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Ice cream makers

How to use your ice cream maker

By Jane Darling

Article 3 of 3

Discover how to get the best from your ice cream maker, make perfect ice cream and avoid common problems.

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We answer your questions about making ice cream in an ice cream maker, so that you can get the best from your machine.

Homemade ice cream is a delicious treat, and allows you to be more adventurous with flavours than shop-bought varieties, or control the amount of sugar in your diet. 

There are two different types of ice cream maker, so knowing which will suit you best is the first step to easy home made ice cream - for more information check out our advice about how to buy the best ice cream maker.

How do I make ice cream in an ice cream maker?

This will depend on the sort of ice cream maker you have. If you have an ice cream maker with a freezable bowl, you'll need to pre-freeze the bowl in your own freezer for 12 to 24 hours, then add the mixture and insert the paddle, before switching it on.

If you have one with a built-in freezer, you simply switch it on and within minutes you should be good to go.

In both cases you need to pre-make the ice cream mixture first, so unlike a bread maker you can't simply add the ingredients and switch it on.

The paddle will then churn the mixture while the bowl cools it to freezing point - this process mixes in air and stops ice crystals from forming. Most ice cream makers have a viewing window so you can check on the progress.

After about 30-40 minutes, creamy, soft ice cream is all yours. Most ice cream makers will bring your mixture to soft-scoop consistency, but you can pop it in the freezer for an hour or two to firm it up a bit.

Tempted? Check out our reviews of ice cream makers, including models from Cuisinart, Magimix and Kenwood. 

How long does it take to make ice cream in a machine? 

Usually around 25-40 minutes, depending on the recipe and ice cream maker used. Unless you like your ice cream very soft, you'll then need to firm it up in the freezer for 2-4 hours, otherwise it will melt rapidly once churned.

Overall, this timeframe is similar to making it by hand. But the advantage of an ice cream maker is that the motorised paddle takes all the hard work out of mixing the ice cream and does it more consistently than by hand.

Is it cheaper to use an ice cream maker than buying ready-made? 

This depends on what ice cream you buy and how often you make ice cream. If you buy premium ice cream in tubs, it's possible to make ice cream more cheaply in an ice cream maker - depending on the specific recipe and the ingredients you buy. 

But making ice cream at home is not necessarily about saving money, it’s about breaking free of the limited range of flavours that are commercially viable for the big manufacturers and you may also find you like your own creations more.

You can also opt for healthier ice cream mixes, by adding fresh fruit such as berries, or even making frozen yoghurt, for a lighter treat.

Can you taste the difference if you use lower-fat ingredients? 

The quick answer to the question is yes, but this depends if you are comparing ice cream with different fat levels or if you simply serve one recipe. 

We carried out a taste test using exactly the same recipe for luxury chocolate ice cream, made with extremely high cocoa chocolate, cream, eggs, sugar and milk. The only difference between the recipes was the type of cream and milk that we used – there was a 24% difference in the amount of calories between the lardiest and the lightest recipe. 

The highest contained whipping cream and full cream milk, adding up to 1,749 calories per batch. The lightest used single cream and skimmed milk and contained 1,329 calories. 

We asked a rather willing gang of more than 30 Which? researchers to name their most and least preferred of our four recipes. Unsurprisingly, the highest-calorie batch was the big winner; 47% of people who tried it preferred it. 

But there was less difference between the high-calorie and lower-calorie versions when people were asked to name their least favourite; 43% of people named the higher-calorie versions as their least preferred.

We think you can shave some calories out of ice cream without creating an absolute abomination. We also got the distinct impression that if you had only served the lower-fat versions of these ice creams at a dinner party, your guests wouldn't have upped sticks in disgust.

Trouble shooting and tips

There are some common problems you may encounter when using an ice cream maker, so we've give our advice about the best way to solve them, or to head them off in the first place.

Top ice cream making tips

  • Always store ice cream in the centre of the freezer where the temperature is most constant. 
  • Fresh ingredients and lack of preservatives mean that homemade ice cream should be eaten within a week. 
  • Before serving, leave at room temperature for 15 minutes or in the fridge for 30 minutes to let the flavours develop. 
  • Alcohol doesn’t freeze well at normal freezer temperatures, so don’t be tempted to use too much. 
  • Never re-freeze melted ice cream: you run the risk of food poisoning, and the texture will deteriorate.

Why does the lid of my ice cream maker keep coming off? 

This is quite a common problem with designs where the paddle and motor assembly are part of the lid and attached to the freezing bowl with a bayonet action (like a bayonet light bulb, which you fit by sliding its prongs into an L-shaped housing). 

Ice cream gets stiffer as it freezes, and if the paddle gets stuck, either in the stiff mix or on a chunky ingredient, the paddle reverses direction to free itself. When this happens repeatedly, it causes the lid to unscrew from the base. 

It's best to keep an eye on your ice cream maker while it's freezing. If your paddle gets stuck, either try to scrape the blocking ice cream out of the way, leave the bowl to warm up a bit or avoid adding chunky ingredients until the end of freezing.

Why does my paddle keep getting stuck? 

There are several possible reasons for this. 

First, if you have a pre-frozen bowl, you might be letting the bowl get too cold. The mix freezes by contact with the frozen bowl's surface. If the mixture freezes too rapidly to the surface of the bowl, it makes it hard for the paddle to cut through it and turn. 

Try to add your mixture to the middle, not the sides, of the bowl. 

Second, the paddle might be getting caught on chunky ingredients in your mixture. Check what size chunks the instructions say to use and when you should add them. 

Finally, your ice cream might just be ready sooner than you expect.

Why isn’t my freezer bowl freezing my ice cream? 

It could be a combination of reasons: 

  • The bowl wasn’t in the freezer long enough 
  • Your freezer isn’t cold enough, it needs to be -18°C to set 
  • You put too much mixture in the bowl 
  • The ingredients are too warm 
  • The bowl wasn’t kept in an upright position, so the frozen liquid inside is unevenly distributed.

If you think it might be your freezer that's the problem, check out our reviews of fridge freezers and freezers.

Do I have to wait for my freezer bowl to return to room temperature before I wash it? 

Check your instructions, as they vary between manufacturers. 

Returning the freezer bowl to room temperature means it isn’t exposed to extreme changes in temperature – which reduces the risk of damaging it. 

The freezer bowl is a sealed unit and you risk damaging it if you heat it up too much by washing it in hot water or a dishwasher. Models with a removable freezer bowl (usually built-in freezer versions) will be easier to clean as you can just clean the metal bowl.