Pumpkin Ice Cream

Traditionally pumpkin is synonymous with the fall season and Thanksgiving.  I, however, love to use pumpkin throughout the year.  Most have only had pumpkin in its pie form, but its rich texture and flavor makes it the perfect ingredient for so many other recipes.  I have a whole section in my handwritten cookbook dedicated to pumpkin recipes, so check back often as I will be adding more pumpkin recipes to my online archives.  At all times I either have a fresh pumpkin in my veggie basket or canned pumpkin puree in the pantry.

Pumpkin is part of the squash family (I have an obsession with everything squash) and it is extremely healthy.   It is low in calories, contains no saturated fat and is high in fiber.  Furthermore, pumpkin is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.   Pumpkin is one of the few vegetables that can cross the savory and sweet flavor barrier.  For savory dishes it can be used in raviolis or risotto.  While for sweet dishes, pumpkin can be used in pies, bread or in this case ice cream!

Ice cream is probably one of the top favorite desserts among people of all ages.  Ice cream can come in so many textures and flavors.  It is simple in its ingredients and can be topped with anything you can imagine.  I am a true ice cream junkie and will seek it out wherever I am.  While traditional milk based ice cream is not necessarily a bad thing, it is truly considered an occasional treat.  Since I love ice cream, I decided I needed to make a healthy ice cream that I could enjoy more than occasionally.

I began my ice cream making journey by researching the basics of ice cream making.  To ensure an ice cream has a good, creamy consistency, I learned the right amount and type of fat is needed.  Since I am not a huge fan of fat and my body doesn’t process it well, I knew I needed to find an ingredient that would be a good fat replacement.  I needed an ingredient that had a buttery mouth feel but was not high in fat or oil.  Sweet potato quickly popped into my mind.  I use sweet potato as the butter replacement in my “Out of This World Chocolate Butter Cream” recipe.  I felt that I could use sweet potato as the “fat” base for my ice cream recipe as well.

After several trials with using sweet potatoes to make an ice cream, I realized I needed something with a creamier texture.  Don’t get me wrong the sweet potato actually made a great ice cream, but there was something about the texture, once it was frozen, that was not exactly what I desired.  I scoured my mind trying to think of something that was similar to sweet potato but had a creamier texture.  Since sweet potatoes are sometimes used as a replacement for pumpkin in pumpkin pies, I thought maybe I could use that same swap here for my ice cream recipe.  Maybe pumpkin would have the texture, once frozen, that I was looking for.  I quickly cooked up some pumpkin, threw it into the ice cream maker and voila, I had the ice cream I was dreaming about!

For this ice cream recipe you can either use fresh diced pumpkin (cooking instructions listed below) or you can use the canned puree pumpkin.  Without a doubt the canned pumpkin is certainly easier to use and in most cases cheaper to buy.  I also like canned pureed pumpkin because, typically, it is just pumpkin, there are no added ingredients.  Canned pureed pumpkin is offered year round and can be found in most (if not all) grocery stores.  Just as an FYI, Whole Foods offers a nice organic canned pumpkin puree.

To create my ice cream I use an ice cream maker.  If you are a fan of ice cream, than having an ice cream maker should be on your list of things to get.  It really is an amazing kitchen gadget that is fun and easy to use.  You do not need a fancy, expensive ice cream maker and can find a decent one for under $40.  However, if you do not have an ice cream maker or your budget does not allow for one, have no fear this recipe can be made without the use of an ice cream maker.  The final ice cream product will not be as creamy as the ice cream that the ice cream maker products, but it is a great alternative and works in a pinch.   I have included instructions on how to make ice cream without an ice cream maker at the bottom of this recipe.

Other members of the squash family can be used to create this ice cream (did you know there are over 50 squash varieties!).  While I have found I prefer the taste of pumpkin the best, other squash like butternut, acorn or winter squash can be used instead of pumpkin.  The only squash I would not recommend using for this recipe would be the spaghetti squash (save that one for pasta night). Should you wish to use a different squash, the recipe and cooking instructions remain the same.  The only difference would be substituting the 2 cups (or 15 ounce can) of pumpkin in the recipe for a different type of squash.  If making the puree from fresh, the baking time may need to be altered (generally shortened) since most squashes are smaller, in size, than pumpkin.  Canned butternut squash is available year round in some of the healthy grocery stores like Whole Foods and Chamberlains.

Pumpkin Ice Cream

15 ounce can of pumpkin puree (or 2 cups of homemade pumpkin puree, see recipe below)

2 cups of almond or coconut milk (I prefer the unsweetened vanilla kind for this recipe)

1/8 teaspoon pure Stevia extract (or 3 tablespoons cane sugar, honey or maple syrup; add more or less depending on your sweet preference)

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

A dash of salt

In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients and blend on medium speed for about a minute.  Pour pumpkin mixture into a well chilled ice cream maker*.  Churn the pumpkin mixture for about 8 minutes or until it is well chilled and taking on a more solid (sorbet like) consistency.  Empty the soft pumpkin ice cream into a freezer safe container.  At this point the ice cream can be served if you like a soft sorbet like consistency.  Or if you prefer a more traditional ice cream consistency the mixture can frozen for about an hour.  If the ice cream hardness too much in the freezer it can be “thawed” slightly on the counter for about 10 minutes before serving.  

*If you do not own an ice cream maker, have no fear, you can still make this ice cream!  Simply pour the mixture evenly into an ice cube tray.  Cover the tray with plastic wrap and freeze for about 2 hours.  Remove the tray from the freezer, allow to “thaw” for about 10 minutes. Pop the pumpkin cubes into a blender or food processor.   Blend on medium to high speed for about 1 to 2 minutes.     

Option 1 – Homemade Pumpkin Puree

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Carefully cut the pumpkin in half. Scrap the inside of the pