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Will a new ice cream maker make my ice cream set firmer?

I've been making ice cream at home for a few years now and tend to have pretty mixed results with how firm my ice cream gets. Even with all the precautions I've learned to take (chill the ice cream maker in the freezer for several days, chill mixture in the fridge overnight, let maker churn in a cool room, etc. etc), I still have some days where it just doesn't work. I attribute most of this to my really crappy fridge. In my small NYC apartment, we have what is pretty much a glorified bar fridge (I think the brand is Summit). The temperature is really finicky, and there is only one dial for the whole unit, not separate ones for the fridge and freezer. So to get the freezer cold enough for the ice cream maker, we usually end up with frozen milk and orange juice. It's a huge pain in the ass and we usually play games where we turn it down for a few days before I make ice cream, strategically move as many items as we can (which is hard because the fridge itself is so small), then turn it back up once the ice cream is made.

All of that being said, I also have a fairly low-end ice cream maker. It's a Hamilton Beach, I think 1.5 quart capacity. I paid like $30 for it about 6 years ago. I've been thinking that maybe it is time to upgrade and am looking into the Cuisinart model for $60 (ice cream/frozen yogurt maker). My question is: do you think that part of my troubles with the ice cream setting up could be at all attributed to the ice cream maker? Do you think upgrading to a better model will help the situation at all? If it's all due to my crappy fridge, it may not be worth spending the money right now.

As is, even when I do get it to firm-up properly, it is still VERY soft-serve. Like slushy texture more than soft-serve ice cream. That makes me think that maybe the ice cream maker has something to do with it. I did read something somewhere online recently that said that the Cuisinarts get the ice cream firmer than some of the other models, so I was hopeful.

Any thoughts, anyone?

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  1. We have three kinds of ice cream makers, the kind that uses ice and salt, the kind where the bowl is put in the freezer for at least 24 hours, and an ice cream maker that has it's own compressor.

    My guess is that your bowl that is put into the freezer never really gets cold enough. The freezer should get as cold as 0°. The finished ice cream ahould firm up in the freezer. The first thing you should do is to get a thermometer and check to see how cold your freezer is when you have it set to the coldest setting.

    1. The ones with the freezer unit built-in to the machine will get the ice cream firmer than the canister types. But you're not supposed to get firm ice cream in an ice cream maker anyway. It's supposed to be soft serve.

      If you were really into it, the better investment would be to get a blast chiller. Ice crystal formation comes primarily during the time between when the ice cream is done in the ice cream maker, and when it gets properly hardened in the freezer. The best way to minimize ice crystals is to put the ice cream first into a very low temp freezer for 48 hours, then to transfer it into a regular freezer to temper and soften. But - that is a lot of extra effort and expense.

      Ingredients also affect the firmness of the ice cream. If you add alcohol it will alway be less firm, for example.

      1. Honestly, I think the frozen bowl ice cream makers are inferior to the ice and water ones. I have a chest freezer that maintains 0 degrees. I have the Cuisinart ice cream maker. I've found that the cast iron dasher and stainless steel bowl in my White Mountain ice and water ice cream maker makes better quality ice cream and freezes it firmer. I just don't think the plastic dasher and bowl lining of the Cuisinart conducts the cold as well.

        4 Replies
          1. re: Cam14

            yes, I don't know what I was thinking typing ice and water lol.

          2. re: rasputina

            Was interested in looking up the White Mountain model you have till I read the reviews and saw consistently poor remarks about it- new company purchased it- not gonna do it- maybe the hand crank version but no way motorized.

            I have the best results same day- at -5 degrees using my high end Sub Zero freezer- I put the base in a ziplock bag. Then put ice and water and salt in a steel bowl - chill down the bag in the bowl and pop it right into the Cuisinart-chill a few hrs in the freezer in a plastic quart tub and perfection. I eat the stuff off the side after scraping the tub into the container which is so cold it reminds me of dippin dots :)

            1. re: rasputina

              I, too, have a White Mountain churn. I have used them for over 30 years, and they make better ice cream than the small freezer tub or self refrigerating units IMHO. I've tried them all, and always come back to my trusty rock salt and ice unit. Besides, when I want to make a lot of ice cream for a party, I can make 6 quarts at a time. Chilling the can ahead of time helps, but the ratio of ice and salt plus temperature where you're churning determines the size of the ice crystals, plus the amount of fat in your dairy product determines the creaminess. Transferring the ice cream from the can to 2-qt plastic containers in the freezer for a few hours helps with the tempering and solidifying.

            2. I have both the bowl-style (Cuisinart) and the compressor style (Secura) icecream makers. My freezer never got cold enough for the Cuisinart's bowls and they took up a lot of room. It was a huge pain. So I got rid of it. I think the Cuisinart is probably one of the best of that style. The one time I was able to stash the bowl's in a friend's freezer (bottom freezer, much colder than mine) the icecream did set up beautifully. But that doesn't do me much good unless I always go over to my friend's house when I want ice cream. So unless you're also going to be able to get a separate good freezer, I don't think getting a Cuisinart is going to help you enough to make it worth the extra $$

              The compressor style suits me personally. It still sets up soft-serve level but still at least scoopably firm. I really like that I can do as many batches and flavors as I want without having to deal with re-freezing the bowls. And because I sometimes experiment with different non-dairy bases, it's nice that I can make just small 1 cup or less batches.

              But given your limited fridge space, it sounds like the ice and salt kind may be best for you. They seem generally cheaper than the Cuisinart and freeze more reliably and you can make ice cream as soon as you pick up a bag of ice.

              1 Reply
              1. re: greymalkin

                I don't think the compressor ice cream maker will be of much help, or the old-fashioned ice and salt ice cream maker until there is a freezer that is cold enough to solidify the ice cream.

                In my area, a 5.5 cubic feet chest freezer, about the size of half a desk, is available for about $175. That's too much just for ice cream, but a good size for an apartment.

              2. I recently got the ice cream set-up for my Kitchen Aid mixer, and I'm loving it. Freeze the bowl for 24 hrs, chill the "batter" overnight, then churn in the freezer bowl. You can eat it right away for (very) soft serve, but I pour it into a shallow dish in the 0 degree freezer for a few hours. Then I scrap the now-hardened ice cream into a much smaller bowl, press plastic wrap directly on top, then clamp on a very snug lid. It keeps well (no ice crystals) and is quite firm.

                2 Replies
                1. re: pine time

                  That is exactly what the OP is complaining about, very soft soft serve. At least we now know the KA version isn't any better.

                  1. re: rasputina

                    It's only soft serve if you want to eat it right from the churn. I was trying to emphasize (guess I didn't emphasize enough) that it's quite firm when you freeze it in a shallow pan and then store it in a tightly sealed container.
                    (ETA: in fact, so hard from the freezer that I had to micro the container to scoop a bowlful.)