While most ice cream makers produce a final product the consistency of soft serve, some consumers want the experience of dispensing their own soft-serve ice cream cones. For this purpose, a number of models are now on the market. These tall ice cream makers look a lot like commercial soft-serve machines, with built-in containers for sprinkles and other mix-ins, cone holders and metal pull-down levers for dispensing ice cream. Commercial soft-serve makers work much like a freezer, with coils, a compressor and gases that cool the canister holding the ice cream mix, ultimately turning it into ice cream.
Soft-serve machines for household use, on the other hand, come with gel canisters that must be pre-frozen for at least 12 hours at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Many home freezers don't get this cold, and even if consumers accurately follow the freezing instructions, the resulting ice cream may be runny. Several owners say that they pre-froze the canister far longer than 12 hours, but the ice cream never set up. What's more, these machines typically have a lot of nooks and crannies to clean. Still, many consumers get a kick out of making their own soft-serve cones at home, and these machines are easy to use.
One noteworthy product, the Cuisinart ICE-45 Mix It In Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker (*Est. $100) receives mixed reviews at Amazon.com. Nearly half the owners who've posted reviews say that the ice cream came out soupy. A number of owners say the unit, which produces 1.5 quarts, is too tall to fit underneath their kitchen cabinets and too bulky to store easily. Even owners who used this machine successfully say it needs to run longer than the recommended 12 to 15 minutes to whip ice cream to the soft-serve stage; the canisters must be completely frozen (by storing in a deep freezer or at the back of the freezer, often longer than the recommended 12 hours); and even the mix should be frozen before use to achieve the best results.
On the other hand, there are a good number of owners who say the Cuisinart ICE-45 soft-serve machine is a lot of fun and easy to use and clean. It offers a variety of features, including three built-in condiment dispensers that store M&Ms, crushed cookies, sprinkles or other add-ins, but some consumers are quick to point out that the term "mix-it-in" is inaccurate. Rather than blending the condiments into the ice cream, these are merely topping dispensers; the ingredients aren't actually incorporated into the ice cream. It also includes a cone holder that can accommodate both flat-bottomed and pointed-bottomed ice cream cones. If you have a place to store this tall machine, and you don't mind taking the extra time to freeze the canister adequately, this soft-serve maker can provide a lot of amusement (kids seem to love it).
Owners report many of the same problems with the Deni 5530 Automatic Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker (*Est. $50); no matter how long owners keep the gel canister in the freezer, the ingredients never thicken enough to be called ice cream. More than three-quarters of the owners posting reviews to Amazon.com report disappointment with this machine. There are a few owners who report achieving the perfect soft-serve consistency (even on the first try), and they say the trick is to freeze the canister in the back of a deep freezer for at least 24 hours. The Deni 5530 has been replaced by the Deni Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker 5540 (*Est. $50), which collapses for easier storage with the pull of a lever and also features a cone holder. Otherwise, the two are nearly identical. Unfortunately, we weren't able to locate many reviews of the newer Deni 5540, but a handful of owners posting to Amazon.com report similar problems with ice cream consistency.