Hate waiting for the ice cream van to come around? Treat your kitchen to 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. As well as a dinner and garden party must-have.
Discover the very best appliances for your kitchen with help from our expert buying guide reviews
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.
Shortly, we’ll look at our best ice cream makers for 2020. But first, let’s address how much you should spend.
How much should I pay for an ice cream maker?
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. Both KitchenAid and Smeg have produced a freezer bowl that’s designed to work with their classic stand mixers, which we’ve also included in our test line up.
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. If you are interested in producing large batches of ice cream in one go, these are probably your best bet.
Best ice cream makers 2020
1. 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
2. Ice Cream Maker With Compressor by VonShef – best ice cream maker for non-stop sweet treats
Ice cream makers with built-in freezers aren’t as affordable as those with pre-freeze bowls but this model costs far less than the Cuisinart (below) and Sage (above) makers we’ve reviewed here. Its results were also incredibly good – taking only an hour to turn out perfectly churned, ready-to-serve ice cream that tasted far better than shop-bought.
What it really has in its favour is the size. It’s not too tall, so can fit underneath wall units easily, and is relatively compact overall for an ice cream maker with its own freezer. This means it’s feasible to have it out on the worktop all season long, so the moment the urge for ice cream strikes, it can be mixed and popped into the removable bowl.
Setting it is simple – there just two buttons to switch it on and to start, alongside a dial to add or reduce time in minutes, and an LCD display. While the maximum amount of time you can set initially is 60 minutes, it can be toggled by minute if you feel the ice cream needs 10 or 20 minutes longer.
Other plus points include the volume of its removable bowl – 1.2 litres, so enough for a few people – and a spatula for removing the ice cream once it’s finished. We found this came in handy as our batch froze more on the sides than around the paddle.
We also liked that lid of the clear bowl has flip up section, so you can add ingredients towards the end of the churning, and that the LCD panel shows different symbols to indicate when it’s mixing and when it’s cooling.
There are only a few minor niggles –no parts of it are dishwasher safe and it includes just three recipes to try, so you’ll need to find inspiration online. Plus, while not noisy, the churning can be whiny, so it’s best to head off to another room to await its finishing beep.
Ideal Home’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
3. ICE100BCU Ice Cream & Gelato Professional by Cuisinart – best ice cream maker for families and big 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
4. 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
5. 0.6L Ice Cream Maker by American Originals – best ice cream maker for portion control
If you live by yourself or your partner’s on a diet, the idea of hauling out a sizeable appliance and making a big batch seems like effort. However, this dinky ice cream maker could be just the thing for making small amounts of sorbet and creamy treats when the urge strikes.
While its size could be limiting in a family home – we made enough ice cream for four generous scoops – it’s compact enough for the bowl to live in the freezer all summer long (as it takes about 12 hours for the liquid inside to freeze solid). And when it’s not in use as frequently, it’ll take up hardly any cupboard space. Another plus is that its metallic red bowl is a pleasing change from so much white plastic.
The design is simple, consisting of a cover that clips onto the motor unit and a paddle. Unfortunately, the cover doesn’t protect the motor unit entirely from mess, as after making our batch, some ice cream had found its way into the clips.
The other issue is that the assembled motor unit/lid doesn’t twist into the bowl to secure it, but drops on top into some recesses. This meant as the ice cream froze and thickened around the paddle, the motor unit lifted up and began to spin, twisting the power cable. While we stopped the maker and repositioned the lid several times, it was a recurring problem, meaning you can’t walk away when the appliance is churning.
Holding the lid down solved the twisting but wasn’t ideal. It’s also disappointing that neither the shield or paddle are dishwasher safe, and only four recipes are included.
Flaws aside, the strawberry ice cream we made came out perfectly in 35 minutes and had a uniform soft scoop consistency that ripened well in the freezer.
Ideal Home’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
6. SMIC01 ice cream maker by Smeg – best ice cream maker for easy desserts
While the concept of Smeg’s ice cream maker is similar to the KitchenAid (above) – in that it’s a freeze-first bowl that harnesses the power of your stand mixer to churn –a clever design sets it apart. There are several components, but their design makes it straightforward to assemble and chill ice cream quickly.
Rather than a paddle driver that clips on to where you’d insert a tool, the adapter is magnetic, so it just clicks into place. There’s also a ring that twists onto the frozen bowl, so that it fits securely inside the mixer’s bowl rather than directly on the mixer’s base.
The ring holds the frozen bowl in position by sitting over the handle of the mixing bowl (so it’s fast to fit) and has a wide chute, meaning the ice cream mixture can be poured in as the paddle turns without making a mess.
Other handy extras include a clear lid that fits the freezer bowl, so when you’re finished, the ice cream can stay frozen in it for up to two hours, and a plastic spatula, which we found ideal for scraping the sides of the bowl. Our ice cream froze to a firm consistency in around 25 minutes, and, as most had clumped around the paddle, was effortless to scoop out.
The pre-freeze bowl is similar to many others, although it needs longer before being ready for use – 18 hours – so you’ll have to be quick at cleaning it by hand and getting it back in the freezer if you want to make ice cream every day of the summer.
Its capacity for finished ice cream is also average at 1.1 litres, but on the plus side, it doesn’t take up too much space in the freezer. The other thing to be aware of is that you’ll need a Smeg mixer – the ring needs a bowl handle to stay in place, so it’s unlikely to be compatible with most stand mixer models.
Ideal Home’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
7. 5KICA0WH Ice cream maker for 4.3l and 4.8l stand mixer by KitchenAid – best ice cream maker for creative cooks
Whether your stand mixer is usually beating for baking or whisking for a fluffy souffle, this attachment and pre-freeze bowl will give it an extra dimension. It’s compatible with most of KitchenAid’s mixers. The drive slides over the hub where you’d usually insert a tool (though it takes a little effort at first), and this loosely connects with a paddle once the pre-frozen bowl has been twisted or lifted into place.
As the mixer only needs to run on a slow speed to churn the ice cream, the noise while it’s in use is relatively unobtrusive.
There are a few things to be aware of however. The first is that the pre-freeze bowl is sizeable – on the plus side, this means you can make up to 1.9 litres of frozen dessert, so great for barbecues and parties, but on the downside, fitting it into your freezer can be a challenge.
We had to remove a shelf and a freezer drawer to squeeze it into ours, so it’s better for one with tall, deep drawers or a chest model. The other issue we came across is that it was almost a little too good at freezing – while the bulk of the ice cream we made was easy to decant, the compacted mixture at the sides and on the bottom was almost impossible to scrape away.
A flexible spatula wasn’t up to the job, so you’ll need a rigid plastic version to ensure ice cream isn’t left behind. For the price, you’d think one would be included in the box.
That aside, what this ice cream maker does offer is mostly even freezing, a large capacity and speed. Our ice cream required just 20 minutes of mixing for a ready-to-serve consistency, plus the open bowl meant it was easy to throw in extras as it churned. We also liked that the paddle was dishwasher safe and there was a small selection of tempting recipes to try.
Ideal Home’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
8. Shake N Make Ice Cream Maker by Mustard at Firebox – best ice cream maker 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
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.
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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.