While a simple homemade mix will produce good results, a machine is necessary to achieve peak smoothness
There’s nothing better than a bowl of ice cream on a hot day and homemade ice cream is even nicer than anything you can buy in the shop.
Although it’s possible to make ice cream without a machine, only a dedicated maker can break down the large ice crystals so your scoops taste smooth and silky rather than coarse and grainy.
“You can make sorbets or ice creams by hand. There are loads of recipes where you make a mixture and just freeze it basically, and that’s fine, but to get that super creamy, restaurant-quality texture that we all love, you do need a machine,” says Rory O’Connell, co-founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School.
There are two main types of ice cream makers: freeze-first and self-freezing. As the name suggests, the former require you to pre-freeze the bowl, which means you’ll need to be organised enough to allow sufficient time and freezer space before you can use it.
Freeze-first options tend to be cheaper and more compact, so they may be more suitable for occasional ice-cream makers or those who don’t have as much room to store a large appliance.
Self-freezing ice-cream makers are bulkier and more expensive, but thanks to the built-in compressor, you just need to pour your mixture in and it’ll take care of the rest.
Here, we round up the expert picks for creating presentation-worthy scoops.
On a budget
Freeze-first ice-cream makers are the most affordable kind, and they can usually be put away in a cupboard when not in use without disturbing the mechanism. The downside is that you can only make one batch a day as the bowl needs to be pre-frozen overnight each time.
Rory’s favourite is a Kenwood IM200 model that has been discontinued, which he likes due to its neat size and capacity to create enough ice cream for six people.
You can still find it for around €35 from some resellers such as Ebay, or there are similar models like the Magimix 1.1L Le Glacier Ice-Cream Maker (€55 reduced from €65, argos.ie), which creates ice cream in under 40 minutes.
For a real bargain buy, there’s the Sensio Home 1.4L Ice-Cream Maker (€45.21, wayfair.ie), a very basic option that produces ice cream in less than 30 minutes.
The results are generally softer, without the different hardness settings of more sophisticated makers, so these simple machines are better equipped for making ice cream than sorbets or other kinds of frozen desserts.
Instead of a free-standing ice-cream maker, Kenwood now offers an attachment for its stand mixers called the Kenwood Chef Frozen Dessert Maker (€84.95 reduced from €99.95, briscoes.ie). Mandy Mortimer, Recipe Editor of ILoveCooking.ie, picks this as her favourite.
“It’s a space-saver in my already overflowing kitchen of appliances and gadgets,” she explains, noting that she uses it to make frozen yoghurt and various ice creams.
“I love that the splash guard has a funnel which makes it easy to add your inclusions while churning and there are no spills.”
Cuisinart makes a number of higher-end freeze-first makers, which can create ice cream, frozen yoghurt, gelato or sorbet in under 30 minutes.
Willie Devereux is co-founder of Wexford company Scúp Gelato, which also has concessions in Avoca and Brown Thomas Dundrum. He likes the Cuisinart 2L Ice-Cream Maker (€99.95, HarveyNorman.ie).
“It has a good capacity, and the way this one churns — especially with gelato, churning slowly is good. It has a nice facility where you can add in little additions, whether it be honeycomb pieces, fruit pieces, maybe a herb or even sauces if you’re wanting to experiment,” he says, adding that the parts are easy to disassemble and clean.
“When you’re dealing with cream and milk, it can be quite important that everything stays clean. The last thing we want is a build-up of fat when we’re making ice cream.”
Sky’s the limit
If you’re happy to spend a little more, a self-freezing machine delivers professional-level results and will save you a lot of time and effort. David Kiersey, co-founder of Freezin’ Friesian ice creams in Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford, recommends the Buffalo 1.5L Ice-Cream Maker (€232.99 reduced from €332.99, nisbets.ie).
“It’s very simple. You literally plug it in, pour your ice-cream base in and set the timer on it. That’s it,” he says.
“It’s a little freezing cylinder and blade that moves the liquid around, and as it freezes down, it makes ice cream. We have it for years — our mum would have bought it years ago and that was part of how we got into making ice cream.”
Rory is also a fan of the Buffalo machine, noting that it’s straightforward to use and to clean.
“They are a cross between a domestic and professional machine. With ice cream or sorbet, generally speaking, you don’t want to make a huge quantity, and the Buffalo would easily make enough for 12 people in one batch,” he says.
Willie names Sage The Smart Scoop (€419.90, SageAppliances.com) as his choice among the top-range machines.
“It’s fully automatic and it’s so simple. The machine does all the work basically: no pre-freezing is needed, and it will tell you when it’s ready,” he says.
“It has 12 different settings for hardness, so that’s quite good, especially for someone who’s a real foodie, or who gets a real passion for this and decides ‘I want to make this every week’. It gives you a variety, so you can play around and it gives you a real insight into what you can do in a gelato lab.”
On a blowout, Bríd Fahy, owner of Linnalla Ice Cream in the Burren, highlights the Magimix Gelato Expert (€664.99, very.ie).
“The machine you choose needs to meet your requirements of either lots of air for a soft, whipped, easy-melt ice cream or a harder ice cream with more solids, smoothness and structure,” she says of this machine, which has three automated settings for ice cream, gelato or granita, and a cooling mode to hold the ice cream at the correct temperature for two hours.
“That’s a good, small machine. It has good freezing ability for small amounts. It is a little slow, but produces a smooth ice cream.”
Once you’ve made your ice cream, you’ll want to make sure it’s beautifully served. The classic Zeroll Ice-Cream Scoop (€45.99, nisbets.ie) comes with a hefty price tag, but David says it’s worth every penny.
“They look like a regular scoop, but they have a heat-conducting fluid inside them, so the heat from your hand helps to heat the bowl at the top and scoop through the ice cream,” he explains, warning not to put them in the dishwasher as the surface will be ruined.
“They are expensive, but they make scooping a lot easier. I’ve used some of the cheap ones, but they’re really no better than a spoon. When you go to dig them into the ice cream, you’re kind of wrestling with it.
"The Zeroll scoop is the sort of thing you’d have in your utensil drawer forever — even outside of making your own ice cream, it’s a nice thing to have for plating up ice cream.”
If ease of washing is a concern, Rory suggests a stainless-steel option, such as the dishwasher-safe OXO Good Grips Ice-Cream Scoop (€16.99, HomeStoreAndMore.ie).
“Traditionally, ice-cream scoops were made of aluminium, but now you can get them in stainless steel, which is much cleaner and nicer.”