Product: Hamilton Beach Half Pint Soft-Serve Ice Cream Maker
Ok, so it's like Africa hot out there. You could keep giving the Mister Softee driver money for a soft serve, or you could make your own -- with organic ingredients and none of the gnarly chemicals found in the real deal. I recently did just that and boy am I stoked, but dang it if it makes it way too easy to eat ice cream for lunch. Every. Day.
When my partner and I initially started looking at ice cream makers I wanted something diminutive in size. Not only to help with portion control (ahem) but because, frankly, I already have a ton of small appliances crowding my kitchen cabinets. This Hamilton Beach model not only fulfilled both requests, it satisfied a need I didn't even think of -- minimum cleaning. The bowl your ice cream is made in is designed to also act as the bowl you eat out of (unless, you know, you're taking adorable photos of your ice cream!) And with two bowls included, you can easily make one flavor for yourself and another for a friend.
How it works: By placing the included bowls in the freezer overnight, you freeze the liquid sandwiched within the wall of the bowl's case. This acts as rock salt would in a traditional ice cream maker, freezing the bowl and then the contents within that bowl as it's churned. Rather than manually cranking your concoction as it freezes, this model includes a lid with a built-in electric churner. Just secure it over the bowl, hit the power button, and watch the plastic mixing paddle churn your sweet cream. Within six to 12 minutes your ice cream is ready to eat.
Consistency varies depending on the ingredients you use, but what you get is truly a soft serve. You'll never get a hardened ice cream as you would with store bought frozen desserts. While this is crazy easy to use, it's almost too basic. Or maybe it's that the instruction manual that came with it is too basic. There were a few questions I had along the way that I couldn't find any info on in the included booklet. One of which was, what do you do if it seems like the churning blade is stuck. There were a few instances when the cream within the bowl hardened a tad too much towards the bottom and the churner struggled to make a full rotation. In this case the blade worked back and forth, shimmying it's way to breaking up the consistency. My partner freaked, wanting to pull off the top and work it out by hand, while I thought it was obvious the blade knew it was stuck and was acting accordingly. Nowhere in the instructions does it mention what to do in this case.
Instructions were also lacking when it came to what consistency you should be looking for, and since there's no auto shut off, you could in theory churn and churn and not know if you should be churning some more. Hamilton Beach says that if you're ice cream isn't made by the 15 minute marker your ingredients and bowls just weren't cold enough, but that's a bit vague for newbie ice cream entrepreneurs like ourselves.
Cleaning is relatively easy as you can dismantle the top so the motor is removed and all other parts can be soaked and washed. Since the bowls can be stacked on top of each other (and the packaging is relatively unobtrusive) you can place everything back in the box and tuck it into your cabinet for easy storage.
Cons: The instructions are sparse and a lack of an auto shutoff makes things even more vague.
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Images: Sonia Zjawinski