How to make homemade ice cream in 2020, according to experts

National Ice Cream Day is about to get sweeter. Learn how to make homemade ice cream with these expert tips and shop the best ice cream makers.
Make your own ice cream at home with machines from brands like Cuisinart, Breville and Nostalgia.
This year, the food-themed National Ice Cream Day falls on July 19, giving you an excuse to enjoy an extra cup or cone during the weekend — here's how to maker your own ice cream at home, with tips and recs from experts.Williams-Sonoma; Nostalgia; Getty Images
By Zoe Malin

Our editors independently selected these items because we think you will enjoy them and might like them at these prices. If you purchase something through our links, we may earn a commission. Pricing and availability are accurate as of publish time. Learn more about Shop TODAY.

Ice cream is the ideal summer dessert. It cools you off after a hot day in the sun, and it comes in hundreds of delicious flavors, which sometimes makes it hard to choose just one. Ice cream is so beloved that there’s an entire day dedicated to it: The third Sunday of July is recognized as National Ice Cream Day in the United States. This year, the food-themed holiday falls on July 19, giving you an excuse to enjoy an extra cup or cone during the weekend.

Since the coronavirus pandemic has forced some ice cream shops to temporarily close and limited others to pick-up and carry-out service, many people are making their own frozen treats at home. Chef Hiroki Odo, the former head chef of the Michelin-starred New York restaurant Kajitsu — who recently opened his own restaurants o.d.o by ODO and HALL by ODO — says this may be because ice cream is a treat people find comfort in. He thinks ice cream is a good match for any easy-going environment, from restaurants to people’s backyards. But with the addition of inventive or high-end ingredients, ice cream can also be a luxurious dessert. Anthony Sobotik, co-founder of Lick Honest Ice Creams in Austin, Texas, says part of ice cream’s appeal is how customizable it is. From a plethora of ice cream flavors to savory and sweet toppings, everyone’s ideal sundae can look completely different.

We talked to ice cream experts about how you can make your own frozen desserts at home. They say people often think making ice cream is a long and challenging process, but it’s actually very easy and doesn't require any cooking skills. Here are some tips and tricks to help you get started, and recommendations for ice cream makers and other tools that will assist you along the way.

IN THIS ARTICLE | How to make ice cream at home | Ingredients to use | Creating flavors | Tips and tricks | Best ice cream makers | Best ice cream accessories

How to make ice cream at home

Sobotik said the process of making ice cream varies depending on the recipe you follow.

  1. Often, the process begins with making an ice cream base and cooking it on a stove top.

  2. The base is then usually added to an ice cream maker, which freezes and blends the mixture together.

  3. After the machine does its job, you sometimes have to freeze the ice cream for an additional few hours so it sets.

Sobotik said the ice cream making process takes about three hours from start to finish, but that time frame varies. He recommends reading through recipes or watching videos online to get the gist of what’s involved in making homemade ice cream before getting started. He says many food blogs and cooking websites are full of diverse homemade ice cream recipes, as are cookbooks, like his favorite, “The Perfect Scoop” by David Lebovitz.

What ingredients to use, according to experts

Like with the steps required to make ice cream at home, the ingredients depend upon the recipe you follow. However, basic ingredients include milk, heavy cream, white sugar, and vanilla. Sobotik also adds brown rice syrup to his base instead of liquid sweeteners like corn syrup — it gives the ice cream a nutty flavor. He also uses tapioca flour to thicken ice cream and absorb excess moisture present in the mixture.

While Sobotik says it’s rare for him to make an egg- or custard-based ice cream, Odo often uses eggs in his ice cream recipes. He recommends thawing eggs before cooking with them, and adding eggs to your mixture one by one, mixing after each addition. You don’t add water to an ice cream base, Odo notes, as excess moisture can create an icy, rather than smooth, texture. He also recommends using raw milk in ice cream bases, which will give it a deeper flavor than traditional milk you would drink from the carton.

How to create your own ice cream flavors

Sobotik depends on in-season ingredients and nostalgia to create his ice cream flavors. He reimagines dishes he grew up eating into ice cream flavors, like Mixed Berry Cobbler, while also taking inventory of what produce is in-season during different months of the year in Texas. Odo also brings his personal experiences into creating ice cream flavors. Coming from the Kyushu region in Japan, Odo says certain indigenous fruits, like Miyazaki mango, are special to him and he wants to share those flavors with patrons at his restaurant. Overall, Sobotik suggests using tastes and ingredients you love to best inspire your flavors — you shouldn't be afraid to introduce unique twists to recipes, he suggested, like adding jalapeno peppers or fragrant spices.

