How to find the best ice cream maker for you

All about the best freezer bowl models, stand mixer attachments, and other units to match your ice cream ambitions.

Pouring milk into an ice cream maker
Photo: Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post (Getty Images), Graphic: Libby McGuire (Getty Images)

I Melt With You is a new ice cream column from The Takeout. I’ll be here all summer with new ice cream recipes, unique ingredients, equipment recommendations, and ways to make your home ice cream experience as easy and fun as possible. I am always up for a challenge, so feel free to send flavor requests to hello@thetakeout.com. If you want to see some of the flavors I have been developing for you, feel free to pop over to my IG @stacey.ballis and scroll back for some serious ice cream content.

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Welcome back to the land of ice cream! In this installment, we are going to talk about the equipment that can take your homemade ice cream to the heights of frozen perfection. Because while you can make a perfectly delicious ice cream with no special equipment, having the right kit can take it from good to great.

The first thing that can make all the difference in homemade ice cream—and in all of your cooking—is a good digital kitchen scale. Measuring ingredients by weight allows for both consistency and precision. It’s also so much easier to assemble a recipe just using one bowl instead of dirtying a pile of measuring cups and spoons. I use this OXO Kitchen Scale for everything from my ice creams to bread dough and love the way it works.

If you are going to invest in an ice cream maker—and I strongly suggest you do—there are options on the market for every possible need or preference. I’ve had the opportunity to test out a few that I heartily recommend; there should be something for just about everyone on this list. I will, of course, be testing other equipment as this column moves along and will share relevant findings as I go.

Note: I am not including any of the old-school ice-and-salt-bucket-style churners, since the whole point of this column is ease, and while those have some fun nostalgia value, they’re not exactly good for spontaneous ice cream making.

Freezer bowl ice cream makers

These are the simplest ice cream makers to learn to use, very kid-friendly, and don’t take up much footprint for storage, aside from the space in your freezer for the bowl, their defining feature. You’ll need to chill the insert in your freezer for 24 hours before churning. Since most ice cream bases taste better and have better texture when rested for 24 hours in the fridge before churning, the timing works out well. All of these machines will churn the ice cream to a very soft texture; it will then need to “cure” for 6-12 hours in the freezer to finish firming up. For optimal texture, it’s always recommended you churn the day before you want to serve.

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If you own a KitchenAid Mixer

Leave it to your favorite stand mixer to come up with a genius Ice Cream Maker attachment! Even better, it works with both the tilt-head and bowl-lift styles of mixer. It’s very simple to use: freeze the bowl for 24 hours or more, attach it to your mixer, pop in the dasher and connect it to the motor, add your base, and off you go! The ice cream churns in about 20-30 minutes, and the overall quality and speed are almost identical to similar electric machines. This is a perfect way to add ice cream to your life without having to purchase a second appliance and is the least expensive way to add an ice cream maker to your arsenal.

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If you aren’t sure if you’re going to be churning ice cream all the time

Not everyone is going to be making homemade ice cream so often that it makes sense to invest a lot in a machine. If you are a newbie and want to be able to make great quality frozen desserts when you feel like it, you can’t go wrong with Cuisinart models. There are two models that I highly recommend. If you only need to make up to a quart and a half at a time, or if you just want to get a quality maker for a very affordable price, get the one-and-a-half-quart Frozen Yogurt - Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker. If you are making ice cream for a family and want to up your volume to two quarts at a time, go for the Pure Indulgence model. This was my ice cream maker for nearly two decades, and it still works as great today as when I first bought it.

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If you want to really up your ice cream game

Finally, if you want to maximize the versatility a bit, again go for Cuisinart (the brand has just been doing ice cream makers long enough to really get it right). The Cool Creations 2-quart maker has three different speeds, as well as a faster processing time and an improved paddle, all of which make it a great upgrade to consider if you think you want to be able to go in on exploring the wonderful world of ice creams, gelatos, and sorbets.

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Built-in compressor ice cream makers

These machines take things to a fully automated place: they have a compressor built into the base unit, so they both freeze and churn. They take up more storage space and have a little more complexity in their learning curve, so they’re better for adults or older kids. On the plus side, they will freeze to a servable soft-serve texture, and depending on your timing, the ice cream can sometimes be kept cold right in the machine until serving. On the minus side, they are significantly more expensive than freezer bowl units. So these are the ones to invest in if you are sure you are going to be making a lot of ice cream on the regular, if you’re purchasing a special occasion gift for a passionate ice cream creator, or if you have been using a freezer bowl unit and really want the flexibility of a compressor machine.

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If you want the most compressor bang for your buck

At slightly more than double the cost of the highest price freezer bowl unit, the Cuisinart Ice Cream and Gelato Maker works just like a freezer bowl machine, minus the need to pre-freeze. There are the additional benefits of a window on the lid so you can add mix-ins while churning and a keep-cool function to give you a little bit of breathing room when it’s time to transfer the ice cream from the machine. It also has two different paddles, one for ice cream and one for gelato, so you do have the ability to customize the churning texture, which is a really nice feature. It makes one-and-a-half quarts at a time.

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If you are ready to go artisanal

The Breville Smart Scoop is the machine that really made me understand the benefits of a compressor unit. It has 12 different hardness settings in four different categories (sorbet, gelato, frozen yogurt, and ice cream), and the more you work with this machine, the more you can customize your recipes. The game changers for me? The pre-cool function which gives the machine a head start on the chilling process, which means your ice cream will churn faster and faster means better texture. An alert sound lets you know the optimal time to add mix-ins through the convenient door on the lid. And the keep-cool function means that if the ice cream finishes churning just as my next Zoom meeting is starting, I don’t have to worry: it will be kept at the ideal temp until I can get back to it, up to three hours. This unit, like the Cuisinart, makes a quart and a half and comes with a spatula to remove the ice cream from the bowl and a special cleaning brush to ensure you can get any spatters out of the center tube of the paddle. It’s a not-insignificant financial investment for your ice cream adventures, but just because something is pricy doesn’t mean it isn’t a good value. For me, I think this unit is well worth the price. With the cost of premium ice creams now up to $8-12 per pint, you’ll pay for the unit after only 25-35 batches, even factoring in the cost of ingredients.

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If you want to serve a crowd or need a super durable unit

If you need to increase your churning capacity or if you feel a commercial quality unit makes more sense for you, check out these two options from Waring Commercial. While they were developed for restaurant usage, they work well for home enthusiasts, and either the 2 quart or 2.5 quart unit will make larger batches for you with ease. They have fewer bells and whistles than the Breville or Cuisinart models, but they will give you the ability to crank out batch after batch of great frozen desserts with no rest time between.

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If you either already have an ice cream maker or choose to acquire a new one, it is always best to start with one of the recipes that come with your unit. Those have been specifically tested using that equipment and will give you the most consistently good results for your initial few churns as you get to know your machine. But once you master the basics, the whole world of ice cream awaits. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with a fun and seasonal recipe for you!

DISCUSSION

anyonesanywheres
AnyonesAnywheres

All I’ll say is the reviews on the KitchenAid mixer attachment are BRUTAL.  Not recommended.