People have been making ice cream far longer than the invention of electricity so there's no reason you can't make ice cream and sorbets at home without a machine.
The advantage to using an electric or hand-cranked machine is that the final result will be smoother and creamier. Freezing anything from liquid-to-solid means you're creating hard ice crystals, so if you're making it by hand, as your ice cream or sorbet mixture freezes, you want to break up those ice crystals as much as possible so your final results are as smooth and creamy as possible.
Machines are relatively inexpensive nowadays with models costing less than $50, and yes, I've seen the ball, but if I started tossing one of those around the streets here in Paris, I'd probably get even more strange looks than I normally get. (Plus you'll need to lug some rock salt home as well.)
But not everyone has the space or the budget for a machine, so here's how you can do your own ice cream at home without a churner. I recommend starting with an ice cream recipe that is custard-based for the smoothest texture possible. You can use my Vanilla Ice Cream or another favorite, or even this Strawberry Frozen Yogurt recipe using Greek-style or drained yogurt. The richer the recipe, the creamier and smoother the results are going to be.
Ice cream made this way is best eaten soon after it's made—which shouldn't be a problem.
Making Ice Cream Without A Machine
1. Prepare your ice cream mixture, then chill it over an ice bath.
2. Put a deep baking dish, or bowl made of plastic, stainless steel or something durable in the freezer, and pour your custard mixture into it.
3. After forty-five minutes, open the door and check it.
As it starts to freeze near the edges, remove it from the freezer and stir it vigorously with a spatula or whisk. Really beat it up and break up any frozen sections. Return to freezer.
4. Continue to check the mixture every 30 minutes, stirring vigorously as it's freezing. If you have one, you can use a hand-held mixer for best results, or use a stick-blender or hand-held mixer.
But since we're going low-tech here, you can also use just a spatula or a sturdy whisk along with some modest physical effort.
5. Keep checking periodically and stirring while it freezes (by hand or with the electric mixer) until the ice cream is frozen. It will likely take 2-3 hours to be ready.
You can easily make Stracciatella ice cream with Italian-style chocolate chips:
Drizzle pure melted dark or milk chocolate (about 5 ounces, 140 g) over the almost-frozen mixture, then stir, breaking up the ribbons of chocolate as they start to freeze, to create little 'chips'.
Transfer the ice cream to a covered storage container until ready to serve.
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