Ice cream is endlessly versatile, crowd pleasing and never out of place. Whether it's a midsummer treat, simple midweek pud or as part of a showstopping dessert, ice cream satisfies every type of sugar craving – it's hard to think of a time when it isn’t the answer!
With an at-home ice cream maker you can make a whole host of delightfully creamy and refreshing frozen desserts. You’re not just restricted to ice cream with these machines – you can also make anything from silky smooth gelato to tangy frozen yogurt and refreshing sorbet. Some ice cream makers will come with a dedicated setting for all of these desserts, others come with a different paddle. An ice cream maker really can do it all.
We put a range of self-freezing and freeze-first ice cream makers through their paces using much-loved olive recipes. Read on to see how each model fared. For keen bakers, check out our best stand mixers to buy.
How to choose the best ice cream maker
What can an ice cream maker be used for?
If you like to get creative in the kitchen, ice cream makers allow you to dream up new flavour pairings and experiment to your heart's delight. For some inspiration to get you started, take a look at our best ice cream recipes and easy sorbet recipes.
If you’re looking to cut out certain ingredients, either through necessity or a lifestyle choice, an at-home ice cream maker gives you control so you know exactly what’s going into your food.
As delightful as it is on its own, ice cream can also be used in standout desserts. Take a baked alaska for example: the combination of spongy cake plus frozen, creamy ice cream, all enrobed in a layer of silky and crisp Italian meringue is a marriage made in heaven. At the other end of the spectrum (though no less delicious) sits the ice-box cake. This US classic requires no real skill other than a basic understanding of what flavours work well together. A variety of textures work best when building your ice-box cake: think crunchy biscuits or nuts, jammy dried fruits, and sticky sauces – try our pistachio and chocolate ice-box cake or, for more recipe ideas, read our best ice cream cake and ice cream sandwich recipes.
What to look out for when choosing an ice cream maker?
There are a number of different factors to take into consideration before choosing an ice cream maker.
Self-freezing or freeze-first: In professional kitchens and gelaterias you’ll find self-freezing ice cream makers. They’re favoured by chefs because they’re fast, produce high-quality results and can make batch after batch without having to wait. They’re large and more costly than their freeze-first counterparts, though. By comparison, freeze-first models are smaller and often cheaper. They come with a removable bowl that needs to be put in the freezer for between eight and 24 hours. These models can only be used once a day, but often produce as high-quality results as self-freezing models.
Bowl capacity: Most ice cream makers have bowls with a capacity of between one and two litres, though the amount of ice cream base you can put in the bowl can vary massively from brand to brand. We’d advise checking the maximum capacity in the manual to avoid problems.
Timer: Almost all of the models we tested come with a timer. Useful for those of us who like to set our appliances to go and come back when they’re finished.
Best ice cream makers at a glance
Best ice cream maker for professional-quality dessert Cuisinart Ice Cream and Gelato Professional, £199
Best ice cream maker for tech lovers Sage the Smart Scoop, £327
Best freeze-first ice cream maker Lakeland Digital Ice Cream Maker, £39.99
Best looking freeze-first ice cream maker Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker ICE30BCU, £71.95
Best ice cream makers to buy in 2021
Cuisinart Ice Cream and Gelato Professional
Best ice cream maker for professional-quality dessert
We loved: clear and easy to use buttons, different paddles for ice cream and gelato, pause button
We didn’t like: how noisy it is
If you’re in the market for an ice cream maker that produces the same ultra-smooth results found in the gelaterias of Italy, this model is the one. Whether using the ice cream or gelato paddle, the results were consistently silky, creamy and the perfect texture. It was a dab hand when making sorbet, too.
It’s not the smallest (no self-freezing model is) but it’s stately and attractive on the kitchen counter. The brushed stainless-steel accents are a sleek final flourish. The stop/start button proved our favourite feature as it allows you to sample your creations mid-churn.
Read our full Cuisinart Ice Cream and Gelato Professional review
Sage the Smart Scoop
Best ice cream maker for tech lovers
We loved: the wealth of settings and accessories, attractive design, automatic keep cool setting, different harness settings, lets you know when to add in extras
We didn’t like: couldn’t get the automatic sensor to work
Sage is well known for its high-tech, smart and sophisticated looking machines. The Smart Scoop is exactly that. It is equipped with four settings for sorbet, frozen yogurt, gelato and ice cream, as well as 12 hardness settings, allowing you to fully tailor your results. This model sits landscape, which leaves plenty of countertop space for prep.
