Those that know me in real life will know that my father opened up an ice-cream shop when he turned 70. As you do.
I wrote about him, and ice-cream for The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine. If you look carefully at the collage you can see a picture of me in a school photo, and one of my dad by the round pond in Kensington Gardens, holding me next to our giant pram (actually I think it may be my sister, but I couldn’t find many pictures of me with my father because, being the second child, the novelty of taking pictures of me had obviously worn off).
He sold the business about four years ago. But I’ve kept the ice-cream making going on a domestic scale, inspired by the creations my father made.
Making ice-cream is really easy. I’d say “you don’t need an ice-cream maker” but let’s face it, you do. If you want to pour your ice-cream into a container, put it in the freezer, and then take it out again every few hours to break up the ice-crystals, then please do so. But if you do that you’ll think making ice-cream is as real faff and will, quite understandably, just go and buy it in the supermarket.
But I like making my own ice-cream for two main reasons:
1) I am nearly always avoiding a deadline
2) I like knowing what’s gone into it. Because ice cream really doesn’t need the input of things like xanthan gum and emulsifier.
Ice-cream makers come in two types. Ones that cost about in the £40 range, with these you need to pre-freeze the bowl; or ones that cost about £300 and have an inbuilt freezer. These are the pros and cons:
- take up less space
- are cheaper
- you need to either be organised to put the bowl in the freezer (to pre-freeze it)
- so you need to have room in the freezer to do this
- the capacity is often less than those of the bigger, more expensive models
- they tend to take longer to make the ice-cream
Built-in freezer ice cream makers:
- are quicker
- have a bigger capacity
- require no pre-freezing of the bowl
- they take up a lot of space on the counter top
- are very heavy so really you need to keep them out, because also..
- when you move them you have to then keep them level for 24hrs
- can be very noisy, although remember they’re fast so you only need put up with the noise for about an hour.
- some of them need priming of the bowl with alcohol
The best ice-cream maker on the market, that sort of straddled the two, was the Panasonic BH-9441P. It was a brilliant little machine that didn’t look bad either. But the beauty was that it was battery run, so no need for pre-planning. You just made your ice-cream, popped it into the machine and stuck the whole thing in the freezer. It cost about £35 and I recommended it many times but it’s no longer easily available and the demand for it has pushed the price up to over £50 when you can buy it.
Philips, Magimix and Cuisinart all make models of the former for about £40 (with the odd model costing nearly double that), and they get good reviews. Have a look on Amazon (which is what I would do) before deciding which one you get. Remember that if you have a food mixer, you can often get ice-cream maker attachments to go with them. I have no idea how they work.
Because we make ice-cream regularly in our house we have three models:
two Panasonics because I bought one for my dad when he ‘retired’ and have since nicked it back from him.
one Cuisinart Professional Ice-cream maker.
The latter is the one we use most now because since we swopped our giant American fridge freezer for a smaller freezer/fridge freezer I rarely have the room for my Panasonic. The Cuisnart PIM is very beautiful, rather monolithic and stainless steel. I mention this because I think it’s important how they look, but not so important that looks is everything. I very carefully researched it before buying it. It needs no priming. It’s super simple to use. In fact when you get it (if you do) you might be disappointed with the number of buttons to press. There aren’t any, just a timer dial to turn.
You have a little bucket (1.5l capacity) which you put the ice-cream mixture into, then attach the arm/lid and turn the clock timer to how long you think it’ll need (maximum an hour but it stops automatically if it’s ‘done’ before then and there’s nothing to stop you running it for longer if it still needs it, just put the timer back on) and that’s it. It has a plastic churner turner that turns as the machine freezes the mixture.
It’s very noisy however. The noise doesn’t bother me so much as all my kitchen appliances can be hidden with stainless steel shutters so that buffers the noise somewhat. Then you take the bucket out, decant the ice cream into a freezer container and put it away to harden up/for later.
Home made ice cream is very soft when just made. Lots of people don’t realise this and think it’s not done properly. You can absolutely eat it straight out of the machine and it’d make a great after dinner-party dessert justlikethat. And this is how I rather like it. It’s very velvety and you can really taste the flavours. I made a ricotta ice cream recently which was so tasty out of the machine. It’s very dangerous however as you can eat LOADS like this.
So be careful.
Or you can freeze it and it makes a lovely made-in-advance dessert, so one less thing to think about when you have guests. It keeps for ages in the freezer.
The machine is not cheap: about £250, although you might be able to pick up a very good second hand model for less. It comes with a five year guarantee. The Gaggia Gelateria is another model that some friends have, but I’ve never used it so can’t comment on it with any authority. If you have it let me know.
I’ll post up some ice-cream recipes up another time as I’ve spent years trying to finesse some of them. Note: I didn’t like the recipes that came with the Cuisnart. In fact finding good ice-cream recipes is a bit of a bug-bear of mine. I am an absolute snob about it and only consider it to be proper ice-cream if it’s made from a custard (egg yolks, milk, cream, sugar) base. (Obviously you can also make frozen yoghurts and sorbets which is a different thing.)
I’m lucky because my father can get me ‘tasting cones’ (tiny cones) from his ice-cream industry contacts. This means that if you have children coming, or just people who work in the fashion industry who don’t each much, they can have a miniature ice-cream cone. But for everyone else, serving home made ice cream in a sugar cone is a lovely way to finish a meal, however posh the rest of it was.
Update February 2015: I wrote the avoe nearly five years ago now. I now have lots of ice cream recipes on this blog. I still use my ice cream maker regularly in the warmer months, although have also now got some recipes on here (see link) that don’t need them. The Panasonic ice cream maker comes and goes; sometimes you can buy it, sometimes you can’t. Heston Blumenthal has also brought out an ice cream maker as part of his Sage range which is meant to be very good, although I’ve never tried it. And the Cusinart Professional which I have (although it’s been redesigned), is now available, new, for under £200.