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I scream. You scream. We all scream for one of the best desserts under the sun. Nobody doesn’t like ice cream, and even the dairy-phobic have plenty of options available to them on the market. Like bread and beer, making a big batch of your own brand is not just rewarding, but unbelievably delicious. Here’s a definitive guide on how to make ice cream at home.
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Diving into the world of homemade frozen desserts can be daunting, but by the end of this primer, not only will you come away with serious ice cream know-how, but you’ll likely have added some new tools to your repertoire. This guide isn’t simply for churned dairy. You can use these tools, machines, and knowledge to make sorbet, fro-yo, or even non-dairy ice cream, from the comfort of your home kitchen.
The science of how to make ice cream at home
Churned frozen desserts are the product of an alchemy that happens when you combine a sweetened base of liquid—usually dairy—with air and cold. Typically, ice cream bases are 15% to 25% sugar. This isn’t simply for flavor: Sugar doesn’t freeze, which is why you’re able to scoop it right out of the freezer.
The other ingredient in homemade ice cream is air. The industry term for it is “overrun.” Premium-grade ice cream usually has less overrun in it, which not only gives it that quintessential velvety mouthfeel but it also melts slower in the bowl or cone.
Most ice cream-making procedures start with a cooked base of dairy, sugar, occasionally eggs, and flavorings. This base is chilled and then placed in an ice cream maker where it gets churned—in other words, air is incorporated while freezing the mixture. Machines differ, but many of them operate the same, mixing air into the base with rotating paddles that scrape it against a very cold canister.
If there is one secret to making ice cream at home, it’s not about using farm-fresh eggs or imported vanilla beans. It’s all about keeping everything cold. Ice cream bases that freeze slower will develop more ice crystals, which makes for icy ice cream rather than velvety smooth ice cream.
There are plenty of ways to mitigate these dangers using the right tools. Chief among these is the ice cream maker itself. Modern machines usually require that a canister filled with a cooling gel be parked in the freezer for a day before ice cream can be churned. There are, however, other styles of machine available for ice cream cooks who want to skip this annoying step.
How to make ice cream at home: The best machines
1. For a premium grade machine: Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker
This isn’t just an ice cream machine, it’s a frozen dessert tank. The Breville Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker packs a big compressor, so you don’t have to pre-chill a canister. It can make batch after batch of frozen desserts without having to stop, with preset settings for sorbet, frozen yogurt, ice cream and even gelato. It ranks amongst our favorite ice cream machines on the market and may well be worth the dedicated counter space.
2. For a new spin on the classic machine: Ninja Creami
The Ninja Creami is our pick for overall best ice cream machine right now, and it does a great job of replicating the mechanics of a $6,800 Pacojet. Simply put your favorite ice cream, sorbet, or frozen yogurt base in one of its pints, freeze it hard, and Ninja Creami will spin it into velvety smooth perfection. Our testers were consistently impressed by how, quick, easy to use, and versatile the Creami is.
This machine is so popular, it’s occasionally difficult to score before it sells out on popular online retailers. Be sure to stock up on extra Creami pint containers.
3. For an affordable machine: Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker
If you want to dip your toes into the wide world of homemade ice cream, the affordable Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker could easily last you for years. It’s our pick for the best ice cream maker for the money because it operates fast, is easy to use, and even has an exposed top for last-minute mix-ins.
4. For KitchenAid stand mixer owners: KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment
If your KitchenAid mixer lives on your countertop you may want to opt for this ice cream maker attachment. After storing the canister in the freezer for a day, you slide the bowl onto your mixer and churn your ice cream base. It’s easy to store, easy to clean and makes fantastic frozen desserts, which is why it’s one of our favorite ice cream makers on the market.
5. For no-churn ice cream: Cuisinart HM-90 Power Advantage Plus hand mixer
If you fold a can of sweetened condensed milk into 2 cups of whipped cream, you have a tasty ice cream base that you can add flavorings to and freeze. It’s pretty satisfying kitchen magic. The Cuisinart Advantage Plus hand mixer whips cream to stiff peaks quickly and easily, and it’s easy to clean and store, making it our clear favorite for the best hand mixer.
