Ice Cream-Off: Final Results

The challenge: create homemade ice cream.
The challengers: Martin’s new electric ice cream maker vs. my ’60s era hand-crank tub (if you missed the lead-up, see ice cream entry last week).

First, some words of advice–

  • Do not wage an ice cream war with three young kids underfoot.
  • In particular, do not attempt contest at 7 pm Sunday night, when said kids have not eaten dinner.
  • You can never buy enough ice.

“You never buy enough ice,” Martin said, as he casually dumped the only store-bought bag into his gargantuan ice cream vat, and around the canister of ingredients. Not two minutes in and already, I was losing.

I coaxed our fridge to release ground ice through the cup dispenser. It angrily spit ice shards at me, gurgled a bit, then flung out some more.

In theory Martin and I started on level ground. I whipped up two batches of the same recipe (ingredients and directions below).

Prepping the ingredients which were heated, then chilled for several hours

But I didn’t notice that my old-school canister offered half the capacity of Martin’s, and the recipe was tailored for his machine. For my version I dumped part of the sugar/salt/milk/egg concoction down the drain and the rest into my rusted canister. Then added half the recommended heavy cream and vanilla extract.

Earlier that day, I located rock salt, labeled as solar salt. “Same thing,” said the guy at the hardware store. “But it’s more coarse, so I’d crush it into smaller pieces.”

As the sun set, I pulverized a bag of solar salt with a rubber mallet. Martin scooped a cup of crushed salt and drizzled it over his ice, then repeated. He plugged the machine into an extension cord outside and it hummed to life.

Firing up Martin’s master mixer
The old ice cream maker, minus the crank

I centered my canister and mix in the old wooden tub and mimicked Martin’s ice/salt layering. Then I fixed the crank on top, securing it with the rusty bolt on the side. Finally I turned the handle.

“Is it done?” Cayden asked, after I forced the crank through three squeaky rotations. “How much longer?”

I smiled grimly, knelt down in the grass, and cranked away.

losing strength….

Someone mentioned that it would take 20 minutes of cranking. Ninety seconds in and I was struggling. I took several breaks to grab Brynn before she fell off the deck, to grab Brynn when she fell from the slide, to get more ice, more salt. Any excuse to rest my hand. With each break, I imagined my progress melting away.

All the while, I listened to that damn electric ice cream maker, steadily whirling. Taunting me. I estimated that it rotated four times to each one of mine. Not to mention my stops and starts. I’d been cranking for 8 minutes and was hot and sweaty; the machine had spun twice as long and showed no fatigue. Occasionally, Martin prodded the ice with a long bbq fork, like a steak on the grill.

Sweat loosened my grip on the wooden handle and the crank smelled of wet metal. Martin was listening to Bob Marley. The electric ice cream machine hummed along.


After 11 or 12 minutes I couldn’t crank any longer. Literally, the handle wouldn’t budge. I loosened the bolt and removed the crank. In the fading light I surveyed the canister full of thick, creamy vanilla ice cream, still bearing the swirls of the paddle.

“Oh my god,” I shouted. “It worked!”

After 25 minutes, we unplugged Martin’s electric machine and opened it, revealing ice cream….

…with the consistency of pea soup.

The kids were supposed to serve as official taste testers. They failed miserably. Cayden wanted me to win; I could have served cat food and he’d swear it was the best. Hadley shoveled in my ice cream, drank down Martin’s and asked for more of both.

Martin conceded that the hand cranked version clearly won. It was virtually indistinguishable from Breyer’s and while I struggled and sweat, it took a fraction of the time.

Baby Brynn cast the final vote. Two days later, we fed her the remaining spoonfuls of hand-cranked vanilla. When she wanted more, we offered her the electrically manufactured ice cream, which had firmed up in the freezer.

She spit it out and cried.

Martin’s electric mix, straight from the machine

The winning entry, out of the old canister

3 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 cups milk
6 eggs, beaten
4 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract 
*(for a smaller canister, reduce all measurements by half)

1. In saucepan, combine sugar, salt and milk
2. Cook over medium heat, stirring until mixture is steaming; then reduce heat
3. Beat eggs and slowly whisk half of the mixture into the eggs; pour back into saucepan
4. Cook over medium-low heat until slightly thick (3 minutes)
5. Remove, chill for several hours
6. When ready to mix, add heavy cream and vanilla extract 
7. Pour into canister, line with ice and salt and get cranking!