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How to Use an Old-Fashioned
Ice Cream Churn

Posted by Denise on July 13, 2014

wooden ice cream maker

If you have an old fashioned ice cream churn, we can show you how to use it.

Making homemade ice cream is not only easy and fun, but the ice cream is DELICIOUS and the resulting memories of creating it together with friends and family are priceless, well worth the effort.

There are a number of appliances available for making ice cream, ranging from small-batch balls that you can buy cheaply that you freeze in your freezer and roll around to mix the ice cream, to self-freezing machines that cost hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars. We have several types ourselves (on the lower end of the cost spectrum), but for this tutorial we will focus on the old fashioned churn-style ice cream maker that relies on ice and salt for freezing the ice cream.

Many of us have fond memories of hand cranking the churn to make ice cream. That used to be the only way to churn ice cream and you can still find newer versions that have, thankfully, a better cranking mechanism that makes it a little easier. This is fun and nostalgic, at least for the first few minutes. Then it becomes work and isn’t as fun! Fortunately, motorized churns can be purchased. New ones can run well over $100, but I recently bought ours at a garage sale for $20. I replaced the lid (found replacements online for $5) because the lid was old enough that it was falling apart, but the rest of the machine is in great shape. I’ve seen quite a few of these machines for sale on online auction sites going for really reasonable prices. Look around and you will probably find one.

Why do we want to churn ice cream as it freezes instead of just sticking it in the freezer? Ice cream that is moved/churned as it freezes has a much better texture than ice cream that is frozen without the benefit of churning. As the cream/milk mixture freezes, if forms ice crystals. As ice cream is churned, these ice crystals break apart and stay smaller due to movement and friction. Small crystals still freeze just fine, but give your ice cream a smoother, creamier texture. It works similar to the slushy machines at your corner convenience store. You end up with, well, slushies instead of a block of ice.

These old-fashioned ice cream makers are really simple in design. They are composed of a wooden or plastic bucket, a lidded ice cream container/cylinder fitted with a slotted paddle (also called a dasher) that goes inside the bucket, and the churning mechanism on an arm that goes over the top of the bucket. The churning mechanism can have either a motor that plugs into an outlet or a hand crank for rotating the ice cream container. The outside bucket will have a hole just under the rim. This allows the freezing water created by the ice and salt to drain off before it gets high enough to overflow your ice cream container. The lid of the inside container will have a raised area with a hole in the center. The raised area of the lid will likely have notches around the edges to engage the motor gear.

And talking about the motor, well be ready. Its LOUD! For some reason, for all human advancements in many areas, there hasn’t been a quiet ice cream maker motor ever invented. It will sound noisy, so that’s why some people prefer to make ice cream away from where guests may be trying to talk together.

Did you know that a mixture of ice and icy water will actually freeze the ice cream better than ice alone? That’s why rock salt is needed…to melt the ice slowly and create icy cold water around the ice cream container to freeze the ice cream.

To make the ice cream, you will need:

·     Ice cream maker

·     10 to 20 pounds of ice, depending on how big your ice cream maker is and how many batches you plan to make, how hot it is, etc.

·     Rock salt (this is salt in pebble-sized chunks to help with the freezing process)

·     Ice cream mixture, preferable made fresh from a good recipe (we have some on our site, www.TastyHomeCooking.com)

Here are the steps to follow to make a great batch of ice cream:

1.   Wash out the ice cream maker and components (except NOT the motor. Lol!), since it’s probably been sitting in storage for a long time.

2.   Prepare the ice cream mixture. Use high-quality ingredients for the best flavors. Give the mixture time to get cold after you prepare it to cut down on churn time. We have ice cream recipes on www.TastyHomeCooking.com.

3.   Pour the ice cream mixture into the churning container. There may be a fill line showing on the inside of the container showing the maximum level it should be filled to, but if doesn’t have a line, fill the container to no more than ¾ of the height. You need to leave room since the ice cream expands as it freezes.


pouring ice cream mixture in churn cylinder


4.   Place the dasher (paddle) inside of the container and put the lid on with the end of the dasher fitted through the hole in the lid.


adding the dasher     put lid on with dasher rod out the top


5.   Place the outside bucket in a location near a drain with an electrical outlet nearby (if using the motorized version, otherwise you won’t need an outlet for the hand-cranked version). We normally place it in the kitchen sink, but we have done it in the shower, too. As the ice melts and the container turns, it may push slushy water out of the bucket’s drain hole and you’ll want it to run down the drain.

6.   Place the filled container inside of the bucket and make sure the bottom of the container is centered in the middle of the bucket. There should be a dimple, slot or insert that the bottom of the container fits on that lets you know it’s centered.


                                      bottom of bucket with cylinder holder 


7.   Carefully, making sure the ice cream container stays centered, add ice evenly around the outside of the container. Only add a couple of inches at first. Sprinkle rock salt on top.


adding ice and rock salt around cylinder


8.   Place the motor arm over the ice cream container, securing the ends in the bracket and lowering the arm into place. Make sure the top of the dasher fits into position in the motor. You will probably have to gently rotate the container to get the motor arm to lower completely into place and engage the lid correctly. Once in place, move the latch that holds the motor arm in its slot into place to secure the motor arm.


ice cream churn ends of motor arm

motor arm latch

locking motor arm


9.   Carefully add another layer of ice around the container, then follow up with rock salt again. Repeat until you have at least 4 layers of ice and salt but are below the level of the weep hole in the side of the bucket.


filling up with rock salt and ice


10. Plug the motor in and sit back and let it run. Or crank your arms off! Lol. The motor is LOUD, so don’t freak out. Once it’s working well, you can check on it every so often but it will do fine on it’s own. Make sure you add more ice and salt as needed to keep the outside of the container icy cold. Slushy water may start to dribble out of the weep hole next to the bucket rim and that’s fine. Just don’t slip or let the electrical cord get near the water.


ice and water weeping out of hole


11. Keep churning the ice cream until you hear the sound of the motor change and sound like it has to work a lot harder. Some old types may even turn the motor off. This will take some time, maybe over an hour depending on how cold your mixture was when you started and how big of a batch you’re making. You can check the ice cream by unplugging the cord from the electrical outlet, then unlatching the motor arm and raising it to free up the inside container lid. Look at the ice cream and if it is still pretty liquid, put the lid back on, refit the motor arm and plug it back in to keep churning. If the ice cream looks like soft ice cream, you can stop churning.

12. Once the ice cream is to the consistency of soft ice cream, remove the motor arm and lid and take the dasher out, but put the lid back on the container and allow it to sit in the ice and water for at least 30 minutes to firm up more. This is called “ripening”. Once the ice cream has ripened and you determine that it is of a scoop-able consistency, dish up! Leftovers, if any, can be put into a covered container and placed in the freezer to eat later. Homemade ice cream freezes harder than store bought ice cream, so you may want to set it out several minutes before you plan to serve it to allow it to soften slightly.


 homemade vanilla ice cream




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