We purchased the Nostalgia 4-Quart Electric Ice Cream Maker so our reviewer could put it to the test in her kitchen. Keep reading for our full product review.
Making smooth creamy frozen desserts at home is all about balance. You’ll need a good recipe, a great machine, and a can-do attitude before you get to scoop a dollop of vanilla on that apple tarte Tatin.
If you’re a fellow ice cream lover, you know that a good attitude is easy to achieve when dessert is on the horizon. As for the recipe, I found my favorite last year while writing about the science of ice cream for Inverse. With two of the necessary components in place, I set out to test the Nostalgia 4-Quart Electric Ice Cream Maker.
Setup: Don’t skimp on the salt
One major perk of the Nostalgia Ice Cream Maker is that you can use it immediately. Most home ice cream makers come with a drum that needs to be frozen for 12-24 hours before use. The Nostalgia uses ice and salt—either rock or kosher—as its old-fashioned cooling method. That means if the mood for ice cream strikes suddenly, you can set this machine up in just a few minutes.
To get the machine ready, you put the canister in place, flush to the bottom of the bucket. Then you need to layer ice and salt into the large bucket, packing it around the metal canister. Don’t skimp on the salt, it’s a key ingredient here. Like we learned in elementary school,salt lowers the freezing temperature of water—that’s why they sprinkle it on the roads in the winter—and the resulting slushy salted water in the bucket is below 32 degrees.
When it comes to making ice cream, the colder, the better. Freezing ice cream as quickly as possible prevents large ice crystals from forming. With the Nostalgia machine, the goal is to freeze the ice cream base quickly by surrounding the canister with super cold ice water. If you don’t add enough salt, the ice mixture won’t melt enough or get cold enough to create smooth ice cream.
The instructions recommend using 1-2 medium bags of ice and 2-4 cups of salt. There’s a lot of grey area in there. During testing, I used about 1.5 medium bags of ice and about 3 cups of salt. The amount of ice and salt used will impact the temperature of the liquid surrounding your ice cream canister, which will impact the texture of your final ice cream, so these instructions don’t exactly set you up to get consistent results. The instructions also advise stirring and periodically adding more salt during the churning process. If after a few minutes of churning your ice still looks mostly solid, pour on some more salt.
Design: No frills, yet durable
This machine is made to look like an old-fashioned barrel, so there are no frills and no specialty features. The heft aluminum barrel is filled with ice, and the motor attached to the top churns the ice cream. The version that I tested came in bright blue plastic, although similar models are designed to resemble natural wood. It’s not a sleek modern appliance—this design is all about goofy fun.
One potential drawback is the bucket component of this machine is fairly large. The motor and canister can be removed and stored inside of the bucket, but even with everything tucked inside, the Nostalgia Ice Cream Maker is too large to store anywhere in my kitchen. This product is probably best suited for users with extra storage space.
Performance: Loud, but churns delicious ice cream
After packing the ice and salt around the canister, I poured the ice cream base into the metal canister, inserted the churning paddle, popped the lid on, and attached the motor. My first impression was that this machine is much louder than other countertop ice cream makers. It could be the more exposed motor, or the canister rubbing against its icy surroundings, but this machine emits a fairly loud noise.
Instructions say to churn the ice cream for 30 minutes. You’ll have to trust the clock since the semi-opaque lid makes it difficult to watch the progress of your ice cream as it thickens. The lid also presents another challenge of determining when to add mix-ins. If you’re hoping to swirl in nuts, candy, or other mix-ins, you’ll have to pause the machine, remove the motor, open the canister, add any additional ingredients, and then reassemble the machine. The lid makes this process more cumbersome than on models where there is an opening into the canister.
After 25 minutes of churning, I paused my ice cream maker to add walnuts and shaved chocolate. Then, I reassembled and churned for 5 more minutes to incorporate the treats and finish off the ice cream. At the end of the instructed time, my ice cream was fluffy, creamy, and delicious. To create scoopable ice cream, you’ll need to transfer the mixture to the freezer to harden. The provided canister can be sealed and placed in the freezer, but it was slightly too tall for mine, so I opted to transfer to a Tupperware. The height of the canister also makes it tricky to get all of the ice cream out. You’ll need a strong spatula and a bit of muscle power if you go that route.
After solidifying, my ice cream was still delicious. It had a slightly icy crunch to it, which could be a product of a warm temperature while churning. The combination of salt and ice doesn’t get as cold as a freezable drum, which means the ice cream takes longer to freeze, giving ice crystals more time to form.
Cleaning: Be careful not to spill
While each component of the Nostalgia Ice Cream Maker is easy to clean, the bucket becomes heavy when it’s filled with the melted ice. If you’re using the machine indoors, be careful on the trip to the sink. The bucket includes a drainage hole, which is meant to prevent the water level from getting too high and seeping into the ice cream during the churning process, but it also provides another exit point to slop ice water all over your kitchen counters.
Price: A bargain
Priced at around $50, the Nostalgia Ice Cream Maker is certainly not the cheapest of the options out there but it’s far less expensive than the top-tier ice cream makers. If you’re unwilling to overlook the stop-and-go maneuvering that has to be done to drop in your favorite confectionary, its lower cost might not be enough to offset that low point.
Nostalgia 4-Quart Electric Ice Cream Maker vs. Hamilton Beach 4-Quart Ice Cream Maker
There are numerous ice-and-salt ice cream makers out there, with the Hamilton Beach 4-quart version that we also tested being one of the most popular. It’s built similar to the Nostalgia model. There’s a loud exposed motor atop a metal canister that’s nested within layers of ice and salt. The difference here is the Nostalgia version is a bit more colorful and has a handle that makes it easy to lug everything away when you’re done.
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