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This weekend I picked up a hand-cranked ice cream maker for a very low price. However some of the instructions don't make much sense. For this maker, they say to crank the handcrank 2-3 times every 2-3 minutes, for a total of 20-30 minutes.

However, every ice cream maker I have ever used requires you to constantly crank the handle to help keep ice crystals from forming. Likewise, all of the electric makers will spin a beater arm nonstop through the process. Why is does this ice cream maker say to only stir sporadically? Does stirring more cause an issue with this ice cream maker?

The ice cream maker is the same design as this one, but about 20 years old: http://www.amazon.com/Donvier-837409W-1-Quart-Cream-Maker/dp/B00006484E/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

This is what the beater arm/dasher looks like

This is what the beater arm/dasher looks like.

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I had an electric ice cream maker and it was the most useless appliance I ever had, the motor would heat up and melt the ice. I believe you'd need some extremely powerful freezer for it to work - or as in this case, switch it on every 2 minutes. Not an issue with a hand crank though. –  SF. May 22 '13 at 14:13
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I have had that icecream maker for decades. I never had a problem with ice crystals following their directives. Since you don't need to churn it continuously, they tell you there's no need to. The mix needs some time in contact with the walls to get cold.

If you have kids, it will get stirred more often than the instructions say. But that tends to work out ok too. It's pretty forgiving all around.

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I can think of two reasons they suggest cranking intermittently:

  1. They figure its too much effort to crank it constantly, and if they asked you to do that you'd give up and return the machine to the store.
  2. It's possible to over-churn ice cream, and basically produce butter.

I'd guess #1 is more likely, by far. You can crank it more often, especially if you're getting ice crystals.

To avoid #2 happening, its best to start with an as cold as possible ice cream base (e.g., you want it to be just about to freeze, before it goes into the machine). One way to do this is to freeze a small portion of it, and refrigerate the rest. Before churning, mix the two together, and stir gently until the frozen portion melts. Then dump the mixture in to the ice cream maker, and start churning. (If you start this cold, you ought to be able to churn constantly. At least until you get tired.)

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I remember the "freeze a portion, fridge a portion" from an episode of Good Eats! :) My major concern was that as I cranked the handle, after the first turn or two, it ended up with almost no resistance (quite a bit different from the drum we had when I was a kid), so I was worried that it could prevent ANY crystal formation. I'm not too worried about over-beating, we're making frozen yogurt so additional overrun is a good thing I think. –  Matthew May 20 '13 at 20:28
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The more air you stir in the more crystals. This is more like Gelato.

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Churning more does gradually introduce air, but it makes the ice crystals smaller, so you don't even notice they're there. (I guess that does mean there are more of them, but that's kind of beside the point.) –  Jefromi Sep 22 '13 at 14:17
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