The Sage Smart Scoop is by far the most intelligent ice cream maker on the market. Like any high-end ice cream maker, it has a built-in freezer so there's no need to pre-freeze the mixing bowl.
Unusually, it can also sense the consistency of your ice cream, gelato, sorbet or frozen yoghurt and stop mixing when it's ready – each type should have a different consistency. And it can keep the dessert cool, with the texture just right, until you're ready.
It's pricey, even by high-end ice cream maker standards. But it did turn out superb ice cream and the features were impressive and great fun. It even makes the sound of an ice cream van when it's ready.
The Sage has an unusual design that's wide rather than deep – you can position it at the back of your kitchen worktop and still have plenty of working space in front of it. It's finished in brushed stainless steel, which unfortunately attracts fingerprints. And it has a hi-tech control panel, with a large and detailed display and lots of buttons.
Like any high-end ice cream maker, it has a built-in freezer so there's no need to pre-freeze the mixing bowl. But the Sage goes much further, with intelligent features not seen elsewhere.
The first is that it senses how hard or soft your ice cream mix is, presumably by measuring how much resistance the paddle encounters as it stirs. So while you can simply switch the Sage on for your chosen amount of time using the built-in 5 to 180 minute timer, it's much better to tell it whether you're making ice cream, gelato, sorbet or frozen yoghurt and let it judge the consistency for you.
When it thinks your dessert is ready, an alarm sounds and you check if you agree or not. What's more, you can use the Sage's Keep Cool mode to continue to chill the ice cream for up to 3 hours without overdoing it, stirring occasionally to keep the consistency right.
Its other unusual feature is a child lock, to prevent little fingers using all those interesting-looking buttons. Plus it comes with a special long, thin spatula for serving the ice cream – essential as the bowl is unusually tall and thin – and a bottle brush for cleaning the awkward bits.
The leaflet includes 16 superb-sounding recipes and there are tips from Heston Blumenthal that, as ever, don't disappoint. In this one he explains why a tiny pinch of salt makes a sweet ice cream taste sweeter, but too much is disastrous.
First up, we took the instruction manual's advice and pre-cooled the Sage. We told it that we were planning to make ice cream – there are 12 hardness settings to choose from, ranging from the softest sorbet to the hardest ice cream – and it took 10 minutes to cool down from 19°C to -31°C.
Pre-cooling is apparently even more important for gelato – similar to ice cream, but with a denser texture that benefits from less churning.
A posh, old-fashioned bell sound went "ding ding ding" when it was time to add the mix. We later discovered that the bell sound could be muted, made quieter or louder, or swapped for the melody of an ice cream van.
We pressed Start and added the mix. The large display alternates between telling you the temperature (you choose between °C and °F) and how long the machine has been on for. What it doesn't do is tell you how long it will take, but the bar across the bottom gives a visual indication of how hard your mix is, so you can get a sense of progress.
We were planning to add sweets to our chocolate ice cream mix but we didn't hear an alert that it was time to add extras. That said, after 40 minutes the machine was audibly working harder to stir, so we went to check and on screen it did indeed say it was time to add them.
Within a couple of minutes the ice cream was done, but we used Keep Cool mode, which kept it at -7°C and stirred the mix occasionally. By this point we'd switched to the ice cream van melody, a glorious rendition. It brought back memories of sprints down the road, but beware it also alerts little ears to the presence of ice cream!
The resulting ice cream had a firm-enough-to-eat-now soft scoop texture, but was even better after a short spell in the freezer. The texture was creamy and smooth, the flavour rich and tasty.
Cleaning up was easy thanks to the bottle brush, but would have been tricky if we'd misplaced it. The stainless steel finish does attract fingerprints though.
Yes, if you can justify the expense. The Sage is hard to fault – our only real criticism apart from the price tag is that its capacity (0.7 litre mix, which makes 1 litre of ice cream) is a bit small compared with rival ice cream makers. But its features are superb and not all gimmicky. They help you make superb ice cream and more, and keep it cool for you until you're ready.
If you want a simpler high-end ice cream maker, look at the Cuisinart Gelato & Ice Cream Professional. For healthy frozen desserts look at the Judge Fro Fru Aand if you want something much more affordable consider the Swan Come Dine With Me Ice Cream & Gelato Maker – but note that with affordable models you must remember to pre-freeze the bowl overnight.
A superb, intelligent ice cream maker that thinks it's an ice cream van. What's not to like?