When the hand-crank version of a trusty household appliance is still in your garage, you could view it as a sign that engineering improvements over the years have hardly been necessary. Either that, or ice cream manufacturers took a rather slow, lumbering stroll down the Industrial Revolution highway (perhaps a few too many stops for Creamsicles along the way).
Enter the home version of the commercial ice cream machine with a built-in compressor. They're not exactly new, just slow to infiltrate the Williams-Sonoma masses. The price and hideously loud compressor on most of them probably have something to do with it.
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But the order-now-and-get-an-unbelievable-free-bonus really is too good to pass up. Not only are those annoying freeze-ahead bowls unnecessary (who has the freezer space to keep one constantly at the ready?), you don't need to chill your ice cream base before spinning it. Even at room temperature you'll get that velvety texture like the dreamy creations at restaurants that shell out the extra bucks for a pastry chef.
You can also find some pretty good deals right now. The big guys with the biggest motors, like a Musso, are still going to cost you (but think of all the Sopranos references you can make as you spoon up zabaglione gelato at Sunday suppers). For about a third of the price, the Cuisinart model that I scored from the in-laws is fantastic, other than it takes up way too much counter space in my tiny kitchen. That, and the motor is so loud it's typically relegated to the guest bathroom. But the ice cream its churns out is phenomenal.
An even better deal right now is the Lello Gelato, Jr., the model that Little Dom's pastry chef Ann Kirk swears by. "Can't beat a homemade sarsaparilla float," she says. Even still, you're going to have to make a lot of floats to justify the $185 price. Alternatively, you could try to convince a generous friend to buy it for you, as Kirk managed to do (although her Lello may well have been the result of a clever restaurant silverware-pawn shop swap).
If you can't afford a compressor ice cream maker right now, not to worry. That's what children and rock salt are for.