How to Make Gingerbread Ice Cream

A thick and creamy gingerbread ice cream, just in time for the holidays.


When I was still in culinary school, a classmate and I drove across two states for a scoop of Festivus Ice Cream—a now-retired Ben & Jerry's flavor made up of brown sugar cinnamon ice cream, gingerbread chunks, and a caramel swirl. Or something like that; it's been a long time.

I may not remember the details, but I remember it tasting like a pure shot of holiday cheer, and I've been keen to try making my own for some time. While I've been known to obsess over the details of copycat recipes in the past, right down to the embossed surface of a homemade Oreo, here I was more interested in the spirit of a gingerbread-themed ice cream, rather than the minutiae of a distantly remembered pint.

Using my other cookie-based ice creams (my Oreo and Biscoff ice creams) as a jumping-off point, I started with homemade gingerbread cookie crumbs and wound up with a formula that's hyper focused on gingerbread itself.

Scooping up gingerbread ice cream

Perhaps comically so, with an ice cream thickened and flavored with gingerbread crumbs, then studded with cookie pieces throughout. It's a great way to use up the weird scrap pieces left over from gingerbread-cookie cutouts, or any leftover homemade cookies that have started to go stale, or even leftover cookies from the store. The idea isn't to make cookies for the ice cream, but to make ice cream for the cookies.

making gingerbread cookie crumbs

The first step is to crush the scraps and/or stale cookies into a fine powder—this is easy to do by hand with a rolling pin and a heavy-duty zip-top bag, but a food processor is even faster—then mix them with egg yolks, brown sugar, milk, and cream to form a custard base.

making the gingerbread ice cream base

I start out over low heat in a three-quart stainless steel saucier, whisking constantly but not vigorously until the mixture is warm to the touch (the lazy way to temper).

After gently warming the mixture, I turn up the heat to finish cooking the custard. As it thickens, I switch to a flexible, heat-resistant spatula to help scrape along the bottom and sides.

cooking the gingerbread custard

Once the custard has finished cooking, I spike it with a splash of orange curaçao and vanilla, two aromatics that help open up its spicy aroma. If you don't have any curaçao on hand, other citrusy liqueurs will work just fine, or whatever spirit sounds like a tasty match in your mind. The booze can also be left out altogether.

flavoring the base with orange liqueur, vanilla, and spices

Before finishing up, I like to pause to taste and season the base with an extra crack of black pepper to bring out the spicy notes of ginger, as well as an additional pinch of salt. Or whatever else you find it may need—desserts should always be seasoned to taste in the end, like any other dish.

As with most custards, I strain the ice cream base into a large bowl to remove stray lumps of chalazae (those firm white bits in an egg), along with any bits of undissolved cookie crumbs. This is also a nice fail-safe method should the custard happen to curdle in the sharp corners of a pot—something that might happen if you're not using the right whisk for the job (one of the reasons I prefer making custards in a saucier, where it's easy to reach the edges with a balloon whisk).

straining the gingerbread ice cream

Before refrigeration, I chill my ice cream base in an ice bath to keep it from warming up the fridge. This is definitely a vestigial habit from my days as a pastry chef, and not strictly necessary when you're making ice cream at home, but it will speed the cooling process and help bring the base down to 40°F (4°C) faster than if the base were allowed to passively cool.

How long this process takes doesn't really matter, unless you're in a hurry. As former Serious Eats ice cream whisperer Max Falkowitz has explained, ice cream bases don't need to be chilled overnight. There are some marginal gains to be had, particularly with large batches, but none that are make-or-break when you're just spinning up a quart of ice cream at home.

What will make a difference is your freezer's temperature setting. If it's above 0°F (-18°C), the ice cream canister won't be as cold as it should be, which can result in poor volume and a gooey consistency. But with a properly frozen canister and a well-chilled base, this ice cream will turn fluffy and light as it churns.

Finally, I transfer the ice cream to a chilled container. It can be layered with a drizzle of homemade caramel sauce (which will develop a wonderfully chewy consistency as it freezes) if you're feeling fancy, or just a big handful of crushed gingerbread cookie crumbs and chunks.

Gingerbread ice cream

Larger chunks can make tidy scoops a little trickier, but they're extremely satisfying to excavate when you're digging in.

scoop of gingerbread ice cream

Whether it's made with gingerbread crumbs from my favorite recipe or yours (or, real talk, from the store), the ice cream itself may be cool and creamy, but the flavors are hearty and warm. Double down on the holiday flavor by pairing it with a warm slice of gingerbread cake, or let it contrast the fruity brightness found in a perfect slice of cherry pie.