The first time I had pumpkin ice cream was at the Nut Tree in Vacaville, CA. If you grew up in northern California, chances are you went there too. For those that are unfamiliar, the Nut Tree began in 1921 as a roadside fruit stand and evolved over time to become a mini amusement park which attracted families for generations. As kids, every fall my family would make our way to the Nut Tree and ride the train and explore the pumpkin patch. Each year we had our picture taken sitting on a hay bail or posing next to a scarecrow (the incriminating photos still exist). But hay bails and scarecrows aside, the highlight of course was pumpkin ice cream!
I remember being overjoyed at the big scoop of pale orange colored ice cream. Like most kids, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, so I had a hard time finishing it all. Such pressure, as I knew I wouldn't taste it again until the next fall! Though the Nut Tree is no longer in the same incarnation I knew as a kid, some relics still remain. It's been many years since I've had pumpkin ice cream, in fact, the last time I had it may have been at the Nut Tree.
You can roast the pumpkin yourself or use canned pumpkin. I used a combination of both, as I had some leftover pumpkin puree I froze from a couple months ago. This ice cream is SO good and made me feel like a kid again. The medley of spices give this ice cream so much flavor, it's basically pumpkin pie in the form of ice cream. A yummy seasonal treat to enjoy all fall and winter long!
Adapted from David Lebovitz, davidlebovitz.com and Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox, The Craft of Baking
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cups pumpkin puree (canned or homemade- see notes below)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 to 2 tsps. Grand Marnier, rum, or brandy (optional)
Start by making an ice bath: place some ice and a cup or two of water in a large bowl and place another slightly smaller metal bowl inside it. Place a fine-mesh strainer over the top and set aside.
In a medium size saucepan, mix the milk, cream, granulated sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and salt. Heat the mixture over low heat until hot and the edges begin to bubble. Remove from heat.
In a medium size bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Gradually whisk in half of the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the warmed yolks mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom to prevent sticking. Cook until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spatula (if using an instant-read thermometer, it should read between 160-170 degrees F).
Immediately pour the mixture through the fine-mesh strainer into the metal bowl set inside the ice bath. Stir in the brown sugar, pumpkin, vanilla extract, and liquor (if using). Stir until the mixture is cool and remove from ice bath. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and another sheet over the entire bowl. Refrigerate for several hours, preferably overnight.
Place a fine-mesh strainer over an ice cream maker and pour the pumpkin custard into the machine (you may need to use a rubber spatula to work it through). Process according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer ice cream to plastic containers and freeze until ready to use.
- If you plan to make the pumpkin puree yourself, look for "sugar" or "pie" pumpkins, which are ideal for roasting/eating (steer clear of the large Halloween carving pumpkins). Using a large kitchen knife, cut off the pumpkin stem and the base. Split the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds (save for roasting later) and discard the pulp. Line a sheet pan with foil and lightly grease with olive oil. Place the pumpkin cut-side down and roast at 400 degrees F, until the skins begin to blister and the flesh is very soft, about 45 to 55 minutes, depending on size. Let the pumpkin cool, scoop out flesh and puree in a food processor until smooth.
- If using canned pumpkin, be sure to buy 100% pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling which has sugar and spices already added.
- This ice cream takes well to many different toppings, such as: chopped toasted walnuts or pecans, candied ginger, and crumbled gingersnap or gingerbread cookies. You can also fold these toppings into the ice cream itself.