After tasting seven different brands of commercial ice cream, we quickly concluded that homemade ice cream--when prepared with top-quality ingredients--tastes much better than anything you can buy in a store.
These days making ice cream is easier than ever because there are so many different ice cream makers on the market. But they range enormously in price--those we tested have suggested retail prices of $55 to $700. The question is which model to buy.
With the exception of one machine, which malfunctioned, all of the ice cream makers produced a good product. There were, however, subtle differences in texture, as noted below.
The expensive machines--Cuisinart, Gaggia and Simac--are simplest to use; they have internal chilling units and do not require ice. The less-expensive models worked well, but the Waring requires that the container be placed in the freezer for 16 hours, and the Rival and Oster both require ice and salt.
Noise was a problem: The Cuisinart was the quietest, followed by the Waring. All the others were so noisy that you wouldn't want to attempt a conversation while they were operating.
Only the Rival and Waring machines specified a limit on the quantity of ice cream mix that can be prepared at one time. Since volume increases as the mixture freezes, this is important when using recipes other than those suggested by the manufacturer.
The same vanilla ice cream recipe was used to test each of the ice cream makers. It was chilled before using. The ice cream was judged immediately after it was prepared, then again after freezer storage.
Simac (1)--This should have been the easiest of the six ice cream makers to use because it doesn't require any brine solution and has a removable bowl, but both models borrowed from the manufacturer malfunctioned. Two attempts were made to use each machine. The chilling mechanism did not operate on one model, the other shut off after 10 minutes of operation, was reset according to the instruction manual, but shut off again after operating another five minutes.
\o7 Available at: Jordanos, Santa Barbara.\f7
Cuisinart (2)--Make a brine by dissolving salt in hot water, then letting the mixture stand until cool. A small amount is poured into the bottom of the stationary bowl, then the removable bowl is positioned over top. No pre-cooling is necessary.
The ice cream, finished in 20 minutes, was the firmest immediately following preparation of any model tested. It tasted creamy just after being made and following freezer storage. The color changed from white to slightly yellow after freezer storage.
\o7 Available at: For the store nearest you, call (800) 726-0190.\f7
Gaggia (3)--Ice cream may be made in the stationary bowl and/or the optional removable bowls (available for an additional $60). There is a five-minute pre-cooling period.
The ice cream made in the stationary bowl was over-churned and grainy by the time the 30-minute suggested timing was completed (there are no numerical markings on the machine's timer). It was also inconvenient to clean the container after use.
A superior product resulted when the removable bowl was used. A brine of water and alcohol (we used vodka at the manufacturer's suggestion, but later learned even rubbing alcohol will do) was placed in the stationary bowl and the removable bowl placed over top.
The ice cream, finished in 30 minutes, incorporated the most air of any model tested. It was very fluffy and creamy, just after preparation and following freezer storage.
\o7 Available at: Williams-Sonoma stores.\f7
Waring (4)--The cream container is placed in the freezer at least 16 hours before use. The manufacturer recommends using about 28 ounces of ice cream mix. This is poured into the cold cream container, then the paddle, lid and motor are attached.
The instructions say the ice cream will be finished in 20 minutes to 30 minutes. In our test, it took only 18 minutes for the machine to stop and reverse the paddle motion. As directed, the motor was unplugged immediately.
The ice cream had good firmness and was very creamy just after preparation and still creamy following freezer storage.
\o7 Available at: Adray Mart stores and Cook 'N' Things, South Pasadena.\f7
Rival (5)--Those familiar with old-fashioned ice cream makers will find this unit familiar, with some updated features. Either rock or table salt may be used, sprinkled between layers of crushed ice, to create the brine that surrounds the can containing the ice cream mix. A translucent lid is an improvement over the metal ones of the past, but visibility is still limited.
The manufacturer recommends filling the can only three-fourths full. A line on the can also marks this place. The five-quart model was tested, but a four-quart model is also available.
After you place the ice cream mix in the can, the paddle is inserted, the cover added and the motor attached. Once running, the ice and salt are layered up to the top of the can. The ice needs to be replenished as it melts during operation.