As everyone knows, ice cream is the perfect summer treat. It’s also a lot easier to make at home than you might think, plus it’s a fun summer activity. If you have an ice cream maker, or want to invest in one (they are not too expensive), it’s a quick enough process that you can even have an ice cream making party. Or you can add ice cream making to your next summer pool party. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about making ice cream, plus read our favorite recipes for ice creams and sorbets.
Do you have an ice cream maker?
The best, and fastest, way to make ice cream is to use an ice cream maker. However, if you don’t have one don’t worry. You can still make your own ice cream at home, it just takes a little longer.
Yes, I have an ice cream maker
You are in luck! If you have an ice cream maker, you can make ice cream much faster than without one, because the ice cream maker churns and freezes the ice cream for you. There are a number of variations you can use, but essentially you mix together cream, eggs (they make it richer and more custard like), sugar and milk in a pan and simmer on the stove. You allow it to cool and then pour it into the ice cream maker. The ice cream maker works its magic and in 20 minutes you can have freshly made ice cream.
No, I don’t have an ice cream maker but I want one
There are many different kinds of ice cream makers at a wide range of price points. Essentially, there are three kinds of ice cream makers:
- Ice cream makers with compressors
- Ice cream makers that use freezer bowls
- Ice cream makers that use salt and ice
Ice cream makers with compressors
Ice cream makers that have compressors work a little like air conditioning units: one cools air and the other cools a liquid.
Ice cream makers without compressors come with freezer bowls. You need to put this in the freezer overnight before you make the ice cream. Ice cream makers with compressors, however, mean you don’t have to freeze anything over night. Just pour in your cream/milk/egg mixture, turn it on and it will freeze and churn your ice cream in as little as 20 minutes. The drawback to ice cream machines with compressors is that that they are very expensive. The better ones on the market cost around $500 and you can spend well over $1,000 for the top of the line models made in Italy.
The biggest advantage of ice cream machines with compressors is that you can make batch after batch of ice cream on the same day. And you don’t need to have space in your freezer to freeze a big ice cream bowl overnight. It’s probably best, if you are new to ice cream making, to buy a cheaper model and see how often you use it. If you find yourself making ice cream or gelato frequently, you can give your old one to a friend (who would refuse a free ice cream maker?) and upgrade to a machine with a compressor.
Ice cream makers that use freezer bowls
Freezer bowl style ice cream makers are popular ways to make ice cream and are good “entry level” ice cream makers. Their downside is that you can’t spontaneously decide to make ice cream- you have to freeze the bowl in advance which not only takes hours, but uses up a lot of real estate in your freezer.
Ice cream makers with freezer bowls are reasonably priced. You can easily get one for under $100.
Ice cream makers that use salt and ice
This is an old fashioned way to make ice cream. Some of them are labor intensive as you have to churn the ice cream manually; some have small motors.
To make the ice cream, you chill the ice cream canister overnight, then in the morning add your ice cream base to the canister. You pack the surrounding bucket with ice and salt, insert the motorized paddle into the ice cream base and plug in to operate. The very cheap models don’t have a motorized paddle- you turn a crank to manually churn the ice cream. There is even a model where the ice cream canister, salt and ice are inside a ball that kids can throw or kick around to churn the ice cream. Very clever, but we have read reviews that say they don’t make very good ice cream.
The River Club does not endorse specific products, but here are two excellent reviews of the different ice cream makers available:
Ice cream makers at various price points: Good Housekeeping Product Review
Higher end ice cream makers: Food & Wine Product Review
No, I don’t have an ice cream maker and I don’t want to buy one
No worries! There are other ways to make ice cream. They typically take longer because you have to freeze the ice cream over night. Essentially, you mix the cream, sugar and milk together, pour into a metal container (non-metal ones work but take longer) and freeze overnight. In the morning, you scoop out the ice cream and serve. Because it isn’t churned the ice cream has a different consistency and tends to melt faster than ice cream made with a machine, but it can be very tasty. Here is a recipe to get you started: How to Make Homemade Ice Cream Without a Machine.
You can even make ice cream in a bag! This recipe works on the same principle as the ice cream makers that use salt and ice to freeze the ice cream base. You make your ice cream base and put it in a small Ziploc bag. Then, put your salt and ice in a big Ziploc bag. Put the small bag inside the big bag, close and shake vigorously for 7-10 minutes. Serve and enjoy! Here is a recipe for this method: Ice Cream in a Bag
I would rather make sorbet
Not everyone likes ice cream; some people prefer something much lighter. Or maybe you do like ice cream, but are watching your cholesterol or counting calories. Either way, sorbet is an excellent alternative to ice cream. You can make it with almost any fruit- it’s especially delicious when made with fresh summer fruits. It’s also very simple: you combine sugar and water to make a simple syrup, add the fruit and pop it in an ice cream maker. The only tricky part is getting the ratio of fresh fruit puree to sugar. This requires a little bit of experimentation as some people prefer their sorbet very sweet and some prefer less sugar and more fruit.
Some ice cream makers are better at making sorbets than others. Here is a product guide made specifically for those that want to purchase the best ice cream maker to make sorbets: 9 Best Sorbet Makers of 2022
Some of our favorite ice cream recipes
Here are some of our favorite ice cream recipes. This one is excellent because it tells you how to modify it so you can make it less “custardy” and gives you a flavor chart to make it into sixteen other flavors:
The Only Ice Cream Recipe You Will Ever Need
Here is the flavor chart that goes with it: Flavor Chart for 16 Additional Flavors
You love it or you hate it. But if you love it, here is a very summery Rhubarb Ice Cream Recipe
And here is Martha Stewart’s recipe. As always she has the best, but the most complicated recipe: Martha Stewart’s Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe
Finally, you can even make an ice cream cake (and it doesn’t require an ice cream maker): Rainbow Ice Cream Cake
Some of our favorite sorbet recipes
This is an excellent recipe because it tells you how to make sorbet with any fresh fruit: How to Make Sorbet with Any Fruit
In case you want to get a little more technical and find your own personal sorbet Golden Ratio: The Science of the Best Sorbet
And for those of you that still don’t want to buy an ice cream maker: 4 Easy Sorbet Recipes That You Can Make Without An Ice Cream Maker