From sweet, refreshing sorbets to fluffy ice cream, whip up your own frozen desserts in a flash at home with some of the coolest ice cream machines around.
Find out more about our BBC Good Food reviews.
Ice cream makers really don't get the credit they deserve. Apart from convenience, they're perfect if you're picky when it comes to ingredients, and they allow you to get creative with some funky flavours. What's more, the kids can get involved while learning about how ice cream is made. Anyway, no need for us to waffle on – discover which machines made our list of favourites...
Cuisinart Ice Cream & Gelato Professional
Best bits: Integrated compressor, easy to use, smooth ice cream
Less flash than some integrated freezer machines, the Cuisinart simply has on/off and digital timer buttons, making it instinctive to use. It’s worth turning the machine on 5-10 minutes before churning your mix to speed up freezing for smoother results. It comes with two churning paddles – one for ice cream and the other for gelato. The gelato paddle is designed to beat in less air for a traditionally denser scoop. Once churning time is up, the machine beeps and goes into a ‘keep cool’ mode for 10 minutes. For decanting the frozen mix, a spatula designed to match the curve of the bowl has been included. However, for scraping ice cream from the paddle we found a mini spatula was more effective. It’s easy to clean, but a mini bottle brush is essential for reaching into crevices. The Cuisinart is reasonably priced for a compressor model. It's reliable, easy to use and produced consistently good ices.
Sage by Heston Blumenthal The Smart Scoop
Best bits: Preset programmes, integrated compressor, clear digital display
The Smart Scoop comes with presets for sorbet, frozen yogurt, gelato and ice cream. By measuring resistance and temperature, the presets are designed to freeze the mix to specific densities. A countdown on a digital display indicates how far along the process is and beeps to let you know when add-ins, such as chocolate chips or cake crumbs, can be churned into the mix. Once complete, the machine plays a retro ice cream van jingle (this function can be turned off if you prefer). At this stage the ice cream can be kept cold in the machine for up to three hours and served soft-scoop. Otherwise, it can be decanted into a tub and frozen to a harder consistency. The machine has a pre-cool setting that drops the machine’s temperature to -30C before churning for quick freezing. A manual setting with a timer can also be used rather than the presets. The texture of the ices was excellent in testing and the presets accurately judged when the ices were ready.
KitchenAid ice cream maker
Best bits: Variable speed, quick freezing, large capacity
The standout feature of the KitchenAid is the ability to vary the churning speed. Most domestic machines churn quite slowly but this model lets you beat the mix at a slightly faster speed, increasing the amount of air in the mix for a lighter ball of ice cream. You can also choose a slower churn for a dense, creamy, gelato-style scoop. The bowl is compatible with nearly all 4.3 and 4.8 litre KitchenAid stand mixers. It has a larger capacity (1.9 litres) than most pre-freeze bowls, although this does mean it takes up a bit more space in the freezer. The bowl needs to be hand-washed, but the paddle is dishwasher safe.
Best compact ice cream maker
Kenwood ice cream maker
Best bits: Even freezing, compact, strong paddle
With a 1.1 litre bowl, this compact design takes up less space in the freezer than most – it's perfect if you only want to make a small batch. It took a little longer than some models to freeze the ice cream mix, but the texture was consistent. Once frozen, the mix was smooth and easy to scoop. The paddle felt sturdy and there was very little buildup of solid ice cream on the base and sides of the bowl. The machine was simple to assemble and easy to operate. Overall, a good little machine.
Best budget model
Andrew James ice cream maker
Best bits: Freezes quickly, relatively quiet, easy to assemble
This model was one of the fastest when it came to freezing the ice cream mix. Some mix was missed by the paddle and froze solid onto the base of the bowl – however, once the soft-scoop ice cream was decanted and hardened in the freezer, it had one of the best textures of all those tested. The machine has a plastic outer case and removable inner bowl, which meant it took up less space in the freezer than some other models. It also makes it possible to buy a spare pre-freeze bowl and churn two batches in a row. The machine had more parts to assemble than some, but felt solid once it was set up. Very good value for money.
If you enjoy making ice cream at home and value smooth textured scoops, an electric machine is a worthwhile investment. Nearly all ice creams and sorbets need agitating as they freeze, in order to break up large ice crystals and beat in air. This can be done by hand by freezing the base in a tub and beating every 30 minutes with a fork until solid. This method works but the results will never be super smooth. Ice cream machines churn the mix constantly with a paddle while it freezes, resulting in a much silkier texture.
What should I buy?
There are two types of electric ice cream makers:
This straightforward design includes a bowl whose walls are filled with a gel coolant. Although some bowls only need eight hours in the freezer before use, most need at least 24 hours. When ready, a lid with a motorised paddle is attached to the bowl to churn the ice cream mix. Freeze-ahead machines are relatively cheap and can make excellent smooth textured ice cream. They tend to freeze the mix very quickly (20-30 minutes) which is ideal for making small ice crystals. Though they don’t take up much space on the counter, the freeze-ahead bowls can be quite bulky to fit in the freezer. These models can only churn one batch of ice cream a day, since after use the bowl has to come up to room temperature before washing, drying and re-freezing.
A more expensive option, machines with built-in freezers generally only require a 10 minute pre-freeze, which means they can be used to make several batches of ice cream in one day. After use, the bowl can be washed straight away ready to freeze another batch. Their footprint is larger than freeze-ahead models, and to avoid damaging the compressor the machine has to be stored upright and shouldn’t be moved around too much. They can take a bit longer to freeze the ice cream than the pre-freeze bowls but generally results are smooth and consistent, with minimal build-up of solids around the edge of the bowl. If you plan to make ice cream regularly and you have the counter space, a built-in freezer model is a good investment.
What we looked for
Effective freezing properties: The most important thing was that the machines froze the mixture quickly and evenly for a smooth texture. We looked for sturdy churning paddles that reached the edges of the bowl to scrape frozen ice cream back into the mixture, breaking up large crystals in the process. We rejected models that left a thick icy buildup on the sides.
Size: On freeze-ahead models we looked for bowls that were compact enough to fit in the freezer easily.
Easy to clean: Hygiene is paramount for making dairy ice cream safely, so we looked for easy-to-clean machines. Some paddles are dishwasher safe, but most parts will need hand-washing and thorough air-drying before packing away. Machines need to come to room temperature before stowing in a cupboard to avoid condensation and mould. Some models helpfully come with cleaning tools but for those that don’t, small bottle brushes are essential for cleaning joins and crevices.
Durability: We looked for machines with durable parts that were easy to assemble, with clear instruction manuals and recipe ideas.
Noise levels: Though not vital, we preferred machines that were relatively quiet.
How we tested
For a fair taste and texture comparison, all the machines were tested using Good Food’s ultimate vanilla ice cream recipe. For each machine we churned the mix to a soft-serve density and taste-tested. We then put the mix in a tub in the freezer to harden, and taste tested again after 24 and 48 hours to check the texture. We timed how fast the machines froze the mix – generally a quicker freeze means smaller ice crystals and smoother ice cream.
Recipes to try in your ice cream maker
Why not browse some of our popular ice cream recipes and give them a try in your ice cream machine?
More advice on buying electronic kit
This review was last updated in June 2018. To find out how we conduct all of our BBC Good Food taste tests and reviews, please visit our frequently asked questions page. If you have any further questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have an ice cream maker? Leave a comment below...