Ice cream makers are far from a kitchen essential, but ice cream itself may be one of the essential ingredients to happiness. OK, we’re exaggerating — maybe? Just a bit? — but the frozen sweet stuff ranks pretty darn high on our best-things-ever bucket list. And while we’re no strangers to buying a pint (or three) at the grocery store, it turns out that making homemade ice cream is surprisingly easy — especially when you’ve got the right equipment.
If you haven’t made ice cream since the days of the hand-cranked machines, there’s a whole range of new electronic machines that make crafting your own artisanal creations super easy. At their simplest, they work by stirring ice cream ingredients in a frozen metal container. Once stirred to a delicious, creamy consistency, you just have to let the ice cream harden in the freezer for a few hours to get scoopable homemade ice cream.
Most base recipes call for heating up milk, cream, sugar and flavorings like vanilla extract over the stove. After it’s cooled, it’s poured into the machine. A cold metal container chills the mixture while it churns. The stirring prevents the formation of large, icy crystals and results in the creamy texture that makes ice cream so delicious. Once you perfect a good base recipe, you can experiment with different add-ins like candy and fruit, or experiment with more adventurous recipes and flavor combinations. For more advanced cooks, the fun of the ice cream machine can be a canvas for experimentation with sweets, spices and more. But even a beginner can stumble upon a delicious combination. Whatever you dream up, just make sure you come up with a good name for it, too.
Ready to DIY your own dessert? Check out our picks for the best ice cream makers to buy — and get your spoons ready.
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1. Cuisinart 1.5 Quart Ice Cream Maker
It doesn’t get much easier than Cuisinart’s 1.5 quart ice cream maker. A relatively simple and sleek design, this appliance has two main parts: A freezer bowl that needs to chill in the freezer for about 24 hours, and a motorized mixing paddle. The machine insulates the bowl, allowing it to continually freeze the ice cream as it churns. Mix-ins get added at the end — mess free! — directly into the top as it churns. The open top also allows you to keep an eye on your ice cream to track progress. It can be eaten immediately or, for firmer consistency, can be frozen for an additional hour or two. And with simple on/off operation, the only difficult part about this machine is remembering to freeze the bowl ahead of time.Pro tip: immediately return the bowl to the freezer (if you have space) once it’s cleaned and dried so you’ll be ready the next time a craving strikes!
2. Whynter Ice Cream Maker
If you’re ready to take your ice cream making to the next level, consider Whynter’s ice cream maker. This model is larger and more expensive for one big reason: there’s no need to add ice or pre-freeze a bowl. Instead, the system chills down the ice cream container automatically, even if you add base ingredients that haven’t been chilled. That means while it takes longer to churn, you can also pour heated ingredients directly from the stove without worrying about heating up the unit too much. It also has a timer so you can set it to run just as long as you need to. Because of its large footprint, it’s not as ideal for the occasional ice cream maker, but for true enthusiasts, it’s worth the investment.
3. Hamilton Beach Automatic Ice Cream Maker
Like old-school ice cream churns, this Hamilton Beach ice cream maker uses ice and rock salt (remember science class?) to chill the bowl. If ice melts as it runs, you can simply add more to chill. With a 3-quart capacity, it’s also one of the bigger home ice cream makers on the market. Once ingredients are added, it will take around 30-40 minutes for ice cream to thicken up. Unlike with the Cuisinart, you won’t be able to keep an eye on the ice cream as it churns and the lid has to be removed to add toppings towards the end. However, with no need to freeze ahead, some people find its well worth the trade.
4. KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment
Got a KitchenAid stand mixer? Make it do double duty! This set lets you kkip the stand-alone ice cream maker and put your KitchenAid mixer to use in a new way. The bowl, which should be frozen for 12-14 hours, is placed directly on the stand, with the “dasher” (mixing attachment) fitting into the spring latch. The mixer is then powered by KitchenAid’s powerful motor, making it less likely to get stuck as you add mix-ins. If you keep your mixer on your counter, it also doesn’t require lugging out and plugging in an appliance, just getting out the bowl and attachments. Just make sure this is compatible with your model before purchasing — one option fits 5- and 6-quart models, and a separate one will work with 8-quart models.
5. Zoku Ice Cream Maker
If you want an ice cream maker with a really small footprint, this bowl might be your best bet. Using the same insulated freezing technology as the ice cream machines, it gets the bowl very, very cold and allows it to stay cold as you mix up ingredients. Some frozen fruit desserts, like one-ingredient banana “ice cream”, are also great for quickly stirring and smashing up without having to use an ice cream maker.