Ice cream buying guide

Commercial ice cream maker buying guide

Ice cream making with the right equipment can be a straightforward and very rewarding process. It is perfectly possible to produce ice cream manually, just by using a bowl, whisk, ordinary freezer and a thermometer to check the temperature of the mixture as you work, but the process is labour intensive and quite tying as you have to keep returning to the freezer to rigorously stir the mixture every few minutes, to prevent ice crystal build up.

An automatic ice cream maker can really save you some time, allowing you to produce more ice cream, sorbet or frozen yoghurt without having to monitor each mixture constantly. This is fairly essential if you need to produce a range of flavours for sale on a regular basis. In general an automatic ice cream machine will get more consistent results - machines are better at simultaneously freezing while mixing, allowing proper aeration of the mix and avoiding ice crystals.

There are several types of ice cream maker on the market, which automate the process to a greater or lesser degree. The type of machine you buy should be determined by how frequently you need to mix up a batch of ice cream, how quickly you want each batch to be ready, and how concerned you are with the finished mix texture. There are also other considerations such as whether you want a countertop ice cream maker or one that is placed inside an existing freezer. The main types are:

  • Pre-freeze bowl models - inexpensive, produce ice cream quickly, but need to wait for up to 24 hours between uses for the bowl to freeze.
  • Ice and salt models - inexpensive, produce ice cream quickly, but need to fill and empty ice and salt with each use.
  • In-freezer machines - slower, and requires a power cord to be fed inside a freezer.
  • Built in freezer unit - simple to use, fast results and no time wasted between batches, generally very consistent and with variable settings for different types of ice cream, but more expensive.

Pre-freeze bowl models, such as the Magimix L135 Le Glacier, use an electric motor, or may be "hand-cranked", to stir the ice cream mixture and prevent ice crystal build up, while a specially constructed freezing bowl reduces the temperature gradually until the mix freezes as smooth ice cream. The freezing bowl is usually double-skinned, and filled with a solution that has a low freezing point (and therefore very low temperature when it comes out of the freezer). Because the ice cream mixture is being frozen by direct contact with an element (the frozen bowl) the ice cream will get down to temperature quickly.

The disadvantage of a pre-freeze bowl model is that you need to plan in advance and put the bowl into the freezer anywhere up to 24 hours prior to making the ice cream, and once you have used it it needs to be re-frozen. Sometimes the mixture also needs to be frozen for a little longer after churning, if you want a really firm consistency. That all said, if you only make a batch of ice cream infrequently, these relative inexpensive machines could be a good option for your catering business.

Ice and salt filled machines are made up of an outer bowl full of salted ice, and an inner mixing bowl. The salt on the ice reduces its freezing point, and as the ice melts it absorbs heat from the ice cream mixture, which freezes the ice cream. Again, this type of simple ice machine is generally inexpensive, and you don't have to wait for the bowl to reach the right temperature in a deep freezer, providing you have a ready supply of ice and salt of course. Generally, these types of machines are also fitted with a counter rotating scraper that removes the frozen ice cream from the edges of the bowl, and this constant motion can create really lovely thick ice cream.

The downside to ice cream machines of this kind is the inconvenience and possible mess of loading ice and salt, and then emptying salty water, with each batch.

In-freezer cooling ice cream machines work by simply churning the mixture while placed inside an existing freezer. Generally, we don't advise these for use within a commercial setting as although the make perfectly good ice cream, they do not operate particularly quickly (the ice cream mix temperature is reduced by ambient temperature rather than contact with a freezing element like a pre-frozen bowl), and they usually also require a power lead to be fed into the freezer through one of the door seals, which can be awkward or even unsafe in a busy commercial kitchen.

Finally, there are more costly professional models with built in electric cooling systems that both mix and freeze ice cream, sorbet or yoghurt mixtures. It's easy to see why these are the most popular options for commercial production of ice cream, as there is no waiting for a pre-frozen bowl to get to temperature, nor is there much hassle in cleaning up the machine afterwards. It is possible to create batch after batch in sequence, and machines of this type can have a larger capacity than other types and still be effective. Some machines even have different mix and temperature settings depending on the desired ice cream texture.

Catering Appliance Superstore stock a range of ice cream makers of this type, such as the Buffalo DM067 with variable temperature settings to handle different mixtures and even sorbet or frozen yoghurt, or the Robot Coupe Stella.