When I shared my favorite homemade vanilla bean ice cream recipe, I failed to tell you one tiny little detail:
I don’t own an ice cream maker.
Did you know you can make ice cream without a machine? You can, and it makes the best ice cream!
5 Ways to Make Ice Cream Without a Machine
Now there are lots of different ways to make ice cream without a machine, but they all seem pretty cumbersome to me:
1. The Freeze & Stir Method
Coined by David Lebovitz, this method requires you to stir the ice cream every 30 minutes for about 3 hours, or until the ice cream is frozen through. That’s fine if you’re home for 3-4 hours and have nothing else to do but stir ice cream, but that’s not a typical day for me and even more so in the summer.
2. The Puree & Freeze Method
Created by Not Without Salt, this method works for fruit-based flavors, meaning you’re making sorbet, not ice cream. This is great if you want sorbet, but not if you want vanilla or chocolate or any ice cream that’s milk or cream based.
3. The Whipped Cream Method
I actually like this idea by Kevin and Amanda, if it weren’t for the sweetened condensed milk. I know a lot of recipes use it, but I often reduce the amount of sugar in recipes to make them a bit healthier. When you start with sweetened condensed milk, you can’t do that.
Although making homemade sweetened condensed milk is an option…
4. The Bag Method
If you ever made ice cream in science class, this is probably the method your teacher used. You put the ice cream in a bag, within another bag filled with ice and salt. You shake the bag for 10 minutes and the ice cream freezes before your very eyes.
The downside to this method though, is that it can be very messy if you don’t carefully seal your bags. And your ice cream will be in a bag, not in an easy-to-scoop-from container.
I don’t like the idea of buying rock salt just to make ice cream. You can’t re-use the salt, so it just gets thrown away in the end.
Also, the idea of losing ice cream behind in the bag – and therefore the cost of ingredients – is enough for me to steer clear.
5. The Double Bowl Method
The Kitchn shared this idea that’s similar to the bag method above, but instead of bags, you’re using bowls. The major downfalls for me are that you can only mix one pint (two cups) of ice cream at a time and you have to use a hand mixer, which I don’t have.
You also have to use rock salt to aid in the chilling of the ice cream and for me, it’s again wasting money on an ingredient that will only get thrown in the trash can.
An Easy, Fail-proof Method to Make Ice Cream Without a Machine
With all the different ways to make ice cream without a machine, you’d think that there would be a way that worked, right? Well there is!
I’ve make homemade ice cream for several weeks now using the ice cube and blender method and it’s worked every single time without fail.
This method originated at the Serious Eats Food Lab, who has a great write-up on the science of ice cream. Basically, you want there to be a balance of air and ice crystal formation.
You want there to be enough air so that it’s ice cream. Too little air makes custard, and too much air makes ice milk.
You also want small ice crystals. Big ice crystals again lead to an ice-y result, instead of being creamy. Think chunks of frozen milk, instead of a lick-able scoop of ice cream.
The solution is to freeze the ice cream in small portions to prevent the formation of large ice crystals. You also need to beat air into the ice cream, so that it’s not custard.
How to Make Ice Cream Without a Machine: Step by Step
First, start with an ice cream recipe that’s tried and true and highly recommended. I personally love my homemade vanilla bean ice cream, but feel free to start with another recipe.
As you’re making your ice cream recipe, instead of adding all the liquid into the recipe as directed, set aside 1 cup.
This liquid should have a high-fat content, like cream or coconut milk. If your recipe doesn’t have a liquid with a high-fat content then set aside what you can.
When the directions say to “pour into machine and follow manufacturer instructions,” pour the mixture into ice cube trays instead. I’ve found that most ice cream recipes fill up 2 ice cube trays, but you may want to have a third tray handy, just in case. You can also use small tupperware containers if you don’t have a third tray.
Freeze the ice cube trays for at least 6 hours, but 8 hours to overnight is best.
When the ice cream cubes are frozen, use a butter knife to gently pop them out of the tray and into a blender. (I have a Blendtec like this one.) Use the knife to gently scrape out any remaining ice cream from the crevices of the ice cube tray. Work fast, because these little cubes of ice cream will melt faster than the finished ice cream will.
Add the reserved 1 cup of liquid to the blender with all the ice cream cubes and blend for 30 seconds, or until the mixture is smooth.
Pour into a container with a lid and freeze until solid, 8-12 hours. Congrats! You just made ice cream without a machine!
If you’re needing containers, these re-usable ice cream containers hold a quart of ice cream each, are BPA free and dishwasher safe. Of course you don’t HAVE to have separate containers for your ice cream, but it certainly helps to have your normal leftover containers available for leftovers!
Would you rather invest in an ice cream machine?
My ice cube and blender method is frugal and makes ice cream without a machine just fine, but it doesn’t offer instant gratification like an ice cream maker does. If you make homemade ice cream often and want to invest in a machine (or you just want to have it ready in under an hour), Cuisinart seems to have the best reviews.
- Their base model makes 1 ½ quarts and runs for about $55.
- Their mid-range model makes 2 quarts in about 35 minutes and costs around $70.
- Their top-end model makes 2 quarts in about 20 minutes and runs around $120.