Cuisinart ICE-21 Ice Cream Maker Review
The ICE-21 is another ice cream maker with a removable bowl from Cuisinart. And it's the baby of the family. Smaller, lighter and cheaper than the other Cuisinart models, you might consider it an entry level model.
However, as we'll see, it's got a lot to offer in it's own right. It makes fantastically smooth ice cream. And it's usually faster than the other machines.
For sure, it's not perfect. It has the same drawbacks as all freezable bowl machines. And it's got a pretty small 1.5 quart capacity. But it would be a great choice if it suits your lifestyle.
So keep reading to find out how it works, how well it makes different ice creams, gelatos, sorbets and frozen yogurts, the specific advantages and disadvantages of the ICE-21 and the alternatives I recommend if this ice cream maker isn't for you...
How does the ICE-21 work?
The ICE-21 uses a removable, freezable bowl. If you're unsure what this means, then I'll explain. There are three types of domestic ice cream makers. And the difference between them is the way they freeze the mixture:
- With ice and salt
- With a built in freezer
- With a removable bowl that's pre-frozen in your freezer
The ICE-21 has a small bowl that's lined with a special type of liquid gel. When the bowl is placed in a freezer, over some time, the gel freezes solid. And this gel keeps its temperature really well. So when the bowl is removed from the freezer, it stays very cold for a long time.
When you want to make ice cream, you remove the bowl from the freezer, add the mixture and the bowl transfers the coldness to the mixture as it's being churned. Simple!
But let's look at the different parts that make up the ICE-21 and how they work together. As with all these machines from Cuisinart, there are just 4 parts that make up the ICE-21:
- the base that contains the motor and the on/off switch
- the removable, freezable bowl
- the "dasher", that churns the ice cream
- the transparent lid that holds everything in place
The base of the ICE-21
Like the rest of the ICE-21, the base is made from white plastic. It has the Cuisinart logo embossed on the front. And a simple on/off switch. There are no other decorations or controls.
On the underside are 4 rubber tipped feet that keep the machine stable while in use. And some ventilation grills to help prevent the motor from overheating.
The power cable come out the back and is just 24" (60 cm) long, which could be a little short for some kitchens.
On the top of the base is a 12 tooth gear which is turned by the motor underneath. This gear slots into a hole in the bottom of the removable bowl. So when the motor turns the gear, the gear turns the bowl.
So as with all these Cuisinart ice cream machines, it's the bowl that rotates rather than the paddle. There are very good reasons for this, as I'll explain later.
There's nothing flimsy about this base. It has a decent weight that prevents it rattling or moving about. And the motor is powerful enough to churn thick mixes without the gears slipping with those horrible clunking noises you get with some machines.
The ICE-21's removable bowl
The bowl is thick and heavy, with a 1.5 quart (1.4 liter) capacity. It measures 5.5" (14 cm) high and 7" (18 cm) across.
It's really important to take note of these measurements. Because the bowl has to fit in your freezer. If you can't make room for it in the freezer, you won't be able to make ice cream!
The ICE-21 bowl is actually the smallest available from Cuisinart. And I don't think the other brands have machines with smaller bowls either. So if you can't fit this one in your freezer, you will probably need to look at the other types of ice cream makers.
In fact, I think most people will be able to fit it in their freezers. It's more a case of the food items that the bowl will displace. And whether that's an acceptable situation in the long run.
When the bowl's at room temperature, if you shake it, you can hear the liquid gel that lines the sides sloshing about. Once frozen, it solidifies and you won't be able to hear it. So this is one of the ways you can tell it's cold enough to be used.
Cuisinart recommend that their bowls are left in the freezer for between 6 and 24 hours . But I find that if I leave it in overnight I always get good results.
The bowl is double insulated and maintains it's temperature very well. But don't forget, as soon as you remove it from the freezer it will start to warm up. So it's best to use it straight away!
On the bottom of the bowl is the star shaped hole that the gear in the base slots into. It's important that this fits well to avoid any slipping as the mixture thickens. And luckily, it does fit well!
The dasher of the ICE-21
The dasher is the the thing that actually churns the mixture to turn it into ice cream. It has 2 important jobs:
- To scrape the frozen mixture off the side of the bowl
- To add air to the mixture
The dasher that comes with the ICE-21 is a stiff, white plastic insert with two blades...
In most ice cream makers the dasher rotates to mix the ice cream. But with the Cuisinart machines, it's the removable bowl that's rotated while the dasher is anchored still by the lid.
