Making homemade ice cream can be a fun and rewarding cooking project. However, turning all of those ingredients into a rich, creamy frozen treat requires some special equipment. While ice cream makers are designed specifically for churning and freezing ice cream mixtures, many home cooks wonder if they can skip buying another appliance and just use their immersion blender instead. Here’s what you need to know about using an immersion blender to make ice cream at home.
How an Immersion Blender Works
An immersion blender, sometimes called a stick blender or hand blender, is a kitchen appliance used to blend and puree ingredients right in the cooking vessel. It consists of a motorized power base with an attached blending shaft and blade. To use it, you submerge the blender into the ingredients and move it around to process the food.
Immersion blenders are best for making smooth purees from soups, sauces and shakes. They can handle small chopping tasks, like roughly breaking up tomatoes in salsa or pesto. However, they aren’t quite as powerful as standing blenders or food processors. The blender shaft needs to stay submerged in liquid to work correctly. Thicker mixtures like bread dough or nut butter will stall the motor.
Advantages of an Ice Cream Maker
Purpose-built ice cream machines provide two main advantages over an immersion blender:
- Chilling capacity – Ice cream makers have built-in freezing components to churn mixtures while freezing them, which is essential for creating the smooth, creamy texture associated with ice cream. An immersion blender does not freeze or chill ingredients.
- Aeration – As they churn, ice cream machines incorporate air into the ice cream base. This lightens the texture and adds volume to the final product. Immersion blenders do not add air like ice cream machines do.
Ice cream machines also often come with features to make the process easier, like detachable bowls you can freeze beforehand and automatic timers. So while an immersion blender does have a motorized churning function, it lacks the specific abilities of an ice cream maker to properly freeze, aerate and churn ice cream.
Using an Immersion Blender for Ice Cream
While an immersion blender isn’t best suited as a true replacement for an ice cream maker, you can still use it to craft some frozen treats in a pinch. Here are two ways to make homemade ice cream with an immersion blender:
Method 1: No-Churn Ice Cream
No-churn ice cream has a lighter, mousse-like texture since it doesn’t use a traditional custard base. To make it, you whip heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks then gently fold in a sweetened condensed milk mixture. The immersion blender helps you whip the cream quickly. Here is a basic no-churn ice cream recipe:
- 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- In a medium bowl, stir together sweetened condensed milk and vanilla.
- In a large bowl, use an immersion blender to whip heavy cream until stiff peaks form, about 2-3 minutes.
- Gently fold whipped cream into sweetened condensed milk mixture until uniformly combined.
- Transfer ice cream base to a freezer safe container and freeze for 4-6 hours until set.
You can add mix-ins like chocolate chips or crushed cookies before freezing. No-churn ice cream has a lighter, mousse-like texture since it doesn’t use a traditional custard base.
Method 2: Semi-Frozen Custard
This method uses an immersion blender to partially churn a traditional ice cream base into a semi-frozen state. It takes more effort but creates something closer to true ice cream. Follow these steps:
- Make your favorite ice cream custard base and let it fully chill in the refrigerator.
- Pour chilled base into a metal bowl. Use the immersion blender to blend for 2-3 minutes until mixture starts to thicken up.
- Transfer semi-frozen mixture to a freezer safe container. Freeze for 1-2 hours until set, stirring every 30 minutes. The stirring helps prevent large ice crystals from forming as it finishes freezing.
This technique incorporates some air into the base and provides light churning action. But without extended freezing and whisking, the texture remains more icy than true ice cream. Still, it can create a cool, creamy treat for an impromptu frozen dessert.
Tips for Using an Immersion Blender for Ice Cream
Follow these tips to get the best possible results when using an immersion blender to make frozen desserts:
- Use a powerful, high wattage immersion blender with an ice crushing function to handle the freezing cold temperature.
- Chill the ice cream base overnight in the refrigerator before blending so it’s completely cold.
- Blend in short bursts, stopping to stir mixture so it freezes evenly.
- If making no-churn ice cream, whip the cream just until stiff peaks form – do not overbeat.
- For custard-style ice cream, avoid adding chunks and swirls until after blending so they don’t interfere with the blender.
- Transfer to a freezer-safe storage container and freeze until solid, at least 6 hours.
The Difference an Ice Cream Maker Makes
While an immersion blender can whip up some tasty DIY frozen treats, a real ice cream machine provides key advantages for making smooth, creamy ice cream at home. Here’s a look at how the results compare:
|Ice Cream Maker||Immersion Blender|
|Texture||Creamy, smooth, scoopable||Icier, freeze-dried ice crystals|
|Volume||Fluffy, whipped, adds air||Denser, heavier, less air|
|Time||Churns and freezes in 30-60 minutes||Requires hours of freezing time|
|Effort||Mostly automatic once churning starts||Requires active stirring and blending|
While an immersion blender can work in a pinch, you’ll get far superior results in terms of texture and ease of use from a real ice cream machine. Models designed specifically for churning provide the right mixing action and freezing capability to produce scoopable ice cream with minimal effort on your part.
Best Ice Cream Makers
When shopping for an at-home ice cream maker, here are some top-rated models to consider across different price points:
- Nostalgia ICMP400WD – Under $30, electric bucket with easy twist churning paddle.
- Cuisinart ICE-30BC – Around $50, compact electric batch freezer with double insulated bowl.
- Cuisinart ICE-70 – $100, compressor freezer unit for continuous freezing.
- Breville Smart Scoop – $400, automatic hardness settings and built-in recipes.
- Whynter ICM-200LS – $260, stainless steel bowl with lift-out bucket.
- Lello 4080 Musso Lussino – $660, sleek Italian design with top-rated chilling power.
Advanced models often let you precisely control churning speed and temperatures to customize different ice cream styles. Look for at least 1.5 quarts of bowl capacity. And extra features like dishwasher safe bowls, automatic timers and noise reduction add convenience.
Making Ice Cream Without Any Special Tools
If you don’t have an ice cream maker or immersion blender, all hope for homemade ice cream isn’t lost. You can use basic kitchen tools to make old-fashioned hand-churned ice cream. Here are two methods to try:
Mason Jar Method
Combine your ice cream base and mix-ins in a pint mason jar. Seal the lid tightly. Place jar in a gallon zip top bag and surround with ice and salt (6 parts ice to 1 part salt). Shake vigorously for 10-15 minutes until mixture thickens.
Plastic Bag Method
Transfer ice cream base to a small resealable plastic bag. Place that bag inside a larger gallon bag filled with ice and salt. Shake bags together for 15-20 minutes to churn the ice cream by hand.
These no-machine methods take some physical effort but let you DIY ice cream using basic kitchen supplies you likely already have on hand.
The Best Method for Homemade Ice Cream
While you’re able to improvise ice cream with an immersion blender or even just a mason jar and plastic bag, using a true ice cream machine will deliver vastly superior results. Ice cream makers provide the right mixing and freezing power to churn out smooth, frozen desserts that rival gourmet ice cream shops. For ice cream perfection at home, a quality ice cream maker is the best investment you can make.
With the churning paddle properly aerating the custard base as it freezes, you’ll wind up with rich, creamy scoops of ice cream that hold their shape. No ice crystals or heavy, dense texture from partial freezing. Purpose-built ice cream machines remove the guesswork and effort from homemade ice cream. Just pour in your cooled mixture, turn it on and wait for churned ice cream bliss.
While an immersion blender can whip up some passable frozen desserts, real ice cream machines are specially designed for the task. Their chilling and churning abilities produce smooth, creamy ice cream that an immersion blender simply can’t replicate. For delicious homemade ice cream with minimal effort, an ice cream maker is the best tool for the job.