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Surprising Tricks For Making the Best Milkshakes

When it comes to ice cream treats, milkshakes are the coolest. They're cold and creamy and, best of all, portable. Walk down the street, sipping, and there's no danger of a scoop falling to the ground. Old School soda fountains are making a comeback — a hot trend we're firmly behind — and it's easier than you might think to make the world's greatest milkshake in your very own kitchen. Here's how.

101888603 shakes by meredith

Photo via Meredith Publishing

Making Thick Milkshakes In a Blender

  • Most recipes call for ultra-rich ice cream, flavorings, milk, maybe even cream swirled in a blender, right? Well, guess what? You'll get a creamier shake when using an ice cream with a lower butterfat content. The lighter ice cream makes for a better emulsion with milk. At the legendary Washington State University Creamery, in Pullman, Wash., the soda fountain staff hits the sweet spot by using an ice cream base that's half the butterfat as the traditional ice cream for spot-on results.
  • Add the ice cream and flavors and then with the blender running on the lowest speed, add the milk very slowly. Think of the process as similar to making a vinaigrette. Adding the milk slowly allows the two dairy products to blend seamlessly. Stop and stir to check the thickness. You're aiming for something that's velvety, but not so thick you need a spoon.
  • Like all culinary creations, tasting before serving is essential. Make sure the flavors shine through brightly. Nobody wants to drink a chocolate shake that tastes vanilla. Make adjustments by adding more syrup or fruit. Above all, go slow. Blend on low and you'll be rewarded with a perfect milkshake.

102161558 chocolate shakes by Meredith

Photo via Meredith Publishing

No Blender? No Problem

If you're looking for a way to make this chill drink but don't have a blender, there are some easy work-arounds:

  • Make the shake by shaking ingredients in a quart jar, with a teaspoon inside to act as the ad-hoc mixer. Got little ones? Have them take turns shaking.
  • Channel your inner bartender and stir instead of shake. Start with a tall container, a cocktail shaker will work. Let the ice cream soften for at least 20 minutes after coming out of the freezer and then scoop it into the mixing vessel. Stir slowly and constantly while dribbling milk in until it's just right. This works on the same principle as mixing it slow in the blender.
  • An immersion blender will also do the trick. Just make sure the container in which you'll be making the milkshake is tall enough so the contents don't splash out the sides.

Turn Up the Volume on Flavor

  • There's never been a better time to get creative in crafting a shake, as the shelves in stores are packed with every sort of syrup and ample stocks of frozen fruit make it possible to enjoy a strawberry shake in the middle of December. No need to thaw those berries. Add them frozen and they'll help in the blending process.
  • Get deeper, more intense flavor by doubling, even tripling up. Mixing chocolate syrup into chocolate ice cream and slowly adding chocolate milk will satisfy the most discerning chocolate enthusiast. Yes, chocolate syrup on top is great, too.
  • Everybody loves classic flavor combos like chocolate and banana, chocolate and mint, chocolate and peanut butter, chocolate and... But it's fun to play around and make new pairings like partnering up tropical fruit (papaya, mango, pineapple, star fruit). Some seasoned shakers even sneak in a little bit of veg or an unexpected fruit. You haven't lived until you've tried the Don't-Knock-It-Til-You-Tried-It-Zucchini-Chocolate Shake or the extra creamy Avocado Shake that has roots in the Philippines. A Dragon Fruit Shake is something you might find served in Vietnam.
  • Salted caramel's now entrenched in the mainstream, but let's give pepper its due. Try a twist of fresh ground pepper in your strawberry shake. That's not enough to make it taste peppery, just add a warm, slightly exotic note.

How to Make a Milkshake Without Ice Cream

  • Now, some shake purist might say that if it doesn't have ice cream, it's not a shake. But one sip of a Quick Berry Shake might make skeptics warm up to the idea that you can create a satisfying sipper without ice cream.
  • The secret? Add a few ice cubes to turn frozen fruits, milk and syrup into something that's ultra-creamy without the calories of ice cream. Frozen bananas also work as an excellent substitute for ice cream when making the Quick Banana Milkshake.
  • Minimalists will go nuts for the super-easy Vanilla Milkshakes Without Ice Cream, which calls for milk, sugar, vanilla and ice cubes to be whirled in a blender until smooth. Genius!
  • And for those who are looking for non-dairy alternatives, the supermarket freezer section holds a treasure trove of options including cream-free "ice cream" made from soy milk, coconut cream and almond milk. Use the same techniques when blending, which focus on going slow. Yes, it takes patience, but you'll be rewarded!

How to Make a Milkshake Without the Milk

Skip the milk? Really? Well, imagine a shake made with coffee ice cream that's mixed with cold brew coffee. Or how about a chai latte shake made with warm spices, ice cream and a cooled version of that tea from India? Add orange juice to vanilla and you've created a Creamsiccle you're going to wanna gulp.  Again, it's about getting the right consistency, slowing stirring the liquid into the frozen ice cream or ice cream alternative until reaching level of thickness you're craving. Go vegan by combining silken tofu and soy milk with fresh or frozen fruit for the Raspberry-Banana Tofu Shake.

401251 chocolate mint shake by ccheartstobake

Photo by CC

The Big Finish

  • Sure, you could just stick a straw in your shake and call it good. (Make that very good, if you've followed the tips above.) Or, dress that creation up with a final flourish.
  • A pile of whipped cream doesn't just look amazing, it adds another layer of creamy goodness.
  • Drizzle extra syrup on top. Give your chocolate shake some latte art style by dropping dots of syrup on the surface and then carefully dragging a toothpick through that, pictured above.
  • Treat the surface of the shake like the stage for more goodies. Candy's dandy, and so are sprinkles or a sliced strawberry slit down the middle and placed on the side of the glass.
  • Layer two flavors of shake for a parfait effect.
  • Stick a straw through a mini doughnut and serve.
  • Tall glasses are the go-to choice for most shake makers, but mix things up and try the frozen drink in a margarita glass or a frosty glass mug. Pour any extra in a small pitcher just in case anyone wants seconds. (Duh!)
  • Have a milkshake tasting party and serve assorted flavors in shot glasses. Tongues will wag, guaranteed.

Discover more than 100 milkshakes and floats recipes.

About Leslie Kelly

Always hungry to learn, never had my fill of oysters, Memphis dry rub ribs, wild salmon, chocolate chip cookies or a well-rolled lumpia. Washington state wine lover, bourbon fan. Totally obsessed with brunch!