And this is why the Cuisinart machines are so superior. The other machines can struggle to rotate the flimsy dasher from above as the mixture thickens. But in the Cuisinart models, the way the gear connects directly to the underside of the heavy bowl makes a much stronger and efficient system.
So while the gears can slip and clang and even stop altogether in the other machines, the Cuisinart ice cream makers always seem able to power through and finish the job!
However the Cuisinart isn't perfect. The blades of the dasher are meant to scrape frozen mixture from the sides of the bowl and move them into the middle. The faster it does this, the faster the mixture freezes and the smoother the final ice cream.
But in all these machines, there's a 2 mm gap between the blades and the bowl. And this means a thin layer of frozen mixture builds up on the sides and isn't scraped away. This insulates the rest of the mixture from the bowl walls and slows down the freezing process.
Sure it's a fault that could improved. And in fact there is a way around it that I'll describe later on. But as we'll see, it doesn't seem to make a noticeable difference to the quality of the ice cream!
The ICE-21's lid
The lid of the ICE21 is a big, transparent, plastic sheath that covers the removable bowl and anchors to the base at the bottom while holding the dasher in place at the top.
There's a hole in the top which allows you to add extra ingredients to the ice cream as it's churning. This is useful as it's generally best to add cookies and sweets towards the end of the process.
The hole also allows you to easily test the temperature, consistency and even the taste of the mixture as it progresses.
Making ice cream with the ICE-21
So those were the individual parts that make up the ICE-21 ice cream maker. Now lets see how they all work together to make those tasty frozen treats!
Making ice cream with the ICE-21 involves 5 stages:
- Making the mixture
- Freezing the bowl
- Freezing and churning the mixture in the ICE-21
- Transferring the ice cream to the freezer for final hardening
- Cleaning the ice cream maker
Stage 1: Making the mixture
The ICE-21 comes with a recipe booklet that includes ice creams, frozen yogurts, sorbets and even frozen deserts like ice cream sandwich cookies!
And since these recipes were designed to use with the ICE-21, they're a good place to start. But half the fun of owning your own ice cream maker is inventing your own recipes. Or at least tweaking existing recipes. This is where it gets really exciting!
However, you can't throw any combination of cream, milk and sugar into the ICE-21 (or any other ice cream maker) and expect it to whip up perfect results. You need to follow certain rules. And this is where a basic knowledge of ice cream science can help.
When I read bad reviews of ice cream makers that are not producing the results people expect, most of the time the problem is the recipe rather than the machine. So make sure you get your recipe right!
Whichever recipe you're using, there are certain things that you should always do to get the best results.
Most importantly, you should always pre-chill the mixture. If you're making a Philadelphia style ice cream that doesn't need to be cooked, make sure all the ingredients come straight out of the fridge. If you making an ice cream that involves heating the mixture, you have to chill it thoroughly before it goes anywhere near the ICE-21.
This the same for all machines really, but it's especially important with these removable bowl ice cream makers since they already warming up from the moment they leave the freezer.
All mixes should be chilled to around 4°C before they go in the machine. Ideally they should be cooled and aged in the fridge overnight. If that's not practical because you're in rush, you can put the mix in a zip lock bag and cool it quickly in an ice bath.
The ICE-21 comes with a 1.5 quart bowl. But the machine will add a fair amount of air to the mixture so you can't put a full 1.5 quarts of liquid in there or the ice cream will overflow out of the bowl.
So stick to good recipes that ask for 3 cups (or less than a litre) of liquid, pre-chill the mixture and you should be OK.
Stage 2: Freezing the ICE-21's bowl
Cover the top of the bowl with cling film (secured by an elastic band) to prevent any water vapor that might spoil the ice cream getting in the bowl while it's in the freezer. And put the bowl in a plastic bag to protect it from freezer burn.
The colder the bowl, the faster it will freeze the ice cream and the better the quality of the final product. So if you can, adjust the temperature of your freezer to its lowest setting. I'm quite lucky as mine will go down to -23°C.
Place the bowl at the back of the freezer where it's coldest. You'll get the best results if you leave it overnight when the temperature won't fluctuate with people opening and closing the door. But for at least 6 hours anyway.
Don't take it out until you're ready to add the mixture. And once it's out, move fast as it's only getting warmer...
Stage 3: Freezing and churning the mixture in the ICE-21
It's a good idea to give the mixture a good blitz with a hand blender before you put it in the machine. This will get rid of any lumps that may have developed.
