How To Make Ice Cream Without an Ice Cream Machine: An Easy, Foolproof Method

published Aug 12, 2010
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

This method for making ice cream in a bag is very popular with our readers, but honestly, I find it to be a bit of a pain. I think I’ve found a better way to make ice cream without a machine.

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The ice cream after about an hour in the freezer, post-churning. (Image credit: Faith Durand)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

A bite of ice cream made with this method. It has been in the freezer for about 1 hour, so it isn’t completely solid or cured yet. You can see how smooth it is, with only a bit of texturing from ice crystals. This recipe was predominantly made up of milk, so this is to be expected.

I do believe in equal-opportunity ice cream-making; even if you don’t have an ice cream maker, you should be able to make it home for yourself. Yes, an ice cream machine doesn’t cost too much, but it takes up precious space in small kitchens, and you may not want to keep one around. But up until now I hadn’t been satisfied with any methods of making ice cream sans machine.

The bag method is simple, but messy. You fill a large plastic bag with ice and salt, and then put a smaller bag inside with a cup of ice cream mix. After some agitation, the mix in the inner bag will get cold enough to freeze into ice cream.

But this method is prone to leakage — you often end up with salty brine all over the kitchen countertop, or even in the ice cream itself. There has to be a better way, I thought.

I did a little reading, and I was inspired by David Lebovitz’s stir-every-30-minutes version, and by Kenji’s very scientific analysis of what needs to happen for ice cream to freeze satisfactorily.

Kenji’s article is fascinating because he shows just how ice cream is affected by stirring. If you just throw ice cream mix into the freezer you’ll have a solid block of icy dairy — not very scoopable or fun to eat. You have to prevent large ice crystals from forming while freezing the mix. There are many ways to do this, but they are variations on one simple concept: Mix or agitate the ice cream while it is being frozen.

David Lebovitz addresses this by simply stirring the ice cream every 30 minutes for about 3 hours as it freezes in the freezer. David’s is a good method, and the one below is directly inspired by it. I just didn’t want to be bound to my ice cream for 3 hours! I also felt that the mixing option still leaves in some large crystals.

This method makes the process much quicker, and you only need to mix it twice. It also produces a very smooth, creamy ice cream which, depending on how much fat is in the ice cream base, rivals any other homemade ice cream for texture.

The only drawback is that you need a fairly large freezer and a bag of ice — which again may be hard for those of you in small city kitchens. But if you do have the space, then give this a try! It’s easy, not messy at all, and awfully delicious!

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

What You Need

1 pint (usually a half recipe) of ice cream mix, well chilled
Easy Ice Cream Mix Options:
• Eggless Cornstarch-Based Mix
• Rich Ice Cream Base with Eggs and Cream
Sweetened Condensed Milk Ice Cream Base

Very large mixing bowl or stockpot
Small 1-quart bowl
Chopped ice
3/4 cup rock salt or kosher salt
Electric hand mixer OR whisk


1. Fill the large bowl about halfway with ice. Stir in 3/4 cup rock salt.

2. Nestle the smaller bowl in the ice. Try to get almost completely buried in the ice. Fill the smaller bowl halfway with ice cream mix (use at most 1 pint of mix).

3. Use the hand mixer to beat the mix for 10 minutes. You may find it helpful to half cover the bowl with a towel, to help prevent spattering. The mix should get very cold to the touch, although it will probably not start transforming into actual ice cream. (Note: If you don’t have a hand mixer, then you can use a whisk, but you will need to whisk for at least 15 minutes. Great upper arm workout!)

After you have aerated and chilled the mix for about 10 minutes, cover with a towel and place the entire set of nested bowls — large and small — in the freezer. Freeze for 45 minutes.

4. Remove the bowls from the freezer. Draw a spoon across the top of the ice cream mix. It’s probably the consistency of loose pudding, especially on top.

5. Mix again with the hand mixer for 5 minutes. At this point the mixture should be the texture of soft-serve ice cream.

6. Remove the small bowl from the large bowl, and cover the top with plastic wrap touching the surface of the ice cream. Freeze for an additional two hours, or overnight, before serving.

Additional Notes:
• Remember, as always with homemade ice cream: The more fat in the ice cream, the creamier it will be, regardless of churning method. A custard ice cream with all cream and egg yolks will turn out less icy than a milk-based mix. I actually used a milk-based mix here (2 cups milk, 1 cup cream) and while this is more to my taste, it definitely turned out a little icier than a more fatty mix would have.
• On ice: I used about 6 standard-sized ice cube trays (72 ice cubes, smashed up a bit in a bag beforehand) to fill my big bowl.

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(Images: Faith Durand)