Sometimes, just one Cornetto isn’t enough. But buy an ice cream maker and you’ll be able to create as many delicious desserts as you like. We defy you not to lick your lips as you're reading this...
Hate waiting for the ice cream van to come around? Get yourself one of our pick of the best ice cream makers, and you can enjoy a cone or bowl of heaven whenever you want. And for a fraction of the price of premium brands. Some machines will also make gelato, sorbet and frozen yogurt, and can be used with soya and almond milk, making them a worthwhile purchase for anyone with a dairy intolerance.
In case you were wondering what the difference is between gelato and regular ice cream, the Italian version contains more milk and less cream, and is whipped more slowly. For that reason, your machine might come with two different paddles that you swap in depending on which you’re making. Prices for ice cream makers vary hugely, from under £20 to upwards of £300.
The more affordable designs have a bowl that you’ll need to remember to chill in the freezer for between eight and 24 hours beforehand. Alternatively, the less organized among you might feel it’s worth investing in a machine with a built-in element – this cools the bowl to the optimum temperature in minutes as the ingredients are being churned. Here are some of our favourite ice cream makers, plus a handy extra gadget for making the cones!
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Best ice cream makers
1. ICE100BCU Ice Cream & Gelato Professional by Cuisinart – best for big families and batches
Whether freezer space is in short supply or you tend to fancy ice cream on impulse, this smart machine can step up to the task. It is equipped with two paddles – one for smooth ice cream and the other for less airy, more textured gelato and sorbet. There’s no need to freeze its 1.5-litre bowl ahead of time. Just pop in a paddle, fill with mixture, lock the lid in place and set it freezing.
It can churn from between 10 to 60 minutes and the timer toggles in one-minute increments, with a beep to let you know when it’s finished. The downside of the machine is that it’s bulky and pricey. It will need to live on your worktop most of the time as it needs to be level for a period before use. During testing, it was used to make chocolate ice cream.
It was simple to pour the mixture in as it doesn’t need to be done though a spout, plus you can add ingredients easily. However, it was noisy in use. Its vibrations caused the machine to shift on the surface. One useful feature was being able to add time while it was churning, in five-minute increments. The ice cream took 30 minutes to churn to a firm consistency and was easy to remove from the bowl. Its parts aren’t dishwasher-safe but hand washing is fuss-free.
Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars
2. Le Glacier 1.1L by Magimix – best ice cream maker for small kitchens
A smaller version of the 1.5-litre Le Glacier, this mini model is no less a churning champion. It’s the ideal size to squeeze into a busy freezer. It comes with advice and recipes to make sure every batch is the best it can be. It’s worth noting that all the recipes have been devised for the larger machine, however. So these will need to be reduced accordingly.
The machine consists of a one-piece coolant-filled bowl that needs to be frozen ahead of time. Its small size also means you can keep it in the freezer all year round. Its lid, motor unit, spindle and paddle simply slot together and twist into place on top. The removable parts need to be washed by hand. Testing was straightforward although initially I was caught out by a safety feature.
A small pin descends from the motor unit when it’s turned on to lock the lid onto the bowl. However, a small amount of ice had frozen in the hole for the pin and stopped the machine from working. Once removed, the Le Glacier churned blueberry ice cream. As it was a thicker mixture and the pouring spout is quite narrow, this had to be spooned in.
There’s no timer to keep track of progress but the ice cream was ready in 25 minutes and was firm. The mixture on the sides and bottom were challenging to remove. The design of the paddle proved especially useful for consistent churning and kept the ice cream moving well.
Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars
3. Shake N Make Ice Cream Maker by Mustard at Firebox – best for speed
If you want your ice cream in a hurry – or during a power cut – the Shake N Make should be your go-to. Its ice cream is made by sheer hand-shaking power. That means that by the time you indulge in the fruits of your labour, you’ll feel like you really deserve it. This ice cream maker comprises a small metal cone with its own lid for the ingredients. This fits into a larger lidded cup that you fill with ice and salt; the Shake N Make is basic but effective.
All you need to do is shake vigorously for three minutes and you have ice cream. In practice, it’s not as quite simple. Getting the right proportion of ice cubes into the cup, while leaving room for the cone is tricky. The metal cone is small and you can only put ingredients in it to a fill line. This means you can only make a dinky bowl of ice cream at a time (although it’s good for portion control). It’s best to mix in chunks of nuts or fruit afterwards.
Different mixtures will also freeze faster than others. Three minutes of shaking was fine for a combination of double cream and milk with a splash of vanilla. However, soya yogurt took six minutes of shaking to freeze to a firm consistency. The exterior cup is dishwasher-safe but it’s not clear if the rest of it is.
