Even the beastliest of summers is a bit more tolerable with an oversize scoop of homemade mint chocolate chip in hand. With just an ice cream maker and a recipe for basic custard, you can make any flavor under the sun, or purée fresh fruit with a bit of simple syrup for a smooth and frosty sorbet.
There are several different automatic (meaning: no elbow grease required) ice cream makers on the market; the most basic type is a motorized version of the old-school, hand-cranked machine, while a mid-priced option comes with a fluid-filled bowl that you freeze for 24 hours. On the high end are ice cream makers that have their own built-in compression freezers, for when immediate, frozen dairy gratification is necessary. No matter where homemade ice cream falls on your hierarchy of needs, here are our top picks.
Why We Like It: If you need to make a boatload of ice cream for a party, this maker is for you—it churns up to a gallon at a time, far more than the units with freezer bowls. This model looks similar to an old-fashioned crank model, with the handle being replaced by a motor that does the spinning for you. Fill the tall, skinny canister with your base and submerge it into the plastic bucket before surrounding it by layers of ice and rock salt. The motor will stop when the ice cream is frozen, which takes around 20 minutes or more, depending on how much base you're churning.
The Drawbacks: You have to seal the canister with an opaque lid during churning, making it annoying to check the progress of your ice cream or add mix-ins. Since this unit is the size of a small bucket, it presents a storage problem in petite homes (read: small city apartments). Having to buy a 10-pound bag of ice every time you want to make ice cream is a hassle, but the upside is you don't have to plan a day ahead and freeze a bowl.
Why We Like It: It's not the flashiest ice cream maker in the world—especially compared to more extravagant models out there—but this venerable classic is a solid all-around option. The one-and-a-half-quart capacity is perfect for most ice cream recipes, while a simple on/off switch makes this machine hassle free and easy to use for both novice churners and frozen-treat experts.
The Drawbacks: The motor can be a bit loud for some, and while it has no problem cranking out a single batch of ice cream, the freezer bowl is good for at most one session before needing time to re-chill.
Why We Like It: If you already have a KitchenAid stand mixer, harnessing its motor to churn some ice cream is a no-brainer. The two-quart freezer bowl fits onto nearly all stand mixer models (excluding burly ones, six-quarts and up), with an adaptor that allows the ice cream dasher to snugly scrape the sides of the bowl. Because the motor spins a little faster than most other makers, the resulting ice cream has a lighter, fluffier texture.
The Drawbacks: There's a complaint among some users that some of the freezer bowls develop leaks of the blue coolant fluid—and, sure enough, ours did, too. KitchenAid has reportedly been good about replacing them though. It's also more expensive than buying an actual, stand-alone ice cream maker, though the space savings of storing only the bowl and dasher may be worth it to some.
Why We Like It: This ice cream maker is a step up from Cuisinart's classic model, upping the capacity to two quarts. Three settings—ice cream, gelato and sorbet—vary the speed in which the dasher spins (for example, gelato is churned slower and results in a denser product), as well as churning time, which counts down on a digital display. This model is also well designed and easy to use, with the clear lid making it easy to pour in both the custard base and mix-ins. (The stainless steel finish also happens to look great on a countertop, for those who like to flaunt their ice cream prowess on a daily basis.)
The Drawbacks: Casual home ice cream makers probably won't need the extra bells and whistles, and can save $60 by springing for the Cuisinart classic model, where the only main drawback is a slightly smaller capacity.
⑤ Breville Smart Scoop ($400)
Why We Like It: If you're a true ice cream connoisseur, this is the model for you. A built-in compression unit means there's no need to freeze the bowl in advance, plus it has 12 hardness settings, corresponding to different types of frozen treats. The ice cream takes a tad longer to churn than traditional freezer-bowl models, but there's a precool setting that can be activated 10 minutes or so beforehand to help speed things up. The best (or worst, depending) part? It plays an ice cream truck jingle when the cycle is complete.
The Drawbacks: This model makes only one and a half quarts at a time. Considering this machine is pretty bulky (16 by 11 inches), that's a lot of counter space. Good thing you can make back-to-back batches. Oh yeah, and it costs more than a year's worth of Ben & Jerry's.
This article was originally published on 7/26/15 and was updated by Andrew Bui with additional content and images on 7/10/17.
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