Whether you’re having an indulgent evening in, you’re entertaining friends, or simply craving something sweet, ice cream is the fuss-free dessert that hits the spot every time.
With an ice cream maker you can produce delicious ice cream, sorbet, gelato and frozen yogurt at the touch of a button. Yes, they’re a specialist appliance, but if you’re serious about ice cream or just want to be able to make your own and know exactly what’s going into it, an ice cream maker is a worthy investment.
Making your own ice cream is as easy as it gets and there are very few pieces of kit you need. A saucepan is an essential, as is a sieve to ensure smooth results. If you’re flavouring your custard base with nuts, like in our hazelnut gelato recipe, you’ll need something like a hand blender, food processor or blender to chop up the nuts to really maximise the flavour. For a comprehensive list of tips on how to make the best ice cream possible, Elaine Lemm’s ice cream maker recipes and tips is an essential read.
How to choose the best ice cream maker
What is an ice cream maker?
An ice cream maker is a countertop appliance designed to make homemade ice cream. There are two different types of ice cream maker: freeze-first and self-freezing. Which type is right for you depends on a number of factors, including budget and space.
Freeze-first models are simply designed and have a bowl with walls that are filled with a gel coolant. These bowls usually need between eight to 24 hours in the freezer before they can be used and can only churn one batch of ice cream a day. Freeze-first models tend to be cheaper than self-freezing models and can make smooth, good-quality ice cream. They don’t take up too much space on the kitchen counter, though the bowls can be bulky or awkwardly shaped; we’d recommend checking the size of the bowl to make sure it’ll fit in your freezer.
Self-freezing ice cream makers are a more expensive option as they feature a built-in freezer. These generally take a couple of minutes to reach the sub-zero temperatures required for making ice cream, meaning you can make several batches of ice cream a day. They’re larger than freeze-first models, owing to the compressor, and these machines need to be stored upright and not moved around too much. They take a little longer to freeze ice cream than freeze-first bowls, but they tend to produce smoother and creamier results.
What can an ice cream maker be used for?
Whether you need something to cool you down in the summer sun or you’re entertaining and looking to impress your guests with exciting flavours, an ice cream maker can do all that, and so much more. An at-home ice cream maker is ideal if you’re looking to avoid certain ingredients or you’re dedicated to using the best produce you can find. With an ice cream maker you can whip up new, exciting and daring flavour combos not thought of by expensive, store-bought brands. For inspiration, take a look at our ice cream recipes for some creative ideas.
But you’re not just limited to ice cream; many of the models we tested can also be used to make sorbet, gelato and frozen yogurt. Most brands will include a number of recipes in the manual which will give you an idea of the range of desserts you can make with your new machine. Some models come with dedicated settings for these different ices, others include a whole different paddle.
One brand we tested suggested using your ice cream maker to make frozen cocktails. Just mix your cocktail and let the ice cream maker run for 10-15 minutes or until it becomes a slushy texture. While most cocktails can be frozen, we think bright and zesty drinks such as gin cocktails, fruity cocktails like a strawberry mojito, and tequila cocktails will work best.
While there are some brilliant vegan and dairy-free ice creams on the market, they can be expensive and the flavours limited. An ice cream maker means there’s no need to miss out as you can create your own flavours and save a bit of cash, too. We’ve got a collection of dairy-free ice cream recipes to get you started.
Best ice cream makers at a glance
Best freeze-first ice cream maker – Cuisinart iced dessert maker, £120
Best compact ice cream maker – Lakeland digital ice cream maker, £44.99
Best large-capacity ice cream maker – Cuisinart ice cream maker ICE30BCU, £71.95
Fastest ice cream maker – Vonshef stainless steel ice cream maker, £35.99
Best budget ice cream maker – Sensio Home ice cream maker, £32.95
Best for ice cream only – Lakeland stainless steel digital ice cream maker, £74.99
Best self-freezing ice cream maker – Cuisinart ice cream and gelato professional, £249
Best blowout ice cream maker – Magimix gelato expert, £499.96
Best high-tech ice cream maker – Sage the smart scoop, £699
Best ice cream makers to buy in 2021
Cuisinart iced dessert maker
Best freeze-first ice cream maker
Pros: easy to assemble, quiet
Cons: tricky to get the ice cream out
Star rating: 5/5
The Cuisinart is a stylish, pretty-coloured, freeze-first machine which makes 1.4 litres of creamy, light ice cream quietly and effortlessly, as well as iced fruit desserts and sorbet.
