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Equipment Review: The Scoop on Ice Cream Makers

Fine Cooking Issue 73
Photos: Scott Phillips
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What I remember about making ice cream as a kid—besides the delicious results—is the puddle of melting ice and rock salt that the machine left on the kitchen floor, and the sore elbows we all had after taking turns at the crank. Today’s ice cream makers have changed all that—no workout, no mess, just the unrivaled creamy-refreshing flavor of homemade ice cream.

The most popular models on the market today all have similar designs. In most cases, a motorized base rotates a canister that you’ve frozen in advance. You pour the ice cream mixture into the canister, and it immediately starts to freeze onto the canister’s sides. A fixed paddle scrapes the sides as the canister turns, and in 20 to 30 minutes, the ice cream is frozen (though still soft). It’s the same principle behind the old-fashioned machines, except that, instead of using salt and ice to keep the canister cold, most modern machines use a double-walled canister with a chemical coolant sealed inside.

Testing criteria

We tested eight widely available ice cream makers under $100 and evaluated each for the quality of the finished ice cream and sorbet, how long the canister or disk stayed cold, ease of use, and noise (listed in order of importance).

Winners and also-rans

As we found out after testing eight machines (six electric and two manual), despite design similarities, there were performance differences. For some, the canisters just couldn’t stay cold long enough, resulting in a softer, sometimes sloppy ice cream. For others, the machine incorporated too much air into the mixture, in some cases creating ice cream with the consistency of frozen whipped cream. After making batch upon batch of plain vanilla ice cream, vanilla with crushed Oreos, and lemon sorbet, the four machines featured below stood out as our favorite choices.

The other ice cream makers in the review included (in alphabetical order): Deni Ice Cream Maker (5152), Rival Gel Canister Ice Cream Maker (GC8151- WN), Villaware Ice Cream Maker (5100), and Wilton’s Incredible Ice Cream Machine.

Innovative, compact design

Salton Big Chill Ice Cream Maker model ICM21
$39.95 at Tabletools.com
1-quart capacity

Instead of a frozen canister, this electric machine uses a frozen disk to chill the ice cream. The thick disk sits on the bottom of a plastic rotating bowl and, surprisingly, is just as efficient at freezing as a frozen canister. It also stays cold longer and occupies less space in your freezer. The hole on top (for pouring in the ice cream mixture and adding flavor extras) has a cap to help keep warm air out and cold air in. This machine is rather loud. Citrus zest will accumulate around the mixing blade when making sorbet, but since the final product tends to be soft, it’s easy to disperse by stirring.

Salton Big Chill Ice Cream Maker model ICM21.

Smooth operator

Girmi Ice Cream Machine model GL 14
US $49.99 at Goodmans.net
1-quart capacity

This electric machine’s rotating canister retains its cold temperature better than most, producing a lemon sorbet with a full-bodied, creamy texture in 20 minutes. Ice cream can be on the airy side when first made but settles with an overnight freeze into a pleasant, smooth, light texture. The lid has a large hole for adding the ice cream mixture and add-ins and is made of clear plastic, so that you can easily monitor the ice cream’s progress. Operation is straightforward.

Girmi Ice Cream Machine model GL 14.

For large batches

Cuisinart Pure Indulgence Frozen Yogurt-Sorbet & Ice Cream Maker model ICE-30
$79 at Cuisinshop.com
2-quart capacity

This larger-capacity electric machine performs consistently, yielding smooth, light-bodied ice cream in 25 minutes without tasting whipped. As with all the units we tested, the ice cream was softtextured right out of the machine but firmed up after several hours in the freezer. We like the large hole in the top, which makes it easy to add ingredients and monitor the progress of the ice cream (you can also safely dip in a spoon). Its capacity is another plus. Our one complaint is the noise: This machine is loud.

Cuisinart Pure Indulgence Frozen Yogurt-Sorbet & Ice Cream Maker model ICE-30.

Manual control, firmer texture

Donvier Ice Cream Maker
$44.95 at Makeicecream.com
1-quart capacity

This manual ice cream maker requires you to turn the paddle every few minutes. One benefit is that you don’t beat in as much air, so you get a denser ice cream and more full-bodied sorbet, both of which are firm enough to be served directly from the canister. The intermittent stirring means the mixture ices up where it sits in contact with the canister’s sides, which can lead to a somewhat uneven consistency. An overnight freeze helps. The lid has no hole to pour in your mixture or add ingredients.

Donvier Ice Cream Maker.

For perfect results, beat the heat

 – The key to excellent homemade ice cream is to keep things cool at every step

• Freeze the canister (or disk) overnight in the back of the freezer, where it tends to be coldest. If you hear liquid sloshing inside the canister when you shake it, it needs more freezer time. 

• Refrigerate the ice cream mixture until it’s completely chilled ( ideally 38°F) before freezing in the machine. The colder your mixture, the slower the canister will lose its chill, and the better the ice cream will freeze. 

• Don’t remove the canister from the freezer until you’re about to pour in the ice cream mixture. 

• Unless you like your ice cream the slumping consistency of soft serve, plan on hardening it in your freezer for at least a few hours or overnight. Transfer to shallow containers for faster freezing.


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