Then, take the bowl out of the freezer, remove the plastic bag and the cling film and slot it onto the gear in the base. Add the dasher and the lid to hold it in place. Then turn on the machine. Finally, pour the mixture into the rotating bowl through the hole in the lid.
If you're really serious, you can put your hand in the bowl to press one of the blades against the side of the bowl. This will prevent that thin layer of frozen mixture building up in the gap between the blades and the bowl. So it should speed up the freezing.
You'll need to keep your hand there for the duration of the churning though, otherwise the layer of ice will develop. And it's not like you'll have super icy ice cream if you don't do it.
How long it takes to will depend on your recipe, how much mixture there is, how cold it is, how cold your bowl is and even how cold the room is! But I think the biggest factor is the quantity of the mixture.
I find the ICE-21 one of the fastest machines around. I can sometimes get batches finished in less than 15 min. And it will rarely take longer than 20 min.
While the ICE-21 is certainly not quiet I don't find it especially noisy. I measured the noise at the start and end of a batch and it varied between 82 and 79 decibels. Considering an empty room at night time is 30 decibels, this doesn't seem too high.
Once it has the consistency of soft serve ice cream, it's time to pull it out. Be careful not to over churn it. If you're making a high fat ice cream this can lead to "buttering" where the fat forms lumps that are detectable by the tongue.
Stage 5: Transferring the ice cream from the ICE-21 to the freezer
You could eat the ice cream straight from the machine. But you'll need to be quick, because it's not properly frozen yet, so it's really soft and will melt very quickly.
It's best to give it at least an hour, (but preferably 2) in the freezer. Once you've turned the machine off, lift out the dasher, scrape the ice cream into an air tight container and transfer it to the freezer.
Never use a metal utensil for this as it will mark the bowl. Best to stick with a wooden spoon of plastic scraper.
You should try to do this as quickly as possible, as if it starts to melt and then re-freezes in the freezer, the small ice crystals that formed in the machine will grow into larger crystals that will be detectable on the tongue and give the ice cream a coarse, icy texture.
So it's a good idea to pre-chill the container in the freezer before you put the ice cream in it. And use a wide, flat container rather than a narrow, deep one as this will encourage the ice cream to freeze quicker.
Because the whole dasher comes out of the bowl, it's really easy to scrape the ice cream off the dasher and then scoop the rest out of the bowl pretty quickly. And this reduces melting.
Once it's in the container if you cover it with a sheet of cling film before you put the lid on, this will discourage the formation of ice crystals on the surface of the ice cream.
Then put the container at the back of the freezer (where it's coldest) for 1-2 hours. While you wait for it to harden you can clean the machine...
Stage 5: Cleaning the ICE-21
Cleaning the ICE-21 is really straightforward. The dasher and the lid just need a quick wipe in warm soapy water.
Leave the bowl until any leftover ice cream left has melted. And then another dip in the sink will clean it very quickly. A soft sponge will do the job. Never use anything abrasive.
The body of the ICE-21 just needs a quick wipe and the white plastic always looks brand new with no smears or stains. Being white, it will show the dust more than the brushed steel look of the other Cuisinart models but an occasional wipe sorts it out.
So what's the ice cream from the ICE-21 like?
As this is the cheapest of the Cuisinart ice cream makers, you might expect the ice cream from the ICE-21 to be poorer than from it's more expensive brothers.
But that's not the case at all. As we know, the faster an ice cream maker freezes the mixture, the smoother the final product. And so, the better the ice cream.
And because the ICE-21 makes smaller batches, in a smaller bowl, in which more of the mixture is in contact with the sides, it freezes the ice cream really, really quickly.
In fact, it's the fastest machine I've used. And this means the ice cream it churns out is every bit as good as the bigger, more expensive models.
It's actually so quick that if you're used to slower machines, you can leave the ice cream in there too long and it can get over-churned which can sometimes result in lumpy ice cream.
This happened to me the first time I used it as I wasn't expecting it to finish so quickly. So keep a close eye on it until you get used to how fast it is!
Also, I can't stress how important your recipes are in determining the final quality of your ice creams. If you put good recipes into the ICE-21, you'll get great ice creams and sorbets out.
But if you put unbalanced recipes in, you'll be disappointed with the final results. So if you're planning on experimenting (and you should), make sure you read up on how to balance your recipes!
The ICE-21 is a great ice cream maker. But it won't be the right choice for everyone. To help you make your mind up, I'm going to look at the things I love about the ICE-21 and the things I'm not so keen on...