We struggled to get the automatic hardness sensor to work, a feature that Sage makes a big deal of. Despite this, we enjoyed consistently high quality results: the ice cream was luxurious, the gelato was smooth and the sorbet was gloriously summery and fresh.
More like this
Read our full Sage the Smart Scoop review
Lakeland Digital Ice Cream Maker
Best freeze-first ice cream maker
We loved: neat and compact design, pre-freeze bowl fits easily in the freezer, simple and classic looking
We didn’t like: paddle feels a little flimsy, makes a loud whirring sound
This classic-looking ice cream maker from Lakeland is small but mighty. It has a space-saving design as the freezer bowl doubles up as the lower half of the ice cream maker, meaning less useless plastic and fewer component parts to find when inspiration strikes.
It has a teeny-tiny display panel, so you may struggle to read it. That being said, the controls are intuitive, so you barely need to look at the display.
Most impressive were the results. Our vanilla ice cream was silky and lingered on the tongue. The sorbet was equally smooth and had a fun little fizz. Both were Mr Whippy-soft so, if you’re entertaining, we’d recommend giving both ice cream and sorbet a blast in the freezer before serving.
Read our full Lakeland Digital Ice Cream Maker review
Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker ICE30BCU
Best looking freeze-first ice cream maker
We loved: small footprint, large hole for add ins, large bowl capacity, unique churning mechanism
We didn’t like: it’s loud
Standing tall, square and ceremonial, this Cuisinart ice cream maker is unabashedly good-looking and one of the only freeze-first models we feel deserves pride of place on the kitchen counter.
It has a generously sized two-litre freezer bowl that, despite its size, fits neatly in the freezer. With a working capacity of one and a half litres of ice cream base, this model is ideal if you’re looking to make larger quantities.
The ice cream and sorbet produced was smooth on the whole, though we noticed an ever so slight grittiness in the ice cream. But both were firm and ready to serve straight away: who doesn’t want super-fresh ice cream?
Read our full Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker ICE30BCU review
How we tested ice cream makers
Any ice cream maker worth its salt should be able to make a classic vanilla ice cream and a simple sorbet. Using olive’s vanilla ice cream recipe and mango sorbet recipe, we put these ice cream makers to the test.
If the ice cream maker had an extra paddle or setting designed for gelato, we also made olive’s chocolate and black pepper gelato: a grown-up twist on a firm favourite.
All models were scored based on the following set of criteria:
Results: we looked at the quality of the ice cream and sorbet produced: was it silky smooth and free of ice crystals? Was it well aerated? Did it melt slowly?
Versatility: ice cream makers that can make more than just ice cream and sorbet were favoured.
Ease of use: we believe most appliances should be uncomplicated and straightforward pieces of kit. If a model has more functions than most, the manual should be comprehensive and explain these well.
Footprint and ease of storage: some self-freezing ice cream makers can be large, so we preferred those that weren’t awkwardly shaped and could easily slot into place on the kitchen counter. The same goes for ease of storage – it shouldn’t be difficult to find a space for them once you’ve cleaned everything up.
How attractive: if you’re a fan of keeping your appliances out on the counter you’ll be after one that’s great looking, eye-catching and sure to get people talking.
Packaging: it's important to us that, while the ice cream makers should be securely packaged, brands also shouldn’t be using too much of anything (ideally nothing) that can’t be recycled.
olive ice cream recipes
Vanilla ice cream with warm chocolate sauce
Brown butter ice cream
Roasted banana caramel swirl ice cream
Maple honeycomb ice cream
Chocolate and black pepper gelato
Pecan praline ice cream
Peach melba ice cream
Bitter chocolate ice cream
Peanut butter and salted caramel ice cream
More ice cream recipe ideas
Best frozen dessert recipes
Easy sorbet recipes
Best ice cream cake and ice cream sandwich recipe ideas
4 quick and easy ice cream toppings
Christmas ice cream sandwiches
Bourbon biscuits and rhubarb liqueur ice cream
3 boozy ice cream floats
DIY ice cream sundae bar
Baked alaska with honeyed figs & mascarpone ice cream
Best ice lolly recipes
This review was last updated in June 2021. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.