The Insider: Get in the mix with these great ice-cream makers

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The Independent Online

A quick glance at the ingredients of some supermarket ice-creams can make them sound less than appetising – extracts of Irish moss seaweed (carageenan), ground-up locust beans and corn syrup are just three of the ingredients added to commercial products to improve their taste and shelf life. There is an alternative way to indulge though, by investing in your own ice-cream maker.

"The big advantage of making ice-cream yourself is that you know exactly what ingredients have gone into it," says Martyn Hocking, editor of Which?. "It may cost a little more than buying at the supermarket, because you'll need to buy fresh ingredients – which might include expensive items like vanilla pods – but you'll know it's fresh and you'll be able to experiment with different flavours."

It is possible to make ice-cream by hand, but a good ice-cream maker will help you get a more consistent texture as well as removing a lot of the hard work. On top of traditional ices, you can use it to make sorbet, granita (a slushy dessert) and frozen yogurt.

More basic ice-cream makers use a bowl that is pre-frozen for around 12 to 24 hours, which then cools your ice-cream mixture as it is stirred. This type of machine usually costs less than £50, and doesn't require much electricity because it simply runs the mixing "paddle" that churns the ice-cream. The downside is that you need to plan ahead to pre-freeze the bowl and make sure that you have space in your freezer for it.

The more expensive option is an ice-cream maker with a built-in freezer, which freezes both the bowl and the mixture as it churns. These models usually cost between £200 and £300, and use more electricity – about the equivalent of running a bright light bulb for an hour for each batch of ice-cream you make, although you can cut energy costs by pre-chilling the mix. They are more convenient to use as they don't require pre-freezing, but the in-bowl freezing time can be slightly longer.

The Simac Il Gelataio GC 5000, above right, is massive in size and, at £200, is priced for serious ice-cream addicts. But the taste, texture and appearance of the ice-cream produced wowed Which?'s testers who gave it a "Best Buy" rating. Unusually, the ice-cream is created in a sealed chamber and, to reduce spillage, you can pour in the mixture before fitting the lid.

Narrowly missing out on Best Buy status – but more affordable – is the The Kenwood IM250 (£27), pictured left, which makes good ice-cream, but is less easy to use and clean than some other models tested by Which?. It comes with a recipe book with 22 exotic recipes, such as Black Forest Alaska, parfaits and fruity granitas.

Where to buy

Ice-cream makers are easier to track down in summer or around Christmas, so you might not find a wide number of models to choose from at other times of year. Supermarket and catalogue stores usually offer a limited range of cheaper ice-cream makers, and the main department stores typically stock the best-selling models, which can be a bit more expensive. You should also be able to find a wider range of makers online.

Questions to ask...

What's the capacity?

This can vary from about 720ml to 2 litres, with most models making around 1 to 1.5 litres. Many also have a minimum amount of mixture that you should make in them.

How much storage space will it need?

There can be big differences in size, with some being similar to a jug kettle and others more like the size of a dinner plate – or even bigger. Check that your storage space and freezer can accommodate the model you choose.

How easy is it to use?

Look for a large dosing hole in the lid (making it easier to pour in the ice-cream mix) and handles on removable bowls, which make them easier to use without freezing your fingers.

How will I know when the ice-cream is ready?

Most makers have a viewing window so you can watch the transformation occurring. After about 30-40 minutes, you should have creamy, soft ice-cream – it's ready when the paddle stops or struggles to turn as the ice-cream thickens.

The Insider is written by Which?, the independent consumer champion. For more information go to www.which.co.uk/icecreammakers. To get three issues of Which? magazine for a special price of £3, call 01992 822800 and quote INADVICE.

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