A quick thought experiment for you: what do you think of when you think about pumpkin spice?
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. But first some general tips.
General Pumpkin Ice Cream 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.
The Minimalist (and the Chocolate Lover)
If you're a pumpkin purist, this is the ice cream for you. Cinnamon and clove make a subtly spiced baseline, further enhanced by turbinado sugar and a wee nip of bourbon—but it's the pumpkin you taste most of all. Of course the dark brownie chunks make an excellent addition if you like some chocolate and chewiness with your pumpkin.
The Ice Cream That Thinks It's Pie
I'm not too big on pumpkin pie, but I love this pumpkin pie ice cream. Swapping dark brown sugar in for turbinado lends a more molasses-y flavor to the ice cream, and a hint of star anise adds subtle but noticeable interest. Instead of mixing in chunks of pie crust, which get clumpy like cold butter when frozen, I stir in gingersnaps and some chopped candied ginger. The cookies soften but don't fall apart, just like a real cookie crust on a pie. It's a good way to mix up your annual pumpkin pie baking.
The "Okay, Pumpkin Spice Doesn't Have to Suck"
Fine, I'll admit it! You can make some great pumpkin spice desserts if you treat them right. In this case that means starting with an extra custardy vanilla bean base, adding cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg, dark brown sugar, and topping it off with wee nip of bourbon. This ice cream has deeper, creamier, spicier flavors than the other two, 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.
How Do You Take Your Pumpkin?
Have any pumpkin ice creams of your own? Other pumpkin desserts you want to share? Tell us in the comments.