Ideal Home rating: 3 out of 5 stars
4. JEA57 Ice Cream Maker by Judge – best for beginners
Simply freeze the Judge ice cream maker’s coolant-filled, one-piece bowl eight hours ahead of time. Then the only thing that stands between you and a big tub of softly whipped ice cream is a rocker switch and 20-40 minutes. Such is the promise of this 1.5-litre ice cream maker. It’s an easy-to-use machine that comes with a dishwasher-safe lid and paddle and a detachable motor unit that slots on to get churning.
It doesn’t come with much recipe inspiration, so you’ll have to source your own. But on the plus side, it’s quiet in operation, the build feels robust, and the bowl doesn’t take up too much room in the freezer. It could feasibly live there full time. In tests, it was used to make a custard-based vanilla ice cream that had to be cooked in advance, and raspberry frozen yogurt.
The vanilla ice cream mix poured in easily, despite the lid’s spout being quite narrow. It took the full 40 minutes to freeze to a gelato consistency but ripened well in the freezer once removed. The frozen yogurt started to freeze after 10 minutes of churning and by 20 minutes had a soft serve texture that was easily scooped out.
Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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5. Ice Cream Maker with Spare Bowl by Andrew James – best for value
Not only is this ice cream maker fantastically affordable, it comes with an additional insulated 1.5-litre bowl. This means you can whip up double the amount of sweet treats by keeping one bowl in the freezer. This is perfect for the summer holidays when ice cream-making is more frequent. The extra bowl also comes in handy for families who want to make additional flavours or different types of dessert on the same day.
Each pre-freeze bowl sits within a plastic outer bowl, which the motor unit, lid and paddle assembly locks onto. There’s also the option of buying it without the spare bowl. The ice cream maker features a wide spout, so you can pour in more messy mixtures with ease. You can add extra ingredients as it churns, and ice cream can be made in around 20-30 minutes.
One downside is that it’s quite noisy while in operation, plus the parts aren’t dishwasher-safe. In testing, it made banana ice cream, with only a few splashes, in around 30 minutes. It made lemon sorbet, which became slushy in 15 minutes and much firmer by 30 minutes. Overlook the noise and it’s a perfect example of a good-value machine that really delivers.
Ideal Home rating: 5 out of 5 stars
6. Digital Ice Cream Maker 1.5L by Lakeland – best for families
Still hanging around waiting for your ice cream to be ready? Clock-watch no more with the Digital Ice Cream maker. Instead, this smart machine will count down for you on its large display. It takes an average of 25 minutes to churn its way to creamy perfection. Its freeze-first 1.5-litre insulated one-piece bowl will need to be popped in the freezer ahead of time.
Everything else is simple and speedy, from a wide spout for pouring in, to its comprehensive instructions and range of inspirational recipes to try. It was a little annoying to find that the timer starts counting down from the moment you’ve set the time and only comes in five-minute increments, with no option to add time once it’s begun.
This feels like you’re pouring in ice cream mixture against the clock as the paddle stops turning once time has elapsed. However, it made soft, scoopable strawberry ice cream in 25 minutes. It made lemon sorbet in the same amount of time. It was still a little slushy and needed another half hour in the freezer to harden sufficiently. None of the parts are dishwasher-safe but they’re easy to clean by hand.
Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars
7. The Smart Scoop by Sage – best ice cream maker for keen entertainers
As if making your own ice cream wasn’t fun enough, the Smart Scoop comes packed with features to make it more joyful. It comes with 12 presets, which translate to three hardness settings for sorbet, gelato, ice cream and frozen yogurt. It includes a one-litre bowl, and a pre-cool that helps to create the dense texture of gelato.
There’s even a three-hour ‘keep cool’ setting – perfect for not having to dash away from guests. Then there’s a manual option with a timer from five minutes to three hours. While the bowl isn’t dishwasher safe, the paddle and lid are. The parts are simple to wash by hand, with an included brush. Considering that it’s a model with its own freezer, The Smart Scoop’s worktop footprint isn’t as big as some equivalent machines.
In tests, it was used to make strawberry ice cream, a custard-based recipe that required pre-prep before pouring in the bowl. The hardest ice cream setting was chosen. It was left to count up as it churned (it’s not a countdown as it monitors the hardness as it goes). It cooled the mixture quickly, reducing it from 18C to -5C in the first seven minutes.
By 15 minutes, it had started to clump around the paddle and by 17 minutes, had reached -22C. The ice cream was ready in 26 minutes and was easily removed using the included spatula. Its consistency was just hard enough to scoop into balls but needed more time in the freezer to become properly firm. All in all, one of the easiest, mess-free ice cream-makers tested.
Ideal Home rating: 5 out of 5 stars
How to buy the ice cream maker for you
Why do I need an ice cream maker?
It’s no secret that if you have a freezer, you can make ice cream by hand without a dedicated machine. However, it’s fraught with pitfalls and is a pretty boring process. Even if you follow a cycle of taking it out, stirring it and putting it back, it doesn’t guarantee it’ll be free from large ice crystals. These result in a gritty texture that’ll have you running back to the freezer aisle.
