Making ice cream with an ice-cream maker
An ice-cream maker ( the kind with built-in freezer ) is an expensive, unashamed luxury that is by no means essential. But, if you’re anticipating a wedding or having a special birthday, you might like to consider putting it on your list, or treating yourself at some stage in your life when, after years of hard work in the kitchen, you think you deserve one.
Making ice cream before the days of refrigeration was honestly a trial, what with hand-cranked churns, packs of ice and so on. Even with modern freezers it’s something of a palaver: timing it, hoicking it out, mixing it, then repeating the whole performance over again - not to mention the risks of over- or under-freezing. Yet again, cooks have been truly blessed: there are now fully automatic ice-cream makers with their own in-built freezing and churning unit. So, real home-made ice creams can be made from start to finish in just 30 minutes. What’s more, if you like a soft consistency (as I sometimes do) you can serve them straight away without even putting them in the freezer.
How does it work? Basically, all you need to do is switch the machine on about 10 minutes before you want to use it (or as instructed in your manual) – rather like pre-heating the oven in reverse. (It takes time for the machine to reach the right freezing temperature.) While that’s happening, you make up your mixture and just pour it into the container. Then, when you switch on, the motorised paddles automatically churn the ice cream as it freezes, breaking down the ice crystals and producing a velvety-smooth texture and just the right consistency. Because you’re in charge of the ingredients, you are also assured of the best possible flavour. Finally, it’s as convenient to clean as it is to operate: the removable components are dishwasher-proof or very easy to rinse by hand. Couldn’t be simpler.
Any drawbacks? Home-made ice cream is best eaten within a week of being made, but since you can make it as and when you need it in just a few minutes, I don’t see this as a problem. Ideally, the machine should be kept out and not transferred in and out of cupboards – it doesn’t like being shifted about because it unsettles the intricacies of the freezing unit. So, the only real drawback is one of space. If you have the room and are happy to keep it out on the counter top, you’ll get enormous pleasure out of making and eating real ice cream, knowing it doesn’t contain additives, emulsifiers, flavourings, stabilisers or preservatives. It also allows you to experiment with so many different recipes – if there’s a glut of raspberries, you can make raspberry ice cream, if it’s the Seville orange season you can make a sorbet... there’s a whole world of ice creams, sorbets and parfaits out there just waiting for you to try them.
The second kind of ice-cream maker is simply a machine that does the churning. The canister that holds the ice cream while it’s churning has to be stored in the freezer and removed only when you actually need to churn it. The mixture then goes in and the machine churns it for 30-40 minutes, until the ice cream is thick. Then it is transferred to a polythene box for freezer storage if it’s not going to be eaten straight away. The canister is then washed, dried and returned to the freezer until next needed for ice-cream making. It requires at least 12 hours in the freezer to become capable of freezing, and often – if a large quantity of ice cream is needed in one go – it’s worth having two canisters so that you always have a standby. They come in 2- or 2½-pint (1.1- or 1.5-litre) sizes (or with slight variations according to the make). What is important is that the size of the canister must be larger than the amount of ice cream, because, during churning, the volume increases.
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