Home ice cream makers are well worth the money and counter space—if you buy a good one.
Last Updated June 26, 2023. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 17: Baked Alaska Showstopper
We recently tested a few additional ice cream makers. We’ve named the Whynter 2.1 Quart Capacity Upright Automatic Compressor Ice Cream Maker our winning self-refrigerating model. We were impressed by its speedy churn time and ultrasmooth ice cream and sorbet. The Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream, and Sorbet Maker remains our winning canister-style model. This affordable machine produces velvety frozen desserts and is lightweight.
A good electric ice cream maker makes it easy to produce customized ice cream, frozen yogurt, or sorbet at home. The machines come in two main styles: canister-style and self-refrigerating. The former has a removable coolant-lined canister that must be frozen before use. Self-refrigerating machines are generally much pricier, with built-in compressors that chill the canisters so there’s no need for prefreezing. We rounded up a variety of ice cream makers: some canister-style (one of which was an attachment for our favorite KitchenAid stand mixer) and some self-refrigerating. We churned vanilla and coffee-crunch ice creams, raspberry sorbet, and frozen yogurt in each machine.
All ice cream makers work in a similar fashion. First, you make a loose dairy or fruit base and pour it into the machine. Then, through a combination of cooling and constant-yet-gentle churning, the machines transform the base into a thick, creamy dessert. The churning incorporates a small amount of air that is crucial to a smooth, semisoft consistency—without the air, the bases would freeze into hard bricks. Once the base has thickened to the consistency of a milkshake or soft-serve ice cream, it is transferred to a clean container and placed in the freezer for a brief firming-up period. Working quickly is crucial when churning and transferring the dessert to minimize the formation of large ice crystals and prevent accidental thawing.
Some of the machines required repeated intervention on the part of the user, while others were completely hands-off—and much of this came down to paddle design. The paddles came in a range of designs, with blades and bars designed to scrape the sides of the bowls while churning. Some had horizontal bars that spun just above the contents of the bowls; ice cream tended to clump up on these and ride around on top, forcing us to stop the ice cream makers every few minutes and push it back into the mixing action.
Another complaint: In the test kitchen, we gauge doneness with visual cues and by taking the temperature of the mixture. The tall horizontal blades got in the way of our thermometer probe, again forcing us to pause the machines. Since repeated disruptions to the cooling and churning process encourages the development of ice crystals, we much preferred paddle designs that allowed us access while the mixture churned.
When it came time to sample all the ice cream, frozen yogurt, and sorbet we’d made, we were pleasantly surprised to find that all of the samples ranged from good to great (since the machines don’t impact flavor, we were rating each product solely on texture). A few of the machines produced desserts that had ...
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Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.
Sarah is an assistant editor for ATK Reviews who is deeply passionate about anchovies and sourdough bread.