How to make ice cream at home: Essential tools
1. For a dependable whisk: GIR: Get it Right Premium Steel Whisk
Can a whisk be sexy? The GIR: Get it Right Premium Steel Whisk packs sturdy wires and an attractive ergonomic handle that make it our favorite whisk out there. Outside of whisking eggs and dairy for ice cream, this balloon whisk makes easy work of all whisk-y tasks including whipping cream or mixing up pancake batter. It’s even available in eight different colors.
2. For a sturdy saucepan: Made In Cookware two-quart stainless steel saucier
Cooking up an ice cream base can be done in most pots, but using the Made In Cookware saucier makes this occasionally arduous task effortless. Its rounded base allow your whisk and spatulas to scrape every inch of the pot, which ensures your ice cream and sorbet bases won’t be lumpy or full of burnt eggs or sugar. And its rolled edge makes pouring your base a no-mess cinch.
It’s even compatible with induction cooktops. A good pot will change the way you make ice cream, but it’s also great for whipped potatoes or Thanksgiving gravy.
3. For perfectly tempered bases: ThermoPop
If you can master temperatures, you can master ice cream. The ThermoPop is our best-value digital thermometer because it offers the response and dependability of a ThermoWorks thermometer in an incredibly affordable package. Use it to make frozen custard bases, cook sugar for caramel, tempering chocolate or even checking the doneness on a steak.
4. For quicker setting: OXO Good Grips Non-Stick Pro 9 x 9 inch cake pan
As mentioned above, ice crystal formation is the bane of all homemade ice cream. Here’s an ice cream hack: park this cake pan in the freezer as your ice cream churns. When the ice cream is done churning, spread it in an even layer in this pan and put it back into the freezer. Your ice cream will set up in as little as two hours, and then you can then pack it in your storage container of choice. Using this pan, fewer ice crystals will form in the freezing phase and you’ll be enjoying your batch much sooner, too.
5. For unbelievably creamy ice cream: Avacream Ice Cream Stabilizer
What’s the secret to the best homemade ice cream on the planet? Do what the professionals do: cheat. Adding a couple spoons of Avacream Ice Cream Stabilizer not only makes the creamiest ice cream ever, but it will resist freezer burn once it’s churned so it will last longer. Its proprietary blend of stabilizers works great with homemade ice creams, sorbet and even ice pops.
How to serve and store ice cream at home
1. For fast and easy scooping: Zeroll ice cream scoops
The Zeroll family of ice cream scoops are undoubtedly the best on the market, and one of our favorite models. The handle in these scoops is filled with a liquid that responds to the natural heat of your hand so it cuts cleanly into all ice cream, even if it’s straight from the freezer. The result is a perfectly round scoop every single time, which is ideal for staging on Instagram. We recommend getting a few different scoops to accommodate ice cream cravings big and small.
2. For those who eat their ice cream slower than most: JILLMO Insulated Stainless Steel Margarita Glass
If you’re the kind of person who eats their ice cream slowly, serving it in these charming margarita glasses will prevent your frozen treats from turning to soup before you’re done. They’re made of insulated steel, which keeps cold things colder, whether it’s a slushie, a Mai Tai or a couple of scoops of butter pecan. This set of two doubles as cocktail glasses too, which is more than you can say about typical sundae cups.
3. For fresh waffle cones: Proctor Silex Waffle Cone and Ice Cream Bowl Maker
When making your own ice cream at home, it’s easy to forget to pick up a box of waffle cones. Luckily, with the right equipment, it’s easy to make a batch at home that will taste much better than anything in a box. The Proctor Silex Waffle Cone and Ice Cream Bowl Maker has everything you want and need in a waffle cone maker, with browning control and molds for both cones and bowls.
4. For storing your homemade ice cream: Rubbermaid Brilliance food storage containers with lids
There are tons of products made for storing homemade ice cream, but many of them are more cumbersome than they need to be. Instead, we opt for really sturdy Rubbermaid Brilliance food containers. Each holds a little more than a quart of ice cream, which is the typical amount of a standard recipe.
These also double as great food containers for other stuff, including fresh fruits, grated cheese or last night’s leftovers. This set comes with two 4.7-cup containers, but Rubbermaid Brilliance containers are available in a myriad of sizes.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.