Affordable, nice to look at on the counter, and makes a lot of ice cream for its size. The wide spout is great for mix-ins.
Unless you start with a rich, high-fat base, the results will be icy.
For less than $60 this makes pretty good custard-style ice cream. If you’re a sorbet fan, though, keep walking.
Home ice cream makers are tricky. Unless you drop a bunch of cash ($100 is just the beginning), that mint chocolate chip you make from scratch is going to be anywhere from somewhat to very icy. Without a powerful motor, and a paddle that keeps the ice cream base in the kind of constant motion that prevents large ice crystals from forming, a home machine just can’t yield results as creamy-smooth as the gelato and super-premium ice cream from artisan shops, restaurants, and even the grocery store. For buyers at the low to middle price scale, the trick is to get a machine that does the best job possible for the money, and then to know what kind of frozen treats that machine's going to do the best job with.
The ICE-21 Frozen Yogurt – Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker has the kind of quality looks we expect from Cuisinart, despite the affordable price. The base comes in three colors: the red you see here, white, and turquoise, with double-insulated freezer bowls to match. The bowl is filled with liquid refrigerant—according to Cuisinart, you need to freeze it for at least 16 hours before use, so unless you store it permanently in the freezer, advance planning is essential. (For our testing, we just froze the bowl overnight, which seemed sufficient.) The ICE-21 has a 1-1/2-quart capacity, which is pretty good for a machine with a relatively compact footprint (the base measures a little over 9 inches square), and the base includes a stuff box for the cord.
The mixing paddle has 1-1/4-inch blades of BPA-free plastic that scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. The paddle’s designed to leave the center of the bowl unobstructed, so it’s easy to add mix-ins through the 3-inch-diameter spout at the top of the clear plastic lid. The lid locks to the base via short pegs that twist into shallow slots. There’s a three-year warranty against manufacturer defects. And the machine comes with a 28-recipe booklet spanning sorbets, ice creams, frozen yogurt, sauces, and things like ice cream sandwich cookies.
To see how the ICE-21 performed with a range of frozen desserts, we tested three basic recipe types (all from the Cuisinart booklet). We froze a coconut sorbet (coconut milk and simple syrup) with a toasted-coconut mix-in; a standard vanilla ice cream (just milk, cream, and sugar); and a custard-style vanilla ice cream (milk, cream, egg yolks, and sugar) with a chocolate chip mix-in. All three took 15 to 20 minutes to churn to a soft-serve consistency.
One thing to note: All freshly churned ice creams have the consistency of soft-serve. If you want a firmer, more scoop-friendly texture, you have to “cure” your ice cream—i.e., let it harden in the freezer for at least two hours. For our tests, we tasted the ice cream as soon as it was done, then tried it again after hardening in the freezer overnight.
Coconut sorbet: This was the least successful of our tests. The ICE-21’s motor isn’t particularly powerful, so the lack of rotations combined with the design of the paddle yielded a noticeably grainy, icy texture (see photos above).
Standard vanilla ice cream: Like the sorbet, the relative lack of fat in the ice cream mix couldn’t make up for the ICE-21’s weaknesses. Some people actually prefer an icy texture (it can seem refreshing on a hot day), but we didn’t love the results with this standard mix.
Custard-style vanilla ice cream: Finally, the texture we were looking for—creamy, smooth, and relatively silky. Clearly, this is the type of mix to freeze in the ICE-21: rich enough to overcome the machine’s tendency to yield an ice cream shot through with tiny ice crystals. If you plan to make egg yolk–based ice creams with a good amount of butterfat, you should be perfectly happy with this machine—especially for the price.
Photos by Chris Rochelle