NOTHING beats the taste of fresh, homemade ice cream.Back in Grandma's day, making your own ice cream meant dealing with the wooden tub, ice, rock salt, and arduous cranking, cranking, and more cranking. That was then. This is now: Ice-cream makers have slid into the summer scene touting ease and speed. In recent years, manufacturers have paired nostalgia with high-tech to bring us homemade ice cream a la instant gratification. If you're not interested in dropping $400 for a gelati machine or other electric-powered gizmo, consider the newer handcranked ice-cream makers. They're fairly inexpensive, quick, simple to use, and don't require the arm of Arnie Schwarzenegger These relatively new ice-cream makers have revolutionized the market, says Mable Hoffman, who co-authored the cookbook "Ice Cream, Sherbets, & Sorbets" with her husband, Gar. "Most people are surprised how easy making ice cream is nowadays, and once they realize it, they make it so often," Ms. Hoffman says. Several models have aluminum canisters or special chilling barrels that store in your freezer and can quick-freeze the ice-cream ingredients in as little as 15 minutes with a few simple twists of the handle. Others still use the ice and salt concept, but don't require marathon stamina. "As far as what fits in with the home use, there's nothing comparable to a hand-cranked ice cream," says Nancy Silverton of Los Angeles's Campanile restaurant and La Brea Bakery. She features a hand-cranked ice cream on Campanile's menu every night. "The texture of hand-cranked ice cream has become much more appealing to me than one that has been frozen in a commercial freezer," explains Ms. Silverton, who was awarded Pastry Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation. "A commercial freezer whips ice cream to freeze it, whipping in a lot of air and whipping the butterfat in the ice cream." That can leave a thick butter coating on the tongue, making it almost greasy, she says. "Hand-cranked ice cream has such a refreshing texture. It's just a burs t of flavor that dissipates with a cleaness." Part of the fun for home chefs is having the freedom to experiment. The recipe for ice cream is really no mystery. It usually includes some combination of cream, eggs, sugar, and flavoring such as chocolate, vanilla, fruit, or mint. "The texture in an ice cream is made by balancing the amount of fat [milk, cream, egg yolks] with the sugar...." writes Silverton in her book "Desserts." "Too much sugar will keep an ice cream from freezing, but if too little is used, the ice cream will freeze rock hard.... You can improvise with the variables. More cream will make the ice cream richer, or you can reduce the fat by substituting milk, even nonfat, or cutting down on the egg yolks. You can also play with the flavorings, making the tastes s weeter or stronger, but remember that any change you make will affect texture." Also, butterfat doesn't get cold, Silverton mentioned in a phone interivew, so that's another consideration. The less eggs and cream, the icier the ice cream will be. When you have a higher fruit content you can do with less butterfat and fewer eggs, she says. Sometimes Silverton will replace a certain amount of sugar with corn syrup to keep ice cream smooth. After some trial churns, chefs usually end up adjusting to individual tastes. "You find people have certain definite opinions on flavors," says Mable Hoffman. She personally likes to use whatever fresh fruit is in season. But even in the off seasons you can use frozen fruit. Who ever said ice cream is just for summer?

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