what's cooler than being cool? ice! cream!

Family reunion, 1976. My husband’s Great-Uncle Bud takes the top off his hand-crank ice-cream maker and wows everyone with the marshmallow-studded pink-and-green-swirled ice cream inside…until they figure out that he’d just, uh, bought some fancified flavor at the store, scooped it into the ice cream maker and tried to pass it off as his own creation. Truth is, hand-cranking any flavor of ice cream is hard work: It takes a ton of elbow grease and approximately forever to make.

Enter the
Play & Freeze™ ice cream ball. Here’s the scoop: It looks like a plastic soccer ball, but you pack it with ice and rock salt, fill it with cream, vanilla and sugar, and then play with it. Brilliant, right? No hours of tedious hand-cranking, just 20 to 30 minutes of tossing, kicking or rolling the ball around and voila, yummy sundaes. So I took the original ball (which makes a Ben & Jerry’s-size pint of ice cream) and the new MEGA size (which makes twice as much) along with the old hand-crank my hubby used as a kid to a barbecue last weekend to test them out.

It started cheerfully enough. All excited, we filled up the makers with the ingredients and the ice and salt, got in a circle and started throwing the balls at each other while someone took turns turning the old-fashioned hand-crank. But after a few throws, we realized the balls were heavier than we thought. You had to fight the instinct to just plain get out of the way when someone tossed the MEGA at you—it’s hard plastic, after all, and weighs a good ten pounds when full.

she's on a roll...

So we put them on the ground and rolled them around instead. That
worked better, but after about 10 minutes, it was time to open them up
and stir to ensure an even consistency. When I brought them back out of
the kitchen, it was a little tougher to motivate the troops. “Hey,
everybody, let’s all keep playing with the fun, hard, leaden balls!” And
when I checked ’em again after another 15 minutes, the ice cream still
wasn’t very hard. Okay, homemade ice cream tends to be more of the
soft-serve variety, but we wanted it to be a little more, you know,
solid, so I tried again. “Come on, guys, we’re almost there now!”
People started going home.

But finally, after about 45 minutes — though, granted, our playing with
the balls had gotten less and less vigorous with time — I figured it was
good enough and we ate some. Man, it was delicious. At least till we
compared it to the hand-cranked i.c., which had taken over an hour of
rather exhausting cranking to harden but was notably creamier and even
more luscious, though we’d followed the same recipe to make it. I
figure the turning blade in the hand-crank must be better at scraping
the sides of the maker for the ideal texture.

The verdict? Well, there is a certain charm to making your own ice cream, and the ice cream balls are
more fun than just turning a crank or using the new-fangled electric
freezer ones that do everything for you. They’re also pretty portable,
so you could take them car-camping or on a picnic. I’d just stick with
the smaller one and start making the ice cream earlier in the day so
you could play for a while, take a break and come back to it. I’d also
use cream instead of half-and-half (the recipe on the box says either
will work), since the cream version is supposed to thicken faster.

Or hey, just get the swirly, pink-and-green, marshmallowed flavor from ye olde supermarket. Your call.

The
Play and Freeze
($34.95 suggested retail) and the MEGA Play
& Freeze ($39.95 suggested retail) are available in various colors
at
REI,
LL Bean
and online at websites like
Amazon.

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