I got my first ice-cream machine in the middle of winter, and by the time spring had arrived, I’d cranked out more ice cream than I (and my ever-growing circle of ice-cream-loving friends) had ever consumed in a single summer. It’s not something I’m terribly proud of, and I only mention it now to make a small point, which is that making ice cream at home can and should be a year-round activity.
You’ll find a wide range of ice-cream machines on the market. I’ve limited this article to the three most popular and available styles: the old-fashioned can and bucket models that require crushed ice and rock salt; the cylindrical canisters with a sealed-in coolant that must be frozen before use; and the ultramodern countertop units that rely on compression (just like your refrigerator)
Regardless of the technology, all ice-cream machines operate on the same principle. They introduce air into a liquid custard mixture using a paddle, called a dasher, while simultaneously freezing it. As it turns, the dasher scrapes the frozen mixture from the sides of the canister and pushes it toward the center, allowing new ice crystals to form along the sides. The whole process usually takes 20 to 30 minutes.
Bucket freezers put you in control
If you want to control freezing temperature, an old-fashioned bucket freezer is the way to go.
For more than 100 years, the most popular home ice-cream machines were the bucket freezers that use salt and ice. You can find these classics at garage sales for less than $10 (make sure the metal parts haven’t rusted from exposure to the brine) or new models for $150 to $200.
These old-fashioned machines, which come in electric and manual models, let you control the freezing temperature with the proportion of salt to ice. With the manual crank models, you also control the dasher speed. Bucket freezers are available in a variety of sizes, with the 4- and 6-quart sizes most common. And as long as you have a ready supply of ice and salt, you can make a second batch immediately after the first one is done.
The cons to bucket freezers are that they require a lot of crushed ice, the briny slush can be messy, and the electric motors are very loud. Also, since the mixture is poured into a closed metal canister, you can’t see the ice cream so you need to pay attention to other clues to gauge doneness.