Product Review: Ice Cream Makers

 

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Introduction
The Process
Four Important Factors
The Machines
Capacity
Hand Crank vs Electric
Recommended Products
Hamilton Beach 68220
Hamilton Beach 68330R
Cuisinart ICE-20
Cuisinart ICE-30BC
KitchenAid attachment
Lello 4070 Gelato Junior
Whynter Sno IC-2L
White Mountain F69204
White Mountain F64304
Lello Gelato Pro 4090
Lello Musso Lussino 4080
Nemox Gelato Chef 2500
Musso Pola 5030
Manufacturer Links
kitchenaid

If you love ice cream, you likely have an innate capacity for fervent, sensual appreciation of the homemade class of this food. The freshness, the unlimited flavor options and combinations, and the fruits-of-your-labor satisfaction lend appeal to making a batch of this treat in your kitchen.  Once you've experienced the surprising freshness of just-made ice cream, you may become a little jaded about even the best of the ice cream parlor offerings, much less the store-bought product.

 

 

 

 

The Process

Old-fashioned ice cream machine
Old-fashioned barrel-style machine

The creation process for homemade ice cream is simple: mixed ingredients are placed in a cylindrical canister with metal sides, which are chilled. In most machines, the mixture is stirred with a "dasher" (otherwise known as a paddle, beater, or whip) powered by either a hand crank or an electric motor.

In some machines the dasher is stationary and the canister spins. The churning of the ingredients, which takes between 20—30 minutes in most machines, accomplishes three things: it aerates the mixture, making it smoother and creamier; it prevents the formulation of ice crystals; and it begins a freezing process by bringing the mixture into contact with the iced, inside surface of the canister, therby transferring the heat out of the ice cream. Depending on the type of machine used (and how hard you like your ice cream), it may be necessary to freeze the ice cream for an additional hour after the churning is done. In the case of machines with a built-in compressor, a harder consistency can be achieved with an additional few minutes of mixing.

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Four Important Factors

The four most important factors to consider when choosing an ice cream machine are:

  • the method used to chill the freezing canister
  • the capacity of the canister
  • the means by which the dasher is turned
  • the mixing action produced in the canister

As with all motorized kitchen appliances, general considerations include reliable performance, durability, and noise.

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The Machines

Rival barrel-style machine

The machines available today use three different freezing methods. Barrel machines, which have been in use for centuries, have an outer bowl or barrel, into which is placed the canister with the ice cream, and which surrounds the canister with a mix of ice and rock salt. The salt is added to the ice, typically in a 1-to-5 ratio, to make the ice melt more quickly and lower the freezing temperature (the freezing point of salt water is lower than 32 degrees Fahrenheit), thus speeding up the process of drawing the heat out of the cream mixture. Many of these barrel-style machines originally employed a hand-cranked mechanism.  Some still do, but many are also available with electric motors to turn the dasher.

 

Villaware canister-style machine
Villaware canister-style machine

In the 1960’s, when large-capacity home freezers became commonplace, appliance makers introduced countertop machines with a hollow, sealed canister (also called a freezing bowl) filled with a freezing agent, which was placed in a freezer for several hours before being installed into a base with a motorized mixer. These canister-style home machines are the models most widely used today. One drawback is the pre-freezing period, which takes both time — at least six hours, though ten is often recommended — and freezer space. The best way to make multiple batches with a pre-cooled canister machine, without waiting out another pre-freezing period, is to have an extra canister. Extra canisters are readily available for most of the models we recommend.  The freezer bowls are $35—$45 for each of the two types of that machine appearing below.  A properly prepared freezing bowl will maintain a sufficiently low temperature for up to two hours, long enough to make successive batches.  The difficulty in cleaning the frozen canister, among other factors, makes this quick-turnaround approach iffy. Cuisinart had a good dual-canister machine, the ICE-40, that made two batches simultaneously, but it's been discontinued. Commercial machines are available that make two batches at once, but they're priced near the four-figure range.

At the low end of the canister-style price range are units that have smaller, flatter containers than those on countertop units. The entire unit is placed inside a freezer — presumably, with the electrical cord from the motor snaking out of the closed freezer door — where the mixture is slowly blended. These machines use your freezer to cool the mixture, rather than continually bringing it into direct contact with a cooling element (the canister sides), and the result is inferior ice cream, which also takes at least an hour longer to make. While the churning action and the freezing process on these entry-level ice cream makers will disappoint some aficionados, we know of an in-freezer machine (the Koolatron "Total Chef Double Treat") that makes two different batches of ice cream simultaneously, and runs on four AA batteries. It's $25, and has a four-star rating on Amazon.

Delonghi GM6000
compressor-style machine

Stepping up to the realm of the serious devotee, the newest, largest, and most expensive home ice cream machines are those with a built-in, compressor-driven freezing mechanism, effectively an on-board mini freezer. These compressor-style countertop machines take up no space in your freezer, require no preparation, no cooling period between batches, and because of the added control they afford the operator, provide the most reliable means of making consistently great ice cream in your kitchen. The compressor models are minimally $150 and soar to several thousand dollars.

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Capacity

The most popular home canister-style ice cream machines have approximately a 1.5 quart capacity. Even the compressor machines costing several hundreds of dollars usually will not make more than a half gallon at a time. For larger quantities — 4 to 6 quarts — the old fashioned barrel-type machines are called for, and we recommend the machines made by the 160-year-old White Mountain Freezer Company (now owned by Rival). A large-capacity machine made for commercial use costs considerably more.

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Hand Cranks vs. Electric Motors

Some ice cream experts believe that hand-crank machines make better ice cream because manual cranking allows for an increase in mixing speed as the cream freezes, incorporating more air, making the confection creamier and fluffier. It's true that the more the mixture is aerated before it freezes, the fluffier the texture of the ice cream, and it's been observed that a moving beater whips more air into the mixture than will a canister spinning around a stationary beater. The former approach produces more agitation than the latter, therby folding more air into the mixture. While it's possible that a person, carefully controlling the pace of the dasher for thirty minutes by use of a hand crank, might churn out a smoother, airier blend than a fixed-speed machine can, that person would need to be an experienced, tireless veteran of this process. In the meantime, while our hand-crank aficionado is unloading bags of ice and rock salt from the trunk of his car, let us describe a phenomenon called "ice cream shock", which highlights the tradeoff between airiness and creaminess.

All fresh ice cream contains unfrozen water, which imparts a creamy quality.  But, this water, in a highly aerated mixture, will turn into ice crystals after several hours in a cold freezer, and ice crystals harm the creamy texture that was lauded yesterday when the batch was fresh. The food additive xanthan gum is widely used in commercial ice cream to impart a textural creaminess. We point this out to underscore that "fresh" ice cream is truly that which has been recently made and not frozen after its creation.

Along with designer leatherwear, sports cars and, more relevantly, all manner of coffee-making equipment, the expensive products in the ice cream maker category are Italian — Musso and Nemox, most prominently. We said "expensive", Porsche and Ferrari drivers, not "best". White Mountain machines are made in the US; the rest of the models we recommend are made in China. In general, we’ve observed no correlation between the quality of ice cream these machines turn out and their country of manufacture.

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kitchenCritical Recommends:  (in ascending order by price)

(Note: all dimensions rounded to nearest inch)

Several companies, including Rival, Deni, Donvier, and Koolatron, offer entry-level home ice cream makers for under $50. Until recently Krups had the best machine in this price range, but the model was discontinued and now the Hamilton Beach 68220 is our starter model of choice. The specs are standard for this category: 20 hours or more of pre-freeze time, between 25—40 minutes of churning, which is accomplished entirely by the machine’s motor and beater. This model has a sturdy handle that locks into place for carrying the travel-worthy bowl. The transparent lid enables you to watch the progress, and the lid has a large opening for adding ingredients during the churning. An included recipe book will get neophytes off to a good start.

The 68330R is the entry-level machine in the motorized, barrel/ice/rock-salt category. While procuring and handling the ice and salt requires more effort than most people want to expend, this good quality $30 machine can make 4 quarts at a time. This is the least expensive route to a gallon batch of homemade ice cream that we know of, even less than hand-crank models.

Hamilton Beach 68220
Hamilton Beach 68330R

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With seven models in their ice cream maker line, Cuisinart is the leading manufacturer in the category by far. The ICE-20 and ICE-30BC are the two best-selling ice cream makers in the world. The ICE-20 has become the standard in canister-style machines, and is available with a white or red plastic housing. The ICE-30, for $30 more, has 25% more capacity, weighs a solid 13 pounds, and has a brushed stainless steel housing.

Cuisinart also offers two automatic machines with traditional barrel-type styling (the ICE-25 and ICE-35). Their housings differ from the machines above, but they retain the same performance characteristics and capacity choices as those machines. The ICE-25 lists for $60; the ICE-35 lists for $90. Cuisinart's ICE-40 has two 1-quart canisters that can be used simultaneously. Finally, the Supreme ICE-50BC, which features a built-in compressor, lists for $300.

Cuisinart ICE-20
Cuisinart ICE-20
Cuisinart ICE-30
Cuisinart ICE-30BC

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KitchenAid Attachment Set

This is a two-part, canister-style attachment that converts any KitchenAid stand mixer into an ice cream maker. The kit includes a freezer bowl, plastic dasher, drive assembly, and an adapter ring. All but the bowl are dishwasher-safe. The 375- and 575-watt motors of the 5- and 6-quart KitchenAid mixers, respectively, are powerful enough to drive the dasher and keep the cream mixture moving and chilling; some experimentation might be needed to determine exactly which of the ten speed settings on the stand mixer will best achieve the ice cream consistency you desire.

 

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The 4070 is an entry-level compressor machine, and a big step up for people who don't want to pre-freeze a container for at least ten hours before making their ice cream. With a 160-watt power rating, the built-in compressor maintains a freezing temperature of -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

The one-quart capacity might be a drawback for large families and dinner parties, but as soon as you you dish out one batch (and clean the container), a new batch of any flavor can be started; 30 minutes later you have a second fresh quart. The easy-to-clean housing is white plastic, as it is on their more expensive machines, though the paddle is designed to stay attached to the motor, so care must be taken to not get the motor wet. Operation is relatively quiet, and the Gelato Junior is a fairly compact countertop appliance, in spite of its 31 pounds. The machine has a timer, but it simply alerts you when you need to shut off the motor, so if you want a machine you can set and leave, you'll need to look elsewhere.

 

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Whynter, manufacturer of a range of stylish, high-tech home appliances, from wine coolers to bathroom scales, is best known as a maker of portable air-conditioners and ice makers. The Whynter IC-2L (Ice Cream 2 Liter), the company's entry into the ice cream maker realm, is a slightly larger, slightly more expensive compressor machine than the Lello. It’s also a step up, with 2 quart capacity, and 235 watts of power, operating at around -11 F, seven degrees colder than the Gelato Junior. It has an audible timer, controlled via an LCD display, and an auto shut-off mechanism, in case the cream gets too frozen to churn.

 

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White Mountain makes several 4- and 6-quart ice cream makers in much the same style they’ve been making them in since 1853. The F69024 barrel-style electric is a traditional looking bucket, hand made with tongue-and-groove 5/8-inch select Maine pine, which is finished with three coats of stain, sealer and lacquer, and reinforced with galvanized metal hoops. White Moutain uses a cast-iron two-dasher system in which the outer dasher rotates the stainless steel cream can, while the inner dasher uses double, self-adjusting beechwood scraper blades to keep the mixture in constant contact with the freezing internal surfaces of the canister. A 180-watt motor drives the dasher System in the F69024; the hand crank of the F64304 allows the operator to do the same thing, resulting in optimum churning and freezing of the mixture. The resulting ice cream is smooth and creamy.

If it weren't for the following three factors, we’d use this method exclusively: the relative inconvenience of having to manually provide the freezing agents – ice and salt; the large capacity, suitable mainly for a large gathering; and the rustic-and-klunky, not-particularly-counter-friendly aesthetic of the barrel-type machines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is the bigger brother of the 4070, reviewed above. It’s twice the price, has twice the capacity, and has a significantly more powerful motor than the 4070, which we term an entry-level compressor model. It’s the same width, and only an inch higher and longer, though it does weigh 8 pounds more. It has an automatic timer, so you can extend the mixing time for a harder consistency if you choose. It makes a half-gallon of ice cream in less than 45 minutes.

 

 

 

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This all-stainless-steel, compressor-style machine gets rave reviews for the quality of ice cream it makes. This is also the machine, of all we’ve discussed so far, that is the most automatic, with a multi-setting timer for different cream consistencies. 

One knock against the machine is that the ice cream bowl is non-removable, making it difficult to clean. Follow the cleaning instructions that come with the unit and you shouldn't encounter any problems. Some users suggest that using a tiny bit of bleach helps to sanitize the bowl when cleaning; obviously, the bleach needs to be thoroughly rinsed out of the bowl before using the machine to make a batch of ice cream. Given the price of the unit, we suggest you physically check it out, if possible, before purchasing it to familiarize yourself with the issue and ensure that it won't cause problems for you.

 

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We recommend the following two machines for people who want to make batch after batch in a commercial-grade machine.

The fully automatic 2500, with its unique look and high level of reliability, has a unique bowl-within-a-bowl design. This feature enables the user to make 1.5 quarts of ice cream in twenty-five minutes in the removable aluminum bowl, then immediately add another 1.5 quarts worth of mixture for a second batch, (any flavor), to the fixed stainless steel inner bowl. Turn the machine back on, and let it get to work on your second batch while you serve the first batch in the bowl in which it was made. It has a large compressor—5.5 cc. Even though it’s housed in ABS plastic instead of the stainless you might expect in an appliance of this price, this is an excellent machine for heavy use. As its Italian manufacturer says, it was built to run all day.

 

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At the top of our price range, this all-stainless machine is generally considered top-notch, fast, reliable, and quiet. At about 70 pounds, it's not that much bulkier than the other compressor machines on this page. Unlike Musso's three commercial models, which sell for between $2200 and $4500, Musso says the Pola was designed for home as well as commercial use... not quite like Lamborghini saying its $210,000 Spyder is designed to take the kids to school in the morning, but, for those who want state-of-the-art Italian design and workmanship, this is the one.

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Manufacturers Links

The following links will take you to a manufacturer's website when one exists. In other cases, the links will take you to a relevant web page.

Manufacturers of Recommended Models:

Cuisinart
Hamilton Beach
KitchenAid
White Mountain
Whynter

Others worth considering:

Deni
Koolatron
Rival


 

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Updated: February 20, 2010