There's a big downside to making homemade ice cream; the process is kind of a tease. You see, even after you make the base and churn the ice cream, it's still not ready to eat yet. I mean, yes, you can dip your spoon in and have a taste, but it's not firm and scoopable yet. It still needs time to firm up in the freezer to get to that point.
Or does it? There just may be a way to speed this process along. A few years ago we shared a tip we found online for making almost instant frozen ice cream by churning it in the freezer. Could it actually work? As soon as that thought crossed my mind, I was clearing some space in the freezer to give this a try.
The Original Tip
A few years ago, we shared a tip we found on Food52 in which Peter Steinberg claims to have solved the dilemma of ice cream not firming up enough during churning. The problem, he says, with using ice cream makers that have a bowl that needs to be frozen in advance, is that the churned ice cream never hardens up in the machine alone. His solution for the instant gratification of firm, scoopable ice cream straight from the machine? Run the ice cream machine inside the freezer.
→ Read the original tip: Our Top 5 Ice Cream Tips via Food52
The Testing Method
Before testing, there were two things to consider: the ice cream maker and freezer space. This method is meant to be used with inexpensive ice cream machines — like the classic Cuisinart ice cream maker — that have a separate bowl, which gets frozen before churning. Luckily, this is the exact model I own.
This method also requires ample freezer space for the ice cream maker. My freezer has a pull-out drawer, which at the moment happens to be sparsely stocked, so making space was not a problem.
I placed the bowl of the machine in the freezer a day before I planned to use it. When the time came, I started with a classic vanilla ice cream base. As soon as the base was completely cool, I placed the whole ice cream maker in the freezer, attached an extension cord to reach the outlet. With the freezer door open, and the ice cream maker running, I poured in the base. Then, I closed the freezer door to let the ice cream churn and do its thing, monitoring it every five minutes.
The photo above is what the finished ice cream looked like after churning in the freezer for about 18 minutes. This is well beyond soft serve. By this point, the ice cream was hard enough that it stopped churning through the blade, and ice crystals had developed on the machine.
While the consistency wasn't as hard as it would've been had it rested in the freezer for a few hours, it was significantly more firm than ice cream churned on the counter. It was smooth, creamy, and somewhere between soft serve and hard ice cream.
The real test for me was how this ice cream stood up to an ice cream scoop. Typically, it's almost impossible to scoop ice cream straight from the machine; it's just too soft — that is, unless you churn your ice cream in the freezer. This method produced ice cream that was just firm enough to make perfectly round, albeit slightly soft, scoops. You could even stack them on a cone, as long as you ate fast.
Verdict: This is a mind-blowing tip!
Yes, I do see that this process is a little absurd. I mean, who actually has the space to fit an ice cream maker in their freezer? But if you're looking for firm homemade ice cream fast, it works. I can't say I'll be using this method on a regular basis, but it's definitely worth clearing some space in the freezer for.