6 Ways to Churn Cheaper Ice Cream

JULY IS NATIONAL ICE CREAM MONTH

The average price of ice cream has been steadily increasing over the years, to $5.04 a gallon in 2014 from $3.84 in 2004, according to data compiled by Statista. But you need not give up indulging in America's favorite summer treat to cut costs. Instead of running out to the local ice cream parlor or grocery store for a tub of the sweet stuff, make it at home and on the cheap. Most of the required ingredients are household staples. To celebrate National Ice Cream Month, engage in family fun, and rein in the household budget, here are six money-saving tricks for making ice cream.

DITCH THE ICE CREAM MAKER

A machine isn't the only way to whip up a batch of silky ice cream. There are several ways to tackle homemade ice cream without the use of an appliance. Most require common tools such as resealable plastic bags, large bowls, and a basic blender. The bag method is one of the simplest and cheapest methods. It requires only the ingredients, two to three zip-lock bags of various sizes, salt, and ice. As illustrated by The Kitchn, this tactic harnesses the power of shaking and the coldness of surrounding ice to simultaneously freeze and mix the ingredients into an ice cream texture. Epicurious and a plethora of other food websites showcase videos with many more ideas on how to churn out ice cream without a machine.

SKIP THE ICE CREAM SALT

Some churning methods that don't rely on an ice cream machine may call for the use of ice cream salt. With larger crystals than regular table salt, ice cream salt melts at a slower rate to keep the ingredients colder longer. However, ice cream salt generally costs more -- up to $1 more for some brands -- even though table salt will keep the ingredients nearly as cold. Several of the DIY methods discussed here use regular table salt or the coarser kosher salt, demonstrating that there's no discernable difference in temperature or texture for the final ice cream product.

USE VANILLA FLAVORING INSTEAD OF EXTRACT

A common ingredient in most ice cream recipes, vanilla extract is easy to acquire at the grocery store, but a small bottle of pure extract can cost up to $10. Imitation vanilla provides a similar flavor at a fraction of the cost; most major supermarkets sell various brands for a dollar or two. Vanilla extract derives its full flavor from vanilla bean pods soaked in water and alcohol; imitation vanilla gets its flavor from artificially created or naturally occurring vanilla byproducts. Experts at Cook's Illustrated note that there's little difference in taste between vanilla extract and imitation vanilla when used for baking. For basic, budget-friendly ice cream recipes, imitation vanilla will serve the purpose.

CHOOSE OFF-BRAND ADD-INS

Oreos, Reese's Pieces, Hershey's chocolate chips, and other add-ins spruce up a plain batch of ice cream. Whenever a recipe calls for a brand name, opt for the cheaper, off-brand equivalent. You can save a few dollars by purchasing store-brand sandwich cookies, peanut butter pieces, cherries, cheesecake, nuts, and other additions. Many items are interchangeable, so check the sales before buying.

GO BANANAS

With bananas and a food processor, a non-dairy ice cream option is at your disposal. Both vegan and cost-effective, frozen bananas magically turn into an ice cream consistency after a stint in the freezer. For two servings, simply peel and slice two bananas, seal in a plastic bag, and freeze overnight. When ready to serve, add bananas to a food processor and puree for a couple of minutes until the contents turn from chunky into that smooth, ice-cream-like consistency. For variety, add a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter or Nutella into the mix before pureeing.
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BUY A CHEAP OR USED ICE CREAM MACHINE

If you prefer to let technology do the churning and have your heart set on an ice cream maker, you can find one for less than $50. A higher price on an ice cream machine doesn't necessarily guarantee a better result. While some can cost in the low triple digits, pastry experts agree that the Cuisinart Ice-21 1.5-quart ice cream machine (starting at $60) is one of the best options on the market. Need a lower price? Search thrift stores or eBay for used ice cream machines.