The machine is easy to assemble and in just minutes you’re ready to make ice cream. It also has two distinctly different paddles: one with two angled arms for churning ice cream, the other with six arms to mash and churn fresh fruit for smooth or chunky iced desserts, so you can really get the most out of this machine. The ice cream we made had a delicious, light and creamy consistency.
Read our full Cuisinart iced dessert maker review.
Lakeland digital ice cream maker
Best compact ice cream maker
Pros: Small and compact, pre-freeze bowl fits neatly in freezer, classic design
Star rating: 4.5/5
Thanks to clever and imaginative design, the whole bottom half of this ice cream maker goes in the freezer. This not only saves space on the kitchen counter, but means there are fewer component parts to find – or lose!
Ice cream and sorbet were very well made. Both were light and smooth, and made in 25 and 30 minutes respectively. This model has a 1.5-litre capacity, which Lakeland says equates to 500ml of liquid base. The controls are simple and easy to use, though the screen may be a little small for those who struggle with their eyesight.
Read our full Lakeland digital ice cream maker review.
Cuisinart ice cream maker ICE30BCU
Best large-capacity ice cream maker
Pros: paddle scrapes closely to the bowl, large bowl capacity
Star rating: 4.5/5
This stately, brushed-steel-effect ice cream maker has a 2-litre bowl capacity, so with 1.5 litres of liquid mix you can make a couple of tubs of ice cream. The churning mechanism on this model is pretty nifty and different to other models we’ve tested: instead of the paddle churning the ice cream, the paddle stays stationary and the bowl is turned.
The paddle supplied is thick and robust, which meant that our ice cream came out soft, creamy and whipped. Our lemon sorbet was smooth and had a delicious fizzy sherbert mouthfeel.
Read our full Cuisinart ice cream maker ICE30BCU review.
Vonshef stainless steel ice cream maker
Fastest ice cream maker
- Available from Vonhaus (£44.99)
Pros: small and compact, budget-friendly, fast
Cons: no timer, can’t check on the progress
Star rating: 4/5
Discreet and simply designed, this ice cream maker from VonShef makes ice cream in just 20 minutes, making it the fastest model we’ve tested. Our ice cream was a soft-serve texture, and was nicely whipped and creamy. Sorbet came out very soft, so we’d recommend popping it in the freezer straight away: it was delicious after further freezing.
This model just has an on/off switch, so is easy to use. The lid is opaque, meaning you can’t check on the progress of your ice cream. While it’s a little basic in design, this is a budget-friendly option that makes ice cream well.
Read our full Vonshef stainless steel ice cream maker review.
Sensio Home ice cream maker
Best budget ice cream maker
Pros: Small and compact, easy to assemble and clean, budget-friendly
Cons: Freezer bowl is quite large, struggled to make sorbet
Star rating: 4/5
The Sensio Home ice cream maker is a great option for anyone short on space and budget. Like the Lakeland model, the bottom half of this ice cream maker goes in the freezer. Though, be aware, it’s quite awkwardly shaped, so fitting this in the freezer was a bit of a struggle.
Ice cream took 35 minutes to churn and was thick and creamy. It also stood up to further freezing well. We had no such luck when making a sorbet, try as we might we couldn’t get it to work. After two tests over two days we were left with slightly cloudy sorbet mix. Stick to ice cream with this model.
Read our full Sensio Home ice cream maker review.
Lakeland stainless steel digital ice cream maker
Best for ice cream only
Pros: Virtually silent, compact design, countdown timer
Cons: Couldn’t make sorbet
Star rating: 3.5/5
One of our favourite things about this ice cream maker is how quiet it is. While some models on this list make loud mechanical whirring sounds, this little thing purrs along quietly as it churns. It’s compact and the freezer bowl fits in the freezer neatly.
It has a thick and robust paddle. Despite taking nearly twice as long to churn ice cream than the manual suggests, our vanilla ice cream eventually had a soft, whipped texture. Like the Sensio Home model above, we couldn’t get sorbet to work despite two attempts. But for classic ice creams this is a great choice.
