Putting pumpkin pie spice on ice

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If you were with us around this time last year you may remember that I railed, not ever so slightly, against all things “pumpkin spice.” Why? I hold that “pumpkin spice” is an overly used, oft-abused “flavor.” But here’s the thing, I still love pumpkin. Real pumpkin, that is. Pumpkin curry, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and yes, pumpkin ice cream. Because when it’s still 80 degrees in early October and it feels like summer will never acquiesce to fall, ice cream in November is not that far-fetched an idea. Especially when it’s rich, creamy, and the flavors — pumpkin, ginger, cinnamon, a few cracks of black pepper — come together in such pure pumpkin concert that you can, if not for the briefest of moments, imagine a world where pumpkin spice air fresheners don’t actually exist.

This recipe, which is simultaneously homey and sophisticated, is courtesy of Chez Panisse-alum, David Lebovitz. He was named one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top Five Pastry Chefs in the Bay Area, and there is never really any reason to doubt his recipes — this one included. While I first started making his pumpkin ice cream with fresh pumpkin that I would roast and puree myself (they were simpler times), even Lebovitz himself says canned pumpkin will do. Just get pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling, as the latter will have spices and sweeteners added in.

This ice cream is, simply put, the fall season in dairy form. Serve it at Thanksgiving with ginger snaps or just keep it on hand for when you need a break from the pumpkin spice takeover. But do make it. You won’t regret it.

David Lebovitz’s Pumpkin Ice Cream

Makes about 1 quart


1 1/2 cups (375ml) whole milk

1 cup (250ml) heavy cream

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons (95g) granulated sugar

big pinch of salt

5 large egg yolks

3/4 cup (180g) fresh or canned 100% pure pumpkin puree

(not pumpkin pie filling, which has spices and sweeteners added)

1/4 cup packed (60g) dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground dried ginger

a few turns of ground black pepper

optional: 2 teaspoons whiskey or brandy


1. Make an ice bath by putting some ice and water in bowl that is large enough for a medium, 2-quart bowl to nest inside of it. Place a sieve on top of the medium-sized bowl.

2. Measure the cream into the medium bowl nested in the ice bath. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks.

2. In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, granulated sugar, and salt.

3. Once the sugar is dissolved and the milk is starting to simmer, turn off the heat and, while whisking the egg yolks constantly, pour about half of the warm milk into the eggs. Do not stop whisking the eggs while pouring. This process is called “tempering” and it prevents the eggs from cooking as soon as they’re introduced to the hot milk.

4. Scrape the tempered yolks back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heatproof spatula. Really make sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan — you want to make sure everything is cooking evenly. The mixture will start to thicken. You’ll know it’s ready when you pull the spatula out from the mixture and run your finger in a line down the spatula. If the trail of your finger stays, the mixture is the right thickness and you’re good to go.

5. It’s ice bath time. Grab the sieve if it’s not already nested on the medium bowl with the heavy cream. Pour the mixture through the sieve and right into the heavy cream.

6. Stir until the mixture (which is now a custard) is cool. This may take a few minutes and you may need to replenish the ice.

7. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

8. Pull the bowl out of the ice bath and wipe the bottom so no ice water gets into the custard during the next step.

9. Pour the cooled custard into a blender with the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, and whiskey or brandy, if using. You could use an electric hand mixer if you don’t have a blender handy. Mix well.

10. Cover and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator, preferably overnight.

This story was originally published in the November print edition of Climate Magazine.