4 things I love about the ICE-21
1. It's small!
The ICE-21 is one of the smallest ice cream makers available today. This means it takes up less room in my tiny kitchen. If like me, you have limited space: this is a great choice. Whats more, the smaller bowl is easier to fit in the freezer and displaces less food!
2. It's basic!
Really, the ICE-21 is just a motor, a dasher, a freezable bowl and an on/off button. This means it's easy to use. But more importantly there's less to go wrong! And if the dasher breaks or the bowl loses it's freezing capabilities, replacements are cheap and easily available.
3. It's super cheap!
Yes, there are (slightly) cheaper ice cream makers available. But they're not very good. This is the cheapest Cuisinart machine. And it's the cheapest machine that consistently makes good ice cream and is built to last many years.
4. It's really fast!
The ICE-21 is the fastest machine I've used so far. It regularly knocks out batches in less than 15 min. This means super smooth ice cream. And super quick satisfaction!
2 things I don't like about the ICE-21
1. It's small!
Yes, it's a bit of a double edged sword this. You can make a maximum of 1.5 quarts (1.4 litres) of ice cream with the ICE-21.
Usually this isn't a big issue for me as I like to make small batches and eat them quickly! But if you want to make bigger batches, a bigger ice cream machine will be better choice.
2. You need to think ahead!
This is an issue with all the removable bowl machines. Before you can make ice cream, you need to put the bowl in the freezer for at least 6 hours but preferably overnight.
Now of course you can just leave the bowl in the freezer all the time. That's what I do. But maybe space is an issue. Maybe you forget. In which case you need to plan your ice cream a day ahead.
Alternatives to the ICE-21 ice cream maker
So just in case the ICE-21 isn't the right machine for you, here's two alternatives that might suit you better.
Looking for bigger batches?
If 1.5 quarts of ice cream just isn't enough, you're going to need a bigger bowl! And that means the Cusinart ICE-30BC. Like the ICE-21, it's simple, robust and reliable. But it has a 2 quart (1.9 litre) bowl.
I don't think there's any significant difference in the quality of the ice cream they make. This is all about how much ice cream you want to make.
The ICE-30BC makes bigger batches, but it will also take up more space in your kitchen and more importantly, more space in your freezer. Make sure you check that the 7.8" (19.7 cm) across and 6.4" high (16.3 cm) bowl will fit in your freezer before you buy it!
For more details about the differences between the two machines check out my hands on ICE-30BC vs ICE-21 comparison.
Looking for a machine with a built in freezer?
If you can't fit the bowl in your freezer or planning your ice cream in advance just isn't convenient, then you should probably look at an ice cream maker with a built in freezer.
Bear in mind that these machines are always going to be significantly bigger than a machine with a removable bowl.
The smallest is probably the Gourmia GSI280, which measures 7.3" x 9.4" x 10.4" (18.5 x 23.8 x 26.5 cm). But I'm not convinced by the quality of this ice cream maker.
So I would recommend looking at the ICE-100, again from Cuisinart. At 16" x 12" x 9" (40.5 x 30.5 x 23 cm), it's significantly bigger than the ICE-21. But it's got a built in freezer so that's to be expected!
There are many advantages with these machines. There's no bowl taking up valuable space in your freezer. You can start making ice cream as soon as you decide you want to eat ice cream. No pre-freezing required. And as soon as one batch is finished you can start another one!
Cuisinart is a reliable brand. So if you're looking for the extra level of convenience the ICE-100 is definitely a good choice.
I think the ICE-21 is a fantastic little machine. Don't be put off by the lower price or lighter build. It's a quality appliance. And it makes ice cream, sorbets and other frozen treats as well as the more expensive machines.
There's no doubt that if you're looking for an ice cream maker with a removable bowl, then the Cuisinart machines that rotate the bowl from below are far better than any other brand.
But whether the ICE-21 is the best of these Cuisinart machines for you depends largely on how much ice cream you need to make in one go.
If you make small batches that are eaten quickly the ICE-21 is a good choice. If you need to feed a lot of people from one batch or like to store batches to be eaten over a longer period of time, then a Cuisinart with a bigger bowl or an machine with a built in freezer might be a better option.
And if you're not sure which type of machine is most suitable check out my guide to the best ice cream maker.
Have no doubt though, the ICE-21 may be small and cheap, but from my experience I can confidently say that it's robust, dependable and makes great ice cream!