Ice cream makers, on the other hand, freeze while churning the mix, incorporating air. They scrape down the sides to prevent ice crystals from becoming too big. The result is soft and creamy, not crunchy. Just don’t forget to eat it while it’s fresh (it’ll store for up to a month). Homemade ice cream won’t have the longevity that shop-bought ice cream does.
How much should I spend on an ice cream maker?
Prices vary hugely, from around the £20 mark for a basic model to large all-in-one appliances that cost several hundred. Deciding which to plump for often comes down to how much you’ll use it. Consider whether you’re happy to plan ahead or keep a bowl in your freezer. Also think about how much space you have available.
Compact kitchens will struggle to accommodate the bigger ice cream makers for one major reason. Like a fridge or freezer, they need to be kept level for 12 hours or so in order for their compressor to work properly. However, you can’t beat them for convenience. At the sub-£100 end of the market, prices tend to be slightly higher for models with large-capacity bowls. A second bowl for making different flavours or types, and useful features, such as digital controls or a timer, will hike up the price.
What are the different types of ice cream maker?
Ice cream makers come in two forms – ones where you freeze the bowl around 12-24 hours in advance, and those that include their own freezing unit.
Pre-freeze ice cream makers
The bowls of the pre-freeze machines contain a gel or liquid coolant that sits between its inner metal layer and its exterior. This freezes solid, so that when the ice cream is poured in, it’ll start to rapidly cool the mixture.
The bowl will also be insulated, to minimise thawing. It’ll either sit within another plastic bowl with a lid, or a lid will lock directly on top. The lid contains a motor unit that powers a paddle from above to churn the mixture as it begins to freeze. Most advise starting the paddles before pouring the mixture in so it doesn’t freeze before churning can begin.
The motor unit is often manual ie it simply runs until you switch it off, but you can also find digital models that allow you to set a timer. The advantage of these machines is that they’re affordable to buy and cheap to run. This is because you only need to power a paddle – your freezer will have done the hard work already. They are relatively easy to store.
If you keep your bowl in the freezer all the time, you’ll only need to find space to store the lid and the paddle. However, if permanent freezer space is in short supply, the downside is that you’ll need to plan ahead if you fancy ice cream the next day. You’ll also need to make sure that the bowl fits in your freezer. Those with drawer-style designs may find the bigger bowls a tight squeeze.
The other disadvantage is that once used, you’ll need to wait for your bowl to defrost before you can clean it. You then need to refreeze it straight away if you want ice cream or another frozen dessert the next day. An extra bowl, so you can rotate them, is particularly handy in summer. Stand mixer-compatible ice cream makers are similar in concept. They use a pre-freeze bowl combined with a paddle that fits your mixer. This replaces the need for a separate motor unit.
Self-cooling ice cream makers
Models with a built-in cooling unit require no pre-freezing, meaning you can make ice cream whenever you like. Their bowls are made from metal with a paddle that fits in the centre and is rotated from below. They may have a fixed bowl with a removable second bowl or only a removable bowl, and sometimes different paddles for a variety of consistencies. Other useful features include hardness settings, such as for gelato or frozen yogurt, and a timer.
These machines are great for making batches or multiple flavours but they’re pricey, heavy and bulky with a need for plenty of worktop room when they’re in use. They’ll also require more power to run. Removable bowls can be washed soon after use but you’ll need to wait for fixed bowls to return to room temperature before cleaning.
What other key questions do I need to ask about ice cream makers?
- Does your ice cream maker come with a recipe book? It’s the best way to ensure you get the most out of your new appliance. If it doesn’t, factor in buying one, or search online for tried-and-tested recipes. Remember to scale quantities up or down to suit the bowl size of your machine and prevent overflow.
- Is there a good-sized spout in the lid? You’ll need to start the paddles of pre-freeze models turning before pouring in the mixture. This can get messy if the hole is small. Similarly, you may wish to add ingredients as it churns. This is less of a concern for freezer models as the lid can usually be completely removed to add mixture and extras.
- Do you have enough storage space for your ice cream maker when you’re less likely to be using it regularly? Do you not have space in your kitchen cupboards or on the worktop? Then you may have to find another home for it out of season.
- Give your maker a helping hand where you can – chill the ingredients or mixture beforehand. Make sure your pre-freeze bowl is frozen solid. Any sloshing around inside means you should pop it back in the freezer. Check in on your ice cream as it churns – it can take more or less time than recipes advise. Catch it at its best and before the machine struggles too much to turn the paddle. It also helps to get the ice cream out of the bowl quickly and into the freezer to ‘ripen’ and really solidify.
- What capacity should I choose? The capacity of ice cream makers can range from 800ml to two litres, but most are 1 to 1.5 litres. However, it’s worth noting that bowl size doesn’t accurately represent how much ice cream will be made. This is partly because the paddle takes up space. But it’s also because ice cream will increase in volume as it freezes and is churned. Check the instructions for an idea of how much ice cream you can make in one go, or use the recipes that come with it.