Ice cream makers have long been one of those bits of kitchen tech you bought, then dispatched to the back of a cupboard, wedged between the pasta maker and the sandwich toaster.
Now, however, with the rise of global warming and the many excellent benefits it brings to the climate, they are becoming essential.
The rise in popularity of frozen yogurt has also given them a boost, since any ice cream maker can also freeze yogurt, as well as making gelato (slightly less firm ice cream, really) and sorbet (iced-up fruit juice/purée).
Now summer's here, it's time to tuck in.
What is the best ice cream maker?
Sorry, Italian people: the best ice cream maker comes from America's Cuisinart, with Australia's Sage a close second.
Both these machines can make ice cream pretty much from scratch, like a bread maker, but with ice cream. You just toss in ingredients, then pop off for an hour or so while it stirs it all together, freezes it, and then keeps stirring so it has a light and fluffy consistency.
No, English people, ice cream is NOT meant to be rock solid.
Ice cream makers: don't have a brain freeze
What I mean by that is, "Heed this buying advice".
If you don't shell out for a more premium device, you can still make excellent ice cream, but you will have to pre-stir ingredients, pre-freeze the container, and probably post-freeze if you want to get to a firmer consistency.
Whatever machine you buy, you'll need 90-120 minutes at least before you've got anything more palatable than cold custard mix with fruit in it.
While these machines all obviously have a maximum level they can be filled to, they also, informally, have minimum levels. If you under-fill most of them, you'll end up with something rock solid and less palatable (in machines that freeze) or too liquidy (in machines that don't).
To be fair, even 'bad' ice cream is still pretty nice, and most problems can be alleviated, if not solved, by either freezing or defrosting what comes out of the device.
Our top tip for an ice cream recipe? Posh supermarket custard makes a great vanilla and also works well as a base for any other flavour. Or use yogurt, you literally can't go wrong with that.
Best ice cream makers, in order of chill
1. Cuisinart ICE100BCU
The best ice cream maker
Maximum capacity: 1.5L | Dimensions: H23 x W29 x D56cm | Built-in freezer: Yes
If you plan to make a lot of ice cream, this is the one to go for. It's so good, it'll probably encourage you to make more, in fact.
Just bung in your ingredients, switch on and wait for the mix to reach peak consistency. The Cusinart will then keep it cool for a further 10 minutes. Whether using the supplied recipes or experimenting with your own, the results are suitably lip-smacking.
There is not a lot to tell between this and the Sage, and this is a bit cheaper. It also turns out ice cream a bit quicker on average, although you'll need a good 90 minutes or so on average.
The metal parts can't be cleaned in the dishwasher, but it's hardly a huge chore doing it manually.
2. Sage by Heston Bumenthal The Smart Scoop
The best premium choice
Maximum capacity: 1L | Dimensions: H23 x W39 x D26cm | Built-in freezer: Yes
Clad in stylish stainless steel, this weighty worktop-gobbling monster not only looks the business, it produces a whole variety of frozen desserts with zero fuss.
Most other ice cream makers require regular checking to see whether the dessert has reached the desired consistency. Not this one. Simply hit the pre-cool button (it has its own built-in freezer, like the Cuisinart) and wait ten minutes while the bowl reaches optimum operating temperature.
Now select the type of dessert. There's a choice of sorbet, gelato, frozen yogurt and ice cream, with different firmness levels for each – 12 settings in all.
Then load in the ingredients and hit the auto button. Pre-mixing is recommended but, to be honest, I never even bother, mate.
The Smart Scoop automatically senses the firmness of the mixture and stops the process when ready. It also sounds an alarm midway when it's time to add extra ingredients like marshmallows, nuts and chocolate chips.
At the end of the whole process it plays an ice cream van tune and, if pre selected, will go on keeping the contents chilled for up to three hours.
In short, this is by far the best ice cream maker you can get, but realistically, most people will be fine with the slightly cheaper Cusinart model.
Please note that, again, the metal bowl is not dishwasher proof.
3. Cuisinart ICE30BCU
Best non-freezing ice cream maker
Maximum capacity: 2L | Dimensions: H29 x W20.5 x D22.5cm | Built-in freezer: No
A more appealing solution for those who don't envisage regular sorbet-making adventures, this is more compact and cheaper than our champs, although it actually has a larger, two-litre capacity.
That's because it doesn't bother with a built-in freezer. Instead you have to pre-freeze the bucket for 12 hours. After that, it works much the same, with auto-stirring reducing your workload, and quicker results (if you ignore the 12 hours of pre-freezing).
Because of the lack of a freezer, you are generally better off sticking to a thinner base liquid for your frozen desserts, but if what comes out is still a bit liquid, you can always pop it in the freezer for half an hour.
4. Andrew James Ice Cream Maker
Best value ice cream maker
Maximum capacity: 1.5L | Dimensions: 17.8cm diameter x 15cm high | Built-in freezer: No
No, it's not a sexy, metallic thing, but this ice cream maker is so cheap and so effective, I'll let it pass.
As with the more attractive Cuisinart, you freeze the 1.45-litre bowl (it actually comes with two bowls, to feed whole families and keep real gelato aficionados constantly stuffing their faces), then add pre-mixed ingredients and let it get down to doing its thang.
It's then small enough to tuck away in a kitchen cupboard, so nobody need know your secret 20-quid, plasticky kitchen gadget shame.
The ice cream it creates is just as good as the ICE30BCU, so there's no shame in owning it anyway, really. You also need to pre-freeze the bowl for 'only' 8 hours, rather than 12.
Obviously, if you buy this expecting results and ease of use to match its much more expensive rivals, you'll be horribly disappointed, but for the money, it's truly creamy value.
5. Kenwood IM200
Another decent budget option
Maximum capacity: 1.1L | Dimensions: 17.8cm diameter x 15cm high | Built-in freezer: No
For basic ice cream and sorbet churning you could do a lot worse than this cheap-and-cheerful edition from Kenwood.
Like most budget ice cream whippers, its 1.1-litre bowl requires freezing – in this case for a whopping 24 hours – before use.
Once cooled, clip on the top which houses the motor and stirring paddle, switch it on and pour in the ingredients.
It's not as good as the Andrew James, but if you can find one going cheap, the Kenwood IM200 is worth a punt.
6. KitchenAid 5KICA0WH
Best for KitchenAid stand mixer owners (and nobody else)
Maximum capacity: 1.9L | Dimensions: Standard stand mixer bowl size | Built-in freezer: No
If you already own a KitchenAid Artisan mixer – both Classic and Pro models –then this handy bowl attachment is all you need for a multitude of frozen desserts.
The liquid-filled 1.9-litre bowl requires pre-freezing for 15 hours and the mixture itself needs an 8-hour pre chill. The Heath Robinson-esque paddle attachment then mixes the results to a delightful consistency.
I get the distinct feeling this is not one of KitchenAid's biggest sellers, but it does a job.