Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream Recipe

An extra custardy vanilla bean base is combined with pumpkin purée and flavored with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, dark brown sugar, and a wee nip of bourbon.

Close-up of an ice cream scoop packed with a perfect sphere of pumpkin spice ice cream.

Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

Why It Works

  • Adding enough cream and eggs to the ice cream custard ensures a great texture, despite the moisture-heavy pumpkin purée.
  • A light hand with the spices allows the pumpkin flavor to shine.
  • Bourbon and vanilla enhance the spice profile.

A quick thought experiment for you: what do you think of when you think about pumpkin spice?

Cinnamon? Nutmeg?

Vanilla probably. Maybe clove or allspice. And of course there's the most common word association: "latte."

I asked this question on Twitter and, well, do you notice something missing? Out of half a dozen responses to the question above, only one included the word "pumpkin." And that's understandable, because most pumpkin-flavored seasonal things we get this time of year are pretty light on the actual pumpkin, favoring a heavy hand with cheap spices and sugar. Even Starbucks employees seem a little confused about what goes into one of their pumpkin spice lattes. (Hint: not pumpkin.)

But like any ingredient, pumpkin is a beautiful thing when treated right. Which is why I make a new pumpkin ice cream recipe every year, and it's always lapped up in a hurry. I've gathered three pumpkin ice creams worth making this season, each with its own merits. In addition to this pure pumpkin spice treat, I also created a pumpkin pie version and a brownie-studded pumpkin ice cream. But first, some general tips:

  • The pumpkin: I like making my own pumpkin purée when I can, but the canned stuff works well enough in ice cream. Just stick to plain, unflavored pumpkin purée, not pumpkin pie filling.
  • The spices: Go light! Used properly, fresh spices go a long way, and you don't need much to add plenty of flavor to your pumpkin. Unless you have a serious, serious thing for pumpkin spice-bombs, try letting the pumpkin's flavor speak for itself. Darker sugars, like brown or raw sugar, and spirits like bourbon or rum are other, more interesting ways to add nuance to your pumpkin.
  • The ice cream: Pumpkin purée feels creamy, but its low-fat, high-water content is trouble for ice cream. So don't try skimping on the cream and eggs in these recipes—you need a good amount of fat to keep them soft. For similar reasons, let your pumpkin ice cream sit on the counter for a couple minutes before serving and you'll be rewarded with neater, creamier scoops.

This ice cream starts with an extra custardy vanilla bean base, adding cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg, dark brown sugar, and topping it off with a wee nip of bourbon. This ice cream has deep, creamy, spicy flavor, but the dominant flavor remains fresh pumpkin perfumed with vanilla. It tastes like a better, more homemade version of that Starbucks pumpkin spice latte—minus the coffee, which, let's face it, is pretty incidental anyway.

October 2013

Recipe Facts

Active: 60 mins
Total: 12 hrs
Serves: 8 servings
Makes: 1 quart

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups heavy cream

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar

  • 8 large egg yolks

  • 1 cup pumpkin purée, canned or homemade

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (see note)

  • 1 teaspoon bourbon

  • Kosher salt, to taste

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring cream and milk to a simmer. Stir in vanilla bean, cover, remove from heat, and let steep for 1 hour. Discard vanilla bean or wash and dry for another use.

  2. In a second saucepan whisk together sugar, egg yolks, pumpkin purée, and spices until very well combined. Slowly poor milk mixture into saucepan, whisking constantly, until fully incorporated. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until a custard forms on the back of a spoon and finger swiped across it leaves a clean line.

  3. Pour custard through a fine mesh strainer into an airtight container, then stir in bourbon and salt to taste in 1/4 teaspoon increments (I used 3/4 teaspoons for a slightly salty kick) and chill overnight.

  4. The next day, churn according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer ice cream to airtight container and chill in freezer for at least 4 to 5 hours before serving.

Special Equipment

Ice cream maker

Notes

For best results, grind nutmeg fresh on a microplane or nutmeg grater.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
377 Calories
28g Fat
23g Carbs
10g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 377
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 28g 36%
Saturated Fat 16g 81%
Cholesterol 279mg 93%
Sodium 127mg 6%
Total Carbohydrate 23g 8%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 21g
Protein 10g
Vitamin C 2mg 8%
Calcium 131mg 10%
Iron 2mg 9%
Potassium 257mg 5%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)