MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Well, if your July Fourth plans don't take you to Europe, you could well be tucking into down home burgers and hot dogs, maybe even a nice bowl of ice cream. There's the cheap supermarket variety and a growing range of gourmet brands. But if you really want the best, the freshest ice cream, writer Stephen Metcalf says you need to make it yourself, and to help he's written a shopper's guide to ice cream makers for our partners at the online magazine Slate.
Mr. STEPHEN METCALF (Writer): Ice cream is a frozen food by definition and so I was interested to see could you improve upon the product by making it fresh? What would the difference be between your own fresh ice cream that is going to be just as frozen as what you pull out of the bin in the supermarket? I also wanted to make sort of exotic flavors, experiment in ways that, you know, Ben & Jerry's might not be able to satisfy.
BRAND: Now all ice cream, you say, starts with a simple base, cream, milk, sugar and usually some eggs. So why is it so hard to make good ice cream?
Mr. METCALF: You know, the analogy that I came up with fairly early on and that surprised me was to golf, the golf swing. You can do certain things to get the flavor exactly right. You can do certain things to get the texture exactly right. But to get a creamy, flavorful ice cream is actually--it's like hitting a drive right down the center of the fairway. You've got to align several different things perfectly or else you're going to get something sort of flavorless or with a funny texture, a little icy to the bite and it won't live up, in fact, to what you've bought at the supermarket.
BRAND: So you write about various ice cream machines and you write which ones will help you hit that sweet spot, so to speak. Let's go down the list. You start with the worst first.
Mr. METCALF: The range in prices was from about $30 to $600. So it's not entirely fair to pick on the worst one, but I did it anyways, basically. The cheapest one is the Rival Treat Shoppe electric ice cream maker for about $30 off of Amazon. And, basically, there are two kinds of ice cream machines. There's a less expensive kind that has a gel canister that you freeze--you put in your freezer overnight until it's rock hard, until it's very cold, as cold as you can get it. And then you attach that to some sort of motor that spins a paddle around the interior of it and that paddle scrapes the batter off the sides, freezing it and aerating it. And those are the relatively inexpensive kind. The more expensive kind is one with a built-in freezer or a compressor of its own, and those are bulky and cost a lot more. The Rival is the cheapest of the canister ones that I attempted to use and it's--it makes an adequate ice cream but nothing fancy. And as making good ice cream is somewhat labor intensive, I think you want to go slightly more upmarket if you buy a machine.
BRAND: So the more expensive an ice cream maker, the better the ice cream. But how much money really--I mean, where is the cost benefit analysis, where does that lie?
Mr. METCALF: For some reason I became mildly demented in my pursuit of the perfect ice cream and so I ended up personally purchasing the $600 machine, and basically...
BRAND: Six hundred dollars?
Mr. METCALF: Yeah, no--it's so true. My God, please, don't tell my wife. But...
BRAND: That's a lot of Ben & Jerry's pints.
Mr. METCALF: Yeah, no, that's true. I mean, maybe over the long-term it pays for itself. I don't know. I haven't modeled it out. You know, I haven't put it on a spreadsheet. But in essence you get what you pay for. You are not going to make a delicious and supremely gourmet ice cream unless you get a machine that has a built-in compressor and those are--the price point there, the least expensive of those is around $200.
BRAND: So how much weight did you gain trying out all these ice cream makers?
Mr. METCALF: You know, I'll give it somewhere in the range of six to eight pounds. I've shunned scales completely for the those months and now I'm shedding it as quickly as I can. So...
BRAND: Slate critic Stephen Metcalf rates ice cream makers for our partner online magazine Slate.com. Thanks, Stephen.
Mr. METCALF: Thanks a lot, Madeleine.
BRAND: And you can find Stephen's detailed comparison of ice cream makers, including one that actually uses ice and rock salt, at Slate.com.
DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News and Slate.com I'm Madeleine Brand.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.