk or heat the ice cream base to prevent graininess.
- Vanilla extract: You can’t make vanilla ice cream without some good vanilla extract to flavor it! Although you can switch up the flavor of your ice cream easily by swapping out the vanilla for another extract like mint, maple, or almond. Because those flavors are stronger than vanilla, I recommend reducing the amount by half first to see how you like it.
- Mix-ins: Another way to flavor your ice cream is by adding some mix-ins right at the end and squishing them in for another minute or two at the end. Crumbled Oreo cookies, chopped strawberries, nuts, and mini chocolate chips are some of our favorites!
What Else You’ll Need
- Gallon-size ziploc bags: You will need two of these freezer-safe, heavy duty ziploc bags to make a batch of ice cream. One holds the ice cream mixture and goes inside the other bag, which is filled with ice and rock salt. I highly recommend buying the name-brand bags for this project to make sure they will hold up to the shaking without breaking and ruining a batch of ice cream. If you are worried about leakage, you can always double bag the inside bag of ice cream for extra protection.
- Ice: It takes 6-8 cups of ice to freeze a batch of ice cream this way. You can use regular ice from your ice maker at home or buy a bag of ice from the store to make sure you have plenty on hand to get the job done.
- Salt: Rock salt, which is also sometimes labeled as “ice cream salt”, works best for lowering the temperature of the ice to freeze the ice cream quickly. But coarse kosher salt or even regular table salt will work in a pinch if that’s what you have on hand.
- Kitchen towel or gloves: The bag filled with ice and rock salt gets really, really cold! So you might want to wrap it in a kitchen towel or wear gloves to shake it so your hands don’t freeze!
How to Make Ice Cream in a Bag
- Mix ice cream ingredients in a large ziploc bag: Pour the cream and/or half-and-half or milk into a bag with the sugar and vanilla extract (or other flavoring) and squish it all up to help dissolve the sugar. Seal the bag well, pressig out as much air as you can.
- Add the ice and rock salt to the other bag: It should be about half-full of ice so there is room for the bag of ice cream mixture to go inside as well. Add the first bag and seal the outer bag, pressing out as much air as possible.
- Shake for 5-15 minutes: Make a game of it by playing hot potato and passing the bag around in a circle! You can squish and massage the inside bag, just be careful not to squeeze too hard and burst it.
- Enjoy! It doesn’t take long for the ice cream to thicken and freeze. After just 5-15 minutes, it should be ready to go! Carefully open the outside, then the inside bag, making sure not to let any of the liquid or ice with rock salt from the outer bag get into the ice cream, which could ruin the batch. If you want to add mix-ins, dump them in, seal up the bags, and squish the ice cream for another minute or two longer. Scoop it out into bowls or just eat it straight out of the bag! Keep in mind that this is soft-serve consistency and it will melt quickly if it’s hot outside. If you want harder skips, stick the ice cream in the freezer for a few hours before eating.
More Ice Cream Recipes
- Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream
- Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream
- Fresh Lemon Ice Cream
- Old-Fashioned Fresh Peach Ice Cream
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream
Homemade Ice Cream in a Bag
Ice Cream Base
- 2 gallon-size Ziploc® freezer bags
- 2 cups heavy cream half and half, or whole milk*
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6-8 cups ice
- 1/3 cup rock salt
- Crushed oreos
- Mini m&ms
- Sliced fruit
- Chopped nuts
- Add the heavy cream, half-and-half, or milk (any combination works as long as it equals 2 cups) along with the sugar and vanilla extract in one of the ziploc bags. Remove as much air as possible and seal the bag well. Squish everything around to mix it up and dissolve the sugar.
- Add the ice to the other gallon-size ziploc bag, along with the rock salt. Place the bag with the ice cream into the bag with the ice and seal the outer bag, pressing out as much extra air as you can.
- Shake the bag for 5 to 10 minutes, squishing and massaging the cream mixture in the middle to freeze it and turn it into ice cream. You may want to wrap the bag in a towel or use gloves to protect your hands. Or play "hot potato" with it by passing it between a few people.
- When the ice cream is ready, carefully open both the outside and inside bags, being especially careful not to let any ice and salt fall into the ice cream. Scoop it into bowls and top with your favorite ice cream toppings and enjoy right away, or add some mix-ins, seal the bag up, and squish it for another minute or two. You can also transfer the ice cream to the freezer for 2-3 hours to get hard and scoopable.
- Dairy: We like 1 1/2 cups heavy cream and 1/2 cup milk best, but any combination of the above will work.
- Salt: In a pinch, kosher salt or even table salt will work, but rock salt, also sometimes labeled as ice cream salt, works best. Remember to be careful not to let any of the salt get into your ice cream when opening the bag!
- Cold hands: You might want to grab some gloves or a hand towel to hold the bag of ice while you are making the ice cream since it gets really cold on your hands!
- Ziploc bags: Be sure to use the heavy duty freezer safe bags or you might want to double up on the bag holding the ice cream base mixture as an extra precaution so it doesn't leak.