I’ve always loved ice cream. I can down a pint of Ben & Jerry’s by myself — in one sitting. But that can get a bit expensive.
I have an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome, and — to skip anything that could be considered whiny and get straight to the point — it makes my mouth so dry that there are many days when it’s the only thing that’s appealing. Combine that with my love of cooking, and I’m your girl when it comes to talking about homemade ice cream. I’ve been experimenting with lots of recipes and techniques, too. I’ll write that piece soon, but here’s Part 1 to My first ultimate guide to making ice cream at home for 2021.
Making ice cream at home: Choosing the best ice cream maker for you
Let’s start by clarifying what I’m talking about — and what I’m not talking about. I’m not talking about the no-churn stuff, and I’m not talking about the kind made without an egg custard base. I’m talking about dense, creamy, ice cream in all its glory. And, for that, you need an ice cream maker. There’s one out there for everybody and, while I’m not going attempt to review every one (especially since I haven’t used them), I’m going to try to cover one or two from each category just to give you an overview. And, while there are affiliate links, I want to make it clear that the only one I’ve actually used is the KitchenAid ice cream attachment for your stand mixer.
Types of ice cream makers
There are different types of home ice cream makers, and they each have their die-hard fans. So the first decision on the road to frozen delight is to decide which one is best for you. (For purposes of this post, I’m ignoring the classic hand-churn kind.)
Compressor ice cream makers
Compressor ice cream makers are often considered the tool of choice for serious cooks. Since they have their own mini built-in freezers, they’re ready to go whenever you are (rather than having to wait for a freezer bowl to…well, freeze.) And there’s no waiting between batches: You can keep cranking out batches (and different flavors) as long as there are mouths to feed.
Cream (pun actually not intended, but I’ll keep it!) of the crop: the Breville Smart Scoop
Some compressor models come loaded with features. Food & Wine’s top pick for 2021, the Breville Smart Scoop, has 12 different hardness settings ranging from sorbet to frozen yogurt to gelato (plus ice cream, of course). It will even beep when it’s time to add your mix-ins. If you want to experiment with every flavor and texture of making ice cream at home, this may be the ice cream maker for you.
The main downsides of compressor models seem to be price and bulk. As far as the quality of the ice cream, that’s a matter of personal preference. Somebody’s “best” is bound to be somebody else’s “worst.” But the overall consensus from the reviews I’ve read is that the quality is about the same between the different types of ice cream makers.
A more affordable compressor model: Cuisinart’s Pure Indulgence
At close to $500, the Breville ice cream maker might cost more than some people want to spend. This Cuisinart comes in at about half that price. It comes with two paddles: one for gelato and sorbets, and another for ice cream. Reviews mentioned the convenience of being able to start with room-temperature ingredients and still have a batch of homemade ice cream ready in half an hour.
Freezer-bowl ice cream makers
Rather than compressors, freezer-bowl ice cream makers freeze homemade ice cream by means of a refrigerant within the bowl itself. (When it’s not frozen, it sloshes when you shake it.) If you don’t have a lot of freezer space, it can be kind of a bummer if you want to satisfy a late-night homemade ice cream crazing. Fortunately, I have the space to keep mine in the freezer all the time.
Dedicated appliance or attachment?
This is where it gets interesting. You can buy a freezer-bowl ice cream maker that’s a separate appliance. But if I were going to dedicate the space to a separate accessory, I think I’d rather get a compressor model. Since I didn’t want to dedicate the space for a free-standing ice cream maker, I bought the ice cream attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer (more on that in a minute).
For the best dedicated freezer-bowl model for making ice cream at home, Food and Wine turned to Cuisinart. This one has electronic controls, which my KitchenAid attachment definitely does not! The lid also has a spout, which makes it easy to add the custard base as well as mix-ins without making a big mess. But I still think that, if I were going to dedicate counter or cabinet space to an ice cream maker, I’d go with a compressor model. Price, however, is the big differentiator. This Cuisinart is only $70 (at the time of this writing).
Attachments and accessories for making ice cream at home: KitchenAid
This category lets you use the power of an appliance you already have to churn out ice cream. Food and Wine’s choice was the ice cream attachment for your KitchenAid mixer, which is what I have.
It comes with a freezer bowl that locks onto your KitchenAid stand mixer (just like the bowls you already have), a driver that slides over the part where you’d normally attach the beater, and a paddle attachment that sits inside the freezer bowl..
And that’s the source of my ambivalence about this model. The driver doesn’t snap in place. You’re supposed to set the paddle inside the freezer bowl, then lower the mixer head while holding the driver in place — and you have to get it just right or the pieces won’t fit together (again…why not something that snaps in place)?
This design caused so much frustration (I was always calling my husband to set it up for me) that I almost returned it. But one day the lightbulb finally turned on. The instructions say to start mixing before you put any of the custard base into the bowl. To heck with that! I figured out that, if I put a little bit of the batter into the freezer bowl first, it would hold the paddle in place while I attached the driver and lined it all up. So I’m happy with it now, but be sure to use my hack!
The secret, despite what the instructions say, is to put a little bit of your ice cream batter into the bowl before you turn it on.
The other thing to know is that this model is designed more for soft-serve ice cream, although I can get hard ice cream by freezing it for a while after I’m finished churning. You also have to make sure you buy the one that’s right for your mixer model.
And now for something completely different..
I would have loved this when my kids were little, especially on those long, unstructured, summer days when everybody was bored and it seemed like the sun would never set!
The YayLabs Softshell Ice Cream Ball is ingenious. Like all of the other freezer-bowl ice cream makers, you have to start by freezing the bowl — uhm, ball. Then you add your ingredients.
Now comes the ingenious part. You send your kids outside and have them toss and kick the ball around for about 25 minutes. When it’s done, you’ll hopefully have tired kids and delicious homemade ice cream (just in time to get them all sugared up again)!
Obviously there are more ice cream makers. My intention was to show you top recommendations in each category. And while I did include affiliate links, I’m not giving them my personal stamp of approval, because I only do that with things I’ve tried. When it comes to ice cream makers, I’ve only tried the KitchenAid. It may not e perfect, but I use it all the time. So I recommend it with the caveats mentioned above.
Next up: Some great homemade ice cream recipes, plus my tips for experimenting with your own!