Read our full Lakeland stainless steel digital ice cream maker review.
Cuisinart ice cream and gelato professional
Best self-freezing ice cream maker
Pros: self-freezing so no need to find space in the freezer, clear and easy to use buttons, different paddles for ice cream and gelato
Cons: Quite noisy
Star rating: 5/5
This is a high-quality and serious looking ice cream maker. It comes with two paddles: one for ice cream and one for gelato. It’s straight to the point; it doesn’t have as many settings as some of the models we’ve tested on this list, but it makes consistently delicious, ice cream parlour level desserts.
It’s not small, but not many self-freezing models are. Ice cream, sorbet and gelato take about 40 minutes to churn, but it’s quality worth waiting for. Clean up is a doddle, too.
Read our full Cuisinart ice cream and gelato professional review.
Magimix gelato expert
Best blowout ice cream maker
Pros: Built-in freezer, multi functions
Cons: The quality comes at a price
Star rating: 4.5/5
This super-sized stainless steel ice cream maker with a built-in freezer will impress everyone from the home cook to semi-professional chef. The removable and integrated bowls can produce a remarkable 2 litres of ice cream in under an hour.
Choose from three automated programmes for ice cream, gelato or granita or take control with the manual function. This machine does it all, but it comes at a price.
Read our full Magimix gelato expert review.
Sage the smart scoop
Best high tech ice cream maker
Pros: Lots of settings and accessories, feeding chute for ice cream and add-ins, attractive design
Star rating: 4.5/5
Sage always hits the mark with its sleek and frankly great looking appliances. The smart scoop has a 1-litre bowl capacity and settings for sorbet, frozen yogurt, gelato and ice cream. There are 12 hardness settings available, too, so you can fine-tune the results or freestyle with the manual setting.
The ice cream, gelato and sorbet we made to test this model all came out brilliantly, they were all smooth and slow melting. We weren’t able to get the automatic hardness sensor to work, which was disappointing. With so many settings to play with, this is a great option for those looking to get experimental.
Read our full Sage the smart scoop review.
Stand mixer attachments
KitchenAid ice cream maker accessory
Best stand mixer ice cream maker for families
- Available from KitchenAid (£90)
Pros: makes large quantities of high-quality ice cream
Cons: needs the Kitchen Aid stand mixer
Star rating: 4.5/5
A robust, well-made ice cream accessory that makes almost 2 litres of exceedingly good ice cream quickly and efficiently – but only for those with a KitchenAid stand mixer. Creating that much ice cream in one go will appeal to big families and ice cream lovers, but the large bowl means you also need a large freezer.
Read our full KitchenAid ice cream maker accessory review.
Smeg ice cream maker attachment
Best stand mixer ice cream maker for speed
Pros: simple set-up, lovely ice cream
Cons: you need to have a Smeg stand mixer
Star rating: 4.5/5
To use the pre-freeze Smeg ice cream maker accessory you will need a Smeg stand mixer. Once the robustly built, double-layered bowl is frozen, it sits inside the mixer bowl. Everything clicks together so quickly you’ll be making ice cream in no time. The process is effortless and quiet, with super-light, creamy results in just 20 minutes.
Read our full Smeg ice cream maker attachment review.
How we tested ice cream makers
We put all ice cream makers through their paces with a range of BBC Good Food recipes. As standard, we made our ultimate vanilla ice cream and lemon sorbet in all machines. If a model came with settings or attachments for gelato or frozen yogurt, we made our hazelnut gelato and tropical frozen yogurt, too. All ice cream makers were tested against the following criteria:
Effective freezing properties: most importantly, the machines had to freeze the mixture quickly and evenly for a smooth texture. We looked for sturdy churning paddles that scraped ice cream from the edges of the bowl, breaking up large crystals in the process.
Size: on freeze-first 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. 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.
Noise levels: though not vital, we preferred machines that were relatively quiet.
Capacity and overall footprint: we looked at the bowl capacity and footprint for both ease of use and storage.
Instruction manual: how helpful was the instruction book and did it include recipes?
Packaging: excessive use of plastic and polystyrene in packaging was negatively scored.
Ice cream recipes
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