Pumpkin Ice Cream

It’s unpopular opinion time, y’all: I hate the pumpkin spice craze with a fiery passion.

Now, while I duck to protect myself from pumpkin spice lattes and boxes of pumpkin spice Cheerios thrown in my direction, hear me out: I said I hate the pumpkin spice craze. I hate when items are labeled as “pumpkin spice” that have absolutely no pumpkin in them, or worse: are pumpkin flavored, with not an ounce of the good orange stuff to be found. And I hate the explosion of these products, these awful imitations of fall deliciousness: cereals and candies and sugared-up industrial snacks designed to make you buy mediocrity every year, yet be horribly disappointed by the results.

Y’all. You probably have “pumpkin spice” in your cabinet: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and maybe even cloves, if you’re feeling frisky. Sprinkle it on your morning toast or in your coffee, and quit buying weird Pop-Tarts and potato chips. Also, quit calling it pumpkin spice: it’s warm spicing. It’s also in your apple pie and your Indian food, but you don’t see me calling it Pumpkin Spice Tikka Masala. (I wouldn’t be surprised if that existed, though.)

I digress. That being said, I love pumpkin. I get super excited about pumpkins and pumpkin-infused desserts, breads, soups, and beers every year, and I always have a few pie pumpkins ready for processing around this time. Pumpkin’s flavor is very subtly sweet and takes warm flavorings excellently, whether in savory or sweet applications. It adds moisture to cakes and quickbreads without adding a lot of extra stuff, and is just plain cozy. This year was the first year I actually grew my own pie pumpkins, which is pretty exciting. I’m not, however, opposed to the canned stuff, especially since fresh pumpkin puree can add a good deal more moisture to recipes that call for the canned variety than you might expect. But if I can grow it and process it myself without any waste, you know I’m going to do it.

Anyway, pie pumpkins. We grew those, and now I’m processing them. It took over a month for our weather to cool down, but it came. And while I don’t need the cold to consume it, it just didn’t feel right to process my pumpkins until the weather cooperated to make it truly fall.

It wasn’t that much of a sacrifice, though, as my beautiful pumpkins made excellent counter decorations in the meantime.

Now, I could (and still might) make all kinds of baked goods with my fresh pumpkin puree: pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin tarts, whatever. I’ve still got a few cups in the fridge ready to go, and you’d better believe you’ll see a recipe or two if I get to making baked goods this week. But one of the first things I always like to make with fresh pumpkin puree is pumpkin ice cream.

Go back in time with me. It’s the late 90s, maybe early 2000s. Pumpkin spice latte mix and pumpkin spice Hershey’s Kisses are nowhere to be found or even imagined. There are, perhaps, jars of “pumpkin spice” in the baking aisle, as well as cans of pumpkin beneath the fruit fillings in the fall. But there is no. Danged. Pumpkin ice cream.

Okay, that’s a lie: there was some, because I clearly ate it in some formative years, but it was only available at a small frozen custard place in my hometown, and only available on certain days during October. Now, this place now has a website you can check for its Flavor of the Day, but back then, you had to rely on checking their printed calendar in the store window. If you missed Pumpkin Ice Cream Day, you missed it for the year, and that was sad pandas.

Other pumpkin ice creams slowly appeared in other places as the pumpkin spice craze grew, but they were disappointing at best: saccharine pumpkin-flavored concoctions without a hint of pumpkin smoothness or, worse, pumpkin spice flavored. Not pumpkin. I’m convinced that the craze has actually made it harder to find decent pumpkin-based desserts, giving me yet another reason to hate it.

The moment I got myself an ice cream maker was the moment I knew I’d have tasty pumpkin ice cream whenever I wanted that would actually taste like pumpkin. Not pumpkin spice. Not sugar-soaked orangeness. Actual pumpkin, with spicing in the back. And my friends, I’m going to share that recipe with you today, because you, too, deserve something better than pumpkin-spiced mediocrity.

Pumpkin Ice Cream

Got a pie pumpkin and don’t know what to do with it? Scroll to the bottom for how to process a whole pumpkin!

You will need:

  • 2 c heavy cream
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 c pureed pumpkin
  • 3/4 c brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp molasses
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg (grate this stuff freshly or get out of my house)
  • pinch of cloves
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (optional, but gives an excellent throat heat and brings out the other warm spices)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp bourbon


  1. Whisk egg yolks and 1/2 c of the cream together in a medium bowl, and set aside. Combine the pumpkin and vanilla in a separate small bowl and set aside.
  2. Prepare an ice bath: fill a large bowl (one that can fit a medium-sized bowl) about halfway with ice and water, and set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, molasses, remaining 1 1/2 c cream, salt, and spices, and heat over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is steaming.
  4. Whisking the egg yolks constantly to prevent curdling, pour about 1/2 c of the hot cream mixture into the eggs (this is called tempering – bringing your eggs gradually to the same temperature as the rest of your ingredients to prevent scrambled egg ice cream).
  5. Pour the egg-cream mixture back into the saucepan and, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, heat the mixture until it thickens slightly. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan during the process, and do not allow the mixture to boil. I repeat: do not allow the mixture to boil. You will not only have scrambled eggs, but you will infuse your cream with an eggy taste. No thanks. You will know you have the right consistency when your mixture coats your spatula, and you can run your finger through the mixture on the spatula and the line stays (nothing oozes back in place). Remove pan immediately from heat.
  6. Pour the mixture into a medium bowl, and place the bowl carefully into the ice bath. Stir the cream mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl, until it is cold (i.e., feels as if it had been refrigerated) to the touch. Whisk in the pumpkin-vanilla mixture.
  7. You have two options here: one, you can cover the bowl and refrigerate the mixture for 4 hours or up to overnight. Some recipes insist that you do this, or your ice cream will not set. This is markedly false: as long as your mixture is cold (not just cool) after the ice bath, your ice cream absolutely will churn properly. So option two is to go ahead and churn your ice cream according to you ice cream maker’s directions. Add the tablespoon of bourbon during the last minute or so of churning.
  8. Again, you have options: you can either eat the soft-serve right away, or place the ice cream in a freezer-safe container and allow it to harden for 4-8 hours before serving. Both are delicious and acceptable ways to play.

Variations and Processing:

  • Pumpkin Ice Cream (no eggs): Don’t want to bother with custard? No problem! Your ice cream won’t be as rich, but it will still be delicious: Omit the egg yolks, and whisk together all ingredients in a medium bowl. Refrigerate the mixture if you want. Churn the mixture according to your ice cream maker’s directions, and eat or freeze for later.
  • How to make pumpkin puree: Make sure you have a variety of pie pumpkin, and not the giant pumpkins designed for carving – those will have too much water and not enough “meat” to make a good puree. Pie pumpkins tend to be smaller and denser. Cut off the stem, and slice the pumpkin in half. Compost the pulp and use the seeds for roasting, seed-saving, or playing a fun game of Pumpkin Roulette in your compost pile (will you have a million pumpkins growing next year?). Place the pumpkin halves on a roasting pan or baking sheet, and roast at 425 degrees F for about an hour, or until the pumpkin flesh is soft enough to skewer with a fork. When cool enough to handle, peel the skin off of the pumpkin flesh (it should come off fairly easily). Compost the peel, and place the flesh into a blender with about 1/2 c water (add more as necessary for processing). Blend until smooth, then use immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.


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