Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ridiculously Easy Ice Cream, All The Flavors, All The Fuss: Cuisinart ICE-20

The Good: Easy to operate, Good directions/recipes
The Bad: Pain in the butt to clean
The Basics: Despite its flaws with noise and cleaning up, the ICE-20 does exactly what it promises and is a sturdy, reliable, wonderful ice cream maker.

As time passes, the truly great gifts rise to the top and the, well, less great gifts, get pushed aside. I mean, we all have that c.d. or DVD given to us by a loved one that now collects dust somewhere. How is that copy of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations (check out my review by clicking here)? Better yet, where is that mix tape your best friend gave you five years ago? After my divorce, I realized there were very few gifts I would be keeping. The primary one I have enjoyed is the Cuisinart ICE-20 Automatic 1.5 Quart Frozen Yogurt/Sherbet/Ice Cream Maker. This is one of those gifts that seems like I would have stopped using years ago, but it's retained my interest, mostly because the results are avidly consumed by friends, comrades and enemies alike.

The Cuisinart ICE-20 is a wonderful little ice cream maker that allows the user to make whatever ice cream they could ever want with about twice the expense and effort of buying prepackaged ice cream. When you accept, however, that your love of Chocolate Coconut Malted Milk Ball Ice Cream will forever go unanswered by Perry's, this becomes a much better idea and investment. This allows the user to make virtually any ice cream, frozen yogurt, or sherbet one may conceive and the operating manual is helpful enough to get the user started with a few very basic directions.

The ICE-20 is a pretty standard Cuisinart ice cream maker with a white plastic shell designed to accent kitchens that are white or neutral.

Making your own ice cream using the ICE-20 is fairly easy, as the main ingredients are heavy cream, milk, sugar and extract (whatever flavor extract you want!). Recipes become more and more complicated from there, but the average cost of those four ingredients - which will yield approximately 2 batches (3 quarts) of ice cream - will equal the price of four half gallons of brand name ice cream, when it's on sale. Yes, it's a disheartening thought to those who start out thinking "Making our own ice cream will save us so much money!" Let me tell you, it won't!

The Cuisinart ICE-20, then, is for people who don't like the flavors that exist in the world, people who loathe the preservatives used in commercially available ice cream, and/or people who love to cook to such an extent that they simply must make everything from scratch. It's not a time saver, not a money saver and at over a foot and a half high, certainly not a space saver. This bulky, white plastic monstrosity is one of the bright white eyesores in my otherwise stainless steel and black kitchen.

Then why do I love the ICE-20 so much? Well, Egg Nog ice cream is not available after New Year's, though I can make it year round with the ICE-20. It's all about control and enjoying the finer things in life . . . when I can afford to.

The ICE-20 comes in four parts: the base, the freezer bowl, the clear dome and the agitator. The base is an easy to clean bottom that somewhat resembles a blender base. The other parts set atop it and make the ice cream. The base is a glossy white plastic that is very easy to clean. On the back of the unit is the 3 ft. electrical cord, the front has the simple flip switch that activates the motor inside and the top of the base has the simple notched wheel that turns when the motor is on. The base is surprisingly durable, not terribly heavy and easy to store.

Without simply repeating the directions on how to make ice cream using the ICE-20 (it's in the manual when you purchase this device!), the freezer bowl is set atop the base moments before the mixed liquid ingredients are poured into it. This is pretty much idiot proof as the freezer bowl can only be set on the base in one fashion, as the bottom of the freezer bowl is indented to take the notched wheel. The agitator is placed in the freezer bowl, the clear dome is twisted on (this prevents the agitator from moving) and the power is turned on. The freezer bowl turns, the agitator remains stationary and when one pours the mixed liquid ingredients in, half an hour later you have ice cream.

Poof! It's magic. Basically, the freezer bowl is frozen overnight at first and then it's good to go every eight hours as long as when it is done being used it is tossed back in the freezer. The bowl moves the mix, the agitator resists it and this gives the ice cream its texture and volume.

It's hard to say how the Cuisinart ICE-20 works. It's one of those things that if you screw up the ice cream, odds are it wasn't the fault of the device. This device is simple, easy and generally efficient. You assemble it and flip a switch. If it's improperly assembled, it will fall apart (literally) or make ghastly noises. The worst I've ever done is failed to align the agitator with the clear plastic dome and then the unit would not even close right. This is a remarkably well designed product for ease of assembly and efficiency of purpose.

I've been using my ICE-20 for six years now and the motor has never even balked at how much I've used this.

Which brings me to the thing that this unit can be faulted for. Cleanup. The base and the clear plastic dome are easy to clean up. Simply wipe them off with a damp cloth. The other two parts are not so nice.

The agitator is a hard plastic device that has several sharp corners that have nooks and crannies that virtually anything may get stuck in if you're making complicated ice cream flavors. It's hard to clean cookie pieces, gummy bears and even strawberry seeds out of the parts of the agitator in no small part because of the fear of breakage. This piece has held up for me for four years and I'm not sure how. It's a plastic ring connected to basically two plastic blades that then are connected at the bottom with a bar. Were this to break anywhere, this piece would be worthless and the machine would not function. My paranoia when it comes to trying to make sure this is clean (after all, who wants raspberry seeds mucking up their chocolate mint gummy bear delight?) without breaking it has resulted more than once in me throwing it in my dishwasher. Because my dishwasher is exceptional at actually cleaning things, this works out better than hand cleaning sometimes.

The real thorn is the freezer bowl. On a good day, I can make three batches of ice cream: one when I first awaken, one eight hours later, one right before bed. The Cuisinart ICE-20 is fine with that, it handles the pressure no matter when I'm making ice cream. In order to keep up the rigorous ice cream schedule, I need to keep the freezer bowl frozen whenever it is not in use. This means clean up has to be fast.

The problem with trying to clean up something that is freezing is that it has to be done very quickly, lest water freeze in the freezer bowl. The rub is, it also has to be dry. Now, I hear you crying, why not use real hot water and a real dry towel? This is a precise operation, when one attempts to clean this device because, yes indeed this is how to clean the freezer bowl. However, if the water is not hot enough, it freezes to the bowl and you have to start again. If you're too slow with the towel (or it gets damp because you had to start again) you end up with frozen pieces of towel stuck to the inside of the bowl. Usually, it takes me three passes to get this fully clean and completely dry. Usually, this means I can hear the bowl's frozen innards thawing some and sloshing around.


Also, if you're into quiet, buy your own ice cream. The ICE-20 is a device that screams "I'm here! I'm making ice cream!" when it's on. Well, not literally, but the motor is loud and there's no way to keep it quiet when this is in use.

If you accept those things, this is a great device.

The other thing you'll need to accept should you chose to purchase this is that you'll also need to invest in some good plastic storage containers and a grease pencil (the grease pencil is to write the flavors on the containers with). Making the ice cream is great, but it definitely helps to have somewhere to put it when you're done. It takes less than half an hour to set after the ICE-20 is done with it.

In short, this is a fun little gourmet toy, but it's not a terribly practical device. Because, no matter how much I love Butter Rum Cookies And Cream With A Marshmallow Swirl, even I have to admit that's less practical and more of an indulgence.

For other kitchen appliances, please check out my reviews of:
Samsung Stainless Steel microwave
Hamilton Beach 727 Milkshake maker
Kidde 2 3/4lb. fire extinguisher


For other home and garden reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2008, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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