Ice Cream/Frozen Desserts

No-Churn Pumpkin Ice Cream With 5 Ingredients & No Pumpkin Spice

Gasp! Cover the latte's ears.

October 30, 2018

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big, BIG everything else: flavor, ideas, holy-cow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, pepper, and certain fats (say, olive oil to dress greens or sauté onions), since we're guessing you have those covered. This week: a make-ahead pumpkin dessert that really wants to come to your Thanksgiving.

Most pumpkin desserts don’t taste like pumpkin. They taste like pumpkin spice (as it’s known at Starbucks) or pumpkin pie spice (as it’s known at your supermarket). Like all spice blends, there’s no set formula here. McCormick includes: “cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and sulfiting agents.” Trader Joe’s: “cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom.” Whole Foods 365: “organic cinnamon, organic ginger, organic cloves, organic nutmeg.” The Spice Hunter: “cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, star anise, fennel, black pepper.”

Cinnamon wins Most Valuable Ingredient (MVI) in all of these—and ginger is always runner-up. A few add lemon peel. Spice Hunter brings fennel and black pepper (and you know how much I love black pepper in desserts). Despite the variants, all pumpkin spice blends bring bam-bam-bam flavor, which is why they make such a fan-favorite latte (I’ve still never tried one, should I?) and A+ seasoning for roasted vegetables (seriously, try it).

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But when it comes to pumpkin desserts, I’m not so sure. Taste a spoonful of canned pumpkin and you’ll probably be surprised by how mild and squashy it is. Stir in a little sugar and cream and now we’re talking. Stir in a little pumpkin spice and—whoosh—your brain immediately jumps to pumpkin pie. That’s not because of the pumpkin, though. It’s because of the pumpkin spice.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

This ice cream skips that ingredient.

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Top Comment:
“I'm not a bourbon drinker, but I have brandy left over from another recipe - could that sub or would the flavor clash? Alternatively, could I sub in vodka since it's flavorless?”
— Sara

Like many no-churn ice creams, the recipe is also no-cook. You just mix together this and that, then freeze. Also like many no-churn ice creams (like, say, this Big Little sundae!), it relies on two components: sweetened condensed milk and whipped cream. Basically, the sweetened condensed milk imitates the custard present in French-style ice creams and the whipped cream mimics your ice cream churner, which incorporates air as it freezes.

Adding pumpkin puree throws a wrench in the mix. Unlike the sweetened condensed milk and cream, pumpkin is not a fat-rich dairy product. Which means when you stir it into your ice cream base, you’re compromising the creamy factor (we want this) and heading toward Icy Town (let’s not go there).

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Bourbon helps. In Martha Stewart’s no-churn ice cream, she includes bourbon, which not only brings cozy, boozy flavor, but improves the ice cream’s texture to boot. Alcohol lowers the ice cream’s freezing temperature (think about the still-liquid vodka in your freezer), making it easier to scoop. If you’re dining with lil’ ones, you can lower the amount of bourbon or lose it altogether—the end result will just be slightly icier; as is, it amounts to just over 1 teaspoon bourbon in each 1-cup ice cream serving.

Other than the bourbon, this is basically pumpkin in ice cream form, which is just right for the end of a big Thanksgiving meal. From the host’s perspective, it can be made in advance, eliminating day-of stress when it comes to dessert. From the guest’s perspective: Who doesn’t love ice cream?

You could keep it simple and serve the scoops naked, but I’m always down for toppings. Here are a few of my favorites, which all just happen to be one ingredient:

  • Coffee or espresso for an affogato
  • More bourbon because why not
  • Maple syrup or honey for makeshift caramel sauce
  • Whipped cream, mascarpone, sour cream, Greek yogurt
  • Nut brittle, graham crackers, ginger snaps (store-bought is fine, you just roasted a turkey).

Put out the container of ice cream, plus assorted toppings, and tell people to have at it. It’s less formal and a lot less traditional than pumpkin pie. But it’s fun. And it really tastes like pumpkin.

Do you know what pumpkin dessert you’re making for Thanksgiving yet? Tell us about it in the comments!


Donna November 17, 2018
How far in advance can I make this recipe?
Sara November 14, 2018
I'm not a bourbon drinker, but I have brandy left over from another recipe - could that sub or would the flavor clash? Alternatively, could I sub in vodka since it's flavorless?
Author Comment
Emma L. November 14, 2018
Hi Sara! You could definitely substitute brandy. Or, if you don't love the taste of brandy and want something more flavor-neutral, vodka works, too.
Sara November 14, 2018
Thank you!!!
jane November 5, 2018
I would love to try this in a dairy free version. Coconut milk? Coconut cream? Anyone have advice?<br />
Derrick November 6, 2018
Gemma Stafford has a recipe option for coconut sweetened condensed milk on her blog at I can't see why it wouldn't work.
Author Comment
Emma L. November 14, 2018
Hi Jane! There was a similar Q on the recipe page. Copying my reply from there below: <br /><br />The first ingredients that come to mind are coconut cream and sweetened condensed coconut milk, but that would be a pretty big swap in a recipe like this, and I'm not sure how it would turn out. A safer bet would be starting with a vegan ice cream recipe and pumpkin-fying that. This is a great article about how to make vegan ice cream without a recipe, so it's ripe for adaptation: