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TOOL DEPARTMENT

Ice cream: Meet your makers

June 23, 2004|Cindy Dorn | Times Staff Writer

Wax nostalgic all you want, but in the past, making homemade ice cream was never a la-di-da-oh-what-fun-spur-of-the-moment experience, with all that salt, bags of crushed ice and constant churning. But homemade ice cream is as good as we remember it, on the old back porch in the middle of a desperately hot summer.

A sassy new red Cuisinart ice cream maker caught our attention recently, so we figured it was time to check out the current crop of state-of-the-art models. We were hoping to find one that didn't break the bank, wouldn't break our arm, wouldn't take up too much counter or freezer space, and that would be easy enough to use that we might actually make ice cream or sorbet at least a few times over the course of the summer.

To test the machines, we made up a big batch of basic vanilla custard ice cream base. We tested for ease of assembly, use and cleanup, noise level, how long the ice cream took to make and finally the texture of the final product. We put each ice cream in the freezer for two hours to set the texture and meld flavors before sampling.

Capacity was not an issue, because all those we tested make 1.5 quarts.

We tested two types of ice cream makers. With the first, you place a double-insulated bowl (or, in one case, a disc), in the freezer for 6 to 24 hours before making the ice cream. Once you make a batch, the bowl or disc has to be refrozen. Those we tested range in price from $34.99 to $59.99. Three were electric; one was manual.

The second type has a built-in compressor, so you don't need to freeze the container and you can make uninterrupted consecutive batches. These machines are big and expensive -- a couple cost more than $1,000. We tested two, one at $250 and one at $399.

The high-end built-in compressor makers were both terribly noisy, and the $399 DeLonghi was a bust: The custard didn't freeze properly, even after nearly an hour of operation, plus the machine is enormous and not particularly attractive. The $250 Cuisinart is sleekly designed, so if you have lots of counter space, you wouldn't mind leaving it out. The ice cream it produced was nearly perfect -- fluffy, yet firm.

Three of the machines -- the Krups, the Rival and the DeLonghi -- have motors that are attached to the top of the bowl, a setup we found messy and inconvenient. With these, you have to detach the paddle from the motor assembly (with cord attached) before removing the bowl.

Our favorite was the eye-catching red Cuisinart, an electric model at $50. It's quick, easy and dependable, producing ice cream with a wonderful texture and generous volume.

*

The ice king

Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker ICE-20 Series was our clear favorite, and not just because it's shiny and red (or white). This is a double insulated freezer-bowl type.

What's the difference: The motor is in the bottom of the machine, and the freezer bowl turns while the paddle remains in place.

What we thought: The mechanism churns the custard evenly and quickly as it moves over the paddle, producing a firm yet fluffy, evenly frozen, easy-to-scoop ice cream in exactly 20 minutes. With just three parts, it's easy to assemble, and cleanup is a snap.

How much: $49.95 at Williams Sonoma, Sur la Table and Bed, Bath and Beyond

The strong, silent type

Donvier Ice Cream Maker by Cuisipro, the only manual model, was our second choice.

What's the difference: There's no motor, so it's quiet. Turn the crank two or three times every three minutes, a perfect job for a kid. After 15 minutes you have perfect ice cream.

What we thought: Assembly is a bit complicated: The paddle has to be attached to both the lid and the bottom of the freezer bowl, and there is a rubber seal that goes on the freezer bowl after it is frozen. The paddle, the seal and the crank all have to be perfectly aligned in order to attach the lid. The ice cream is quite dense, with a texture like butter.

How much: $49.95 at Sur La Table

For softies

Krups La Glaciere Model No. 358 is compact and easy to clean but tricky to assemble and poorly designed. Ice cream was ready in 35 minutes.

What's the difference: The freezer bowl is not an insert; it is the bottom half of the ice cream maker, so it takes up some freezer space.

What we thought: The paddle has to fit in the lid and on the bottom of the freezer bowl and the lid must be locked on while you hold the paddle in place. Tension mounts at this point. A small opening means you need a large measuring cup to add the custard. With the motor in the lid, it's hard to remove the ice cream. But the ice cream was silky and mousse-like. How much: $59.95 at Sur la Table

The noisemaker

DeLonghi Ice Creamery Professional Quality Ice Cream Maker is big and outdated-looking, requiring two electrical outlets.

What's the difference: The top part with the paddle plugs in separately from the bottom part with the compressor.

What we thought: The ice cream never firmed up, even after 55 minutes of noisy operation. The finished product was icy, grainy and slightly flat.

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