Tips and tricks from ice cream making experts

  • Cook your ice cream base for about five to 10 minutes longer than a recipe recommends over a low boil, Sobotik suggests. It evaporates moisture out of the ice cream base, he explained which helps frozen treats achieve a creamier texture.
  • When it comes to creating ice cream flavors, Sobotik noted that bourbon, coconut milk and banana compliment each other well. He also recommends adding a little instant espresso powder, which amps up the flavor of chocolate. Whiskey is one of Odo’s favorite flavors to add to ice cream, he said, noting you can boil whiskey to eliminate its alcohol content if you want to make a family-friendly ice cream.
  • Odo suggests putting your ice cream scooper in hot water to make it warm before serving ice cream. This helps cut through hard, frozen ice cream. Odo also says using spoons with grooves in them to scoop ice cream can give it a nice shape.
  • If you don’t have an ice cream maker at home, Odo recommends using a food processor instead.
  • When making ice cream with dairy-free or vegetable-based milks, Odo suggests adding olive oil to the mixture, which can help make dairy-free ice cream bases less watery.

Best ice cream makers

If you’re planning to make ice cream at home, an ice cream maker can make things much easier — and tastier. We asked the experts we consulted to share their favorite ice cream makers and shopping tips to help you find the best one for your kitchen.

1. Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker

Sobotik recommends this ice cream maker for both beginner and experienced ice cream makers. He uses it at home, and also used it to test Lick Honest Ice Cream flavors before opening his stores. It’s easy to use, clean and the compact bowl fits in small freezers, he highlighted. The machine has a double-insulated freezer bowl, and it can make up to 1.5-quarts of ice cream, frozen yogurt or sorbet.

2. DASH DIC700AQ Popsicle Ice Cream Maker

Make a quart of ice cream, sorbet, frozen yogurt and popsicles with the press of a button using this versatile machine. It comes with a double-walled, insulated freezer bowl to keep treats chilled, as well as a popsicle mold and popsicle sticks. All non-electric parts of this machine, like the bowl and paddle, are dishwasher-safe for easy cleanup.

3. Cuisinart ICE-45P1 Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker

This machine allows you to enjoy fresh soft serve ice cream at home, as well as yogurt, sorbet and sherbet. All you have to do is pour ingredients into the machine and turn the dial, as operation is fully automatic. This ice cream machine comes equipped with a cone holder, in addition to three built-in condiment containers to store toppings like sprinkles, chocolate chips and nuts.

4. KitchenAid Stand Mixer Ice Cream Maker Attachment

Your KitchenAid Stand Mixer isn't only useful for making cakes and cookies — it can make ice cream, too. A rotating paddle and an insulated freezer bowl attach to the mixer, which can make up to two-quarts of ice cream when turned on. The KitchenAid Stand Mixer Ice Cream Maker Attachment is compatible with all KitchenAid stand mixers except the Artisan Mini Tilt Head.

5. Chef'n Sweet Spot Ice Cream Maker

After the base of this ice cream maker is placed in the freezer for 24 hours, it can make both classic and rolled ice cream in minutes, as well as frozen yogurt, sorbet, gelato, slushies and frozen margaritas. Pour your mixture onto the frozen surface and it will freeze instantly. Then, use the scraper and scooper that comes with the mixer to shape the ice cream and serve it into bowls.

6. Breville Smart Scoop Ice Cream Compressor

Breville’s Smart Scoop Ice Cream Compressor is fully automatic, taking the work out of making ice cream, sorbet and gelato. It has 12 settings, from super soft to extra-firm, which allows you to choose your frozen treat's consistency. As the machine turns the ice cream or sorbet mixture, it will beep to let you know when to add mix-ins like chopped fruit and candy, too.

7. Whynter ICM-220CGY Ice Cream Maker

Built to feed a crowd, this machine can make two-quarts of ice cream in a single batch. It has a built-in compressor freezer, which means you don’t have to pre-freeze the machine’s stainless steel mixing bowl before you pour in the mixture. You can make ice cream, gelato and sorbet with this machine, and it also has a yogurt incubator function.

8. Nostalgia Electric Ice Cream Maker

A combination of ice and rock salt freezes the mixture you add to this machine, as an electric motor churns it together to produce rich ice cream, frozen yogurt and gelato. The ice cream maker has an attached hand-crank candy crusher that you can use to break up mix-ins and customize your dessert. It has a detachable ice cream bucket that keeps ice cream cold up until you’re ready to serve. Nostalgia also sells chocolate and vanilla ice cream mixes that are compatible with this machine on Amazon.

9. La Reveuse Frozen Dessert Maker

This machine turns fruit into a delicious treat, making for a healthy and light alternative to ice cream. Add thawed frozen fruit to the top of the machine’s chute and use the pusher to guide the fruit into the chute. It will dispense a soft-serve dessert minutes later. You can also add ingredients like peanut butter, chocolate and frozen yogurt to the chute, which combines with the fruit and adds flavors to your treat.

10. Ovente Ice Cream Maker, Sorbet and Frozen Yogurt Machine

The one-liter bowl that comes with this machine contains cooling liquid. After the bowl is placed in the freezer and attached to the power unit, the cooling liquid inside helps the ice cream mixture set quickly. The machine has side slots that make adding toppings easy, and you can make frozen yogurt and sorbet with this machine, too.

11. Yaylabs Softshell Ice Cream Ball

Popular for camping trips and birthday parties, this ice cream ball introduces an interactive way to make the frozen treat. Fill one side of the ball with cream, sugar and vanilla, and the other side with ice and rock salt. Tightly screw on the caps and roll the ball around for 20 to 30 minutes to freeze the ingredients and blend them together. Yaylabs Ice Cream Ball comes in two sizes: pint and quart.

12. Hamilton Beach Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker

This soft-serve ice cream machine allows you to make and serve frozen treats in minutes. After you freeze one of the included two bowls overnight, pop it into the machine and add your ingredients. Then, turn the machine on and let it work its magic for about six to 12 minutes. This ice cream maker comes in three colors: Blue, Pink and Green.

Best ice cream accessories

1. Made In Cookware Saucier

Often, ice cream recipes require you to cook the base over low heat in a saucepan before adding it to your machine. To do so, Sobotik recommends using this saucier. It’s shallow, which Sobotik says allows your mixture to cook faster, and it has a rounded bottom that makes stirring liquid easier.

2. Nordic Ware Hi-Side Sheet Pan

To evenly distribute mix-ins like sprinkles or syrups throughout your ice cream, Sobotik recommends using a sheet pan. Spread your homemade ice cream across the bottom of the sheet pan after you make it, and then sprinkle on any additional ingredients, like fruit pieces and cookie crumbs. Then, use a scoop tool to scrape ice cream from the sheet pan, moving the scoop from front to back. Sobotik says doing so creates ice cream scoops with swirls of mix-ins throughout.

3. Chef'n Ice Cream Sandwich Maker

After you make your ice cream, turn it into an ice cream sandwich using this silicone mold. The mold comes with three pieces: two that you bake the outer layers of the sandwich in and one that you fill with your homemade ice cream. The mold can make up to four ice cream sandwiches at once, and it comes with a tool for scooping and spreading ice cream.

4. Tovolo Ice Cream Tub

Store your homemade ice cream, sorbet, frozen yogurt and gelato in this 1.5-quart tub. Its oblong shape helps you scoop big, round servings of ice cream and it has a non-slip base so the tub doesn't move while you scoop. This ice cream rub is top-shelf dishwasher-safe and it’s insulated to keep ice cream fresh.

5. Spring Chef Ice Cream Scoop

This tool helps you achieve a picture-perfect scoop of ice cream. The scooper cuts through ice cream so it curls onto itself, creating a spherical shape and the same-size serving every time. This scooper comes in five colors: Black, Green, Mint, Red and Pink.

6. Bormioli Rocco Alaska Glass Dessert Dish

These wide-mouth, deep dessert dishes will hold more than one scoop of your favorite frozen treat. Their short stem and the detail around the outside gives them a retro style, and makes them look like they belong in a diner. The dishes come in a pack of six and are dishwasher-safe.

7. EurKitchen Professional Whipped Cream Dispenser

Top off your ice cream sundae with a swirl of homemade whipped cream using this dispenser. It comes with three decorative tips and can hold up to one-pint of cream. The whipped cream dispenser comes in stainless steel or aluminum, and can be rinsed out with the included brush for easy cleanup.

More shopping guides and recommendations

Catch up on the latest from NBC News Shopping guides and recommendations and download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.