Currently, the most popular ice cream makers are electric countertop appliances. These models (which typically cost under $100) rely on a gel-filled canister, which must be completely frozen prior to ice cream creation. The canisters on these products can best be described as insulated freezer bowls (they work very much like reusable ice packs). The canister's walls are hollow and filled with a gel that solidifies in the freezer. Once the canister is frozen, it's placed back into the ice cream maker base unit to provide the cold temperatures needed to turn liquid ingredients into ice cream. Upon pouring the ingredients into the canister, users often notice that ice cream immediately begins forming on the canister's frozen sides. A dasher, or paddle, scrapes the sides as the canister rotates, churning the ingredients to make ice cream.
As with most home cream makers, resulting ice cream often has the consistency of soft-serve. Leaving the finished ice cream in the freezer for several hours -- or, preferably, overnight -- will firm up the ice cream, solidifying it to the harder texture. Additionally, most gel-canister ice cream machines employ loud motors and only come with one canister for ice cream creation. Consumers who want to churn one batch after another will have to buy multiple accessory canisters. Lastly, the whole process requires some planning. Unless consumers have enough freezer space to store a canister all the time, they have to plan ahead, placing the canister in their freezer the day before they want ice cream so it has ample time to freeze before use.
One of Cuisinart's most popular ice cream makers, the Cuisinart ICE-20, has been replaced by the Cuisinart ICE-21 Ice Cream, Frozen Yogurt & Sorbet Maker (*Est. $60). Unfortunately, most of the professional reviews we found recommend the old ICE-20 model, but we found useful articles on SeriousEats.com and TheKitchn.com outlining the ICE-21's improvements, primarily its redesigned paddle that mixes ingredients more efficiently, resulting in faster performance. Indeed, both reviewers say the Cuisinart ICE-21 whips up 1.5 quarts of ice cream in 15 to 20 minutes, confirming Cuisinart's claim that the newer ICE-21 ice cream maker is 25 percent faster. SeriousEats.com reviewer Nikki Goldstein says this unit also now features an easy-pour spout in the transparent lid, so adding ingredients (and premature taste testing) is easier. One caveat: The electrical cord is short, causing hassles even on small countertops.
The Cuisinart ICE-21 ice cream maker has received more than 160 user reviews on Amazon.com (maintaining an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5) and more than 35 reviews on Viewpoints.com (with the same average rating). Owners posting to both sites concur that the Cuisinart ICE-21 is easy to use, and the gel canister's non-stick walls make cleanup a breeze. Consumers also say the ICE-21 ice cream maker isn't that loud during operation. The only common downside mentioned is that users should be cautious not to overfill the machine with ice cream mix; otherwise, an overflow as it freezes can be quite messy. Cuisinart sells extra freezer bowls (*Est. $30) for making multiple batches.
A larger version, the Cuisinart ICE-30BC (*Est. $80), makes 2 quarts of ice cream, but reviewers say it's noisier than the smaller version. In fact, one professional cooking magazine calls the noise "ear-piercing." Despite this, owner opinions are overwhelmingly positive. We found hundreds of owner-written reviews between Amazon.com, Viewpoints.com, Cooking.com and Epinions.com; overall, more than 800 owners contribute to an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 or better on each site. Most owners praise the ICE-30BC for its ability to create a variety of frozen treats, such as sorbet and custard, but a few note problems with consistency, saying the finished ice cream needs further freezing. Some note that the gel canister must be frozen for a full 24 hours prior to use, but the ICE-30BC does make a batch of ice cream in 20 to 30 minutes. Owners say that the machine's brushed stainless-steel housing looks sleek, and the unit is both easy to use and easy to clean.
If you own a KitchenAid stand mixer, you might be interested in the KitchenAid KICA0WH Ice Cream Maker Attachment (*Est. $80). The attachment includes a gel-lined freezer bowl, a plastic dasher and an adapter ring. It's capable of producing 2 quarts of ice cream in 15 to 18 minutes. Slate.com testers found it easy to make an ice cream base in a mixer and say that you can whip more air into the base by adjusting the mixer's speed, resulting in fluffier ice cream, although they find the price for a plastic bowl and dasher "absurdly high." Good Housekeeping editors also concur in their review, saying this attachment is easy to use and creates delicious ice cream. The freezer bowl must be frozen for at least 15 hours and ice cream ingredients completely chilled before use; still, the bowl doesn't remain frozen long enough to make consecutive batches. Unlike other gel-canister ice cream makers, KitchenAid freezer bowls aren't sold individually. It's not practical to buy a second entire package for an extra bowl, so consumers will be waiting at least 15 hours (time needed to re-freeze the canister) between batches.
We found more than 500 mostly glowing Amazon.com user reviews of this KitchenAid ice-cream attachment, nearly 165 on Cooking.com and an additional 50 on Viewpoints.com. It has an average rating of about 4.5 stars out of 5 on all sites. Owners appreciate not having to store a separate appliance, and many note that this attachment is sturdy and durable; a few owners report having used this unit for four years or more with no problems. Owners say the KitchenAid KICA0WH creates a soft-serve consistency ice cream, which many users say they enjoy. However, as always, further freezing for a few hours will produce harder ice cream. Detractors are usually upset that this attachment didn't fit their specific model of KitchenAid mixer, so be careful to check that before you buy. There are also a few complaints that gel leaks from the freezer bowl over time.
The simple Donvier Ice Cream Maker (*Est. $60) makes just 1 quart of ice cream. It's the only gel-canister model we found in the reviews we consulted that uses a hand crank. To use it, freeze the canister for about seven hours before use, and turn the hand crank occasionally over a period of 15 to 20 minutes. RachaelRayMag.com praises the Donvier for its quiet operation and non-dependence on electricity, but point out that it lacks an opening for adding ingredients during mixing. The Donvier's design resembles a coffee mug with the hand crank visible on top of a transparent lid (for monitoring progress), and it's easy for kids to use.
Canadian television-show hosts Anna Wallner and Kristina Matisic say the Donvier ice cream maker produced the smoothest and best-tasting strawberry gelato among three ice cream makers in their review, even though the other models were electric. About 70 owners posting reviews of the Donvier Ice Cream Maker to Amazon.com and Cooking.com contribute to an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5. Owners appreciate the Donvier's simplicity and quiet operation, and they say it's easy to clean and doesn't create a mess during use. One owner points out that the hand crank allows control over how much the ice cream is aerated (for personal texture preference), and it's easy to invent your own ice cream flavors by adding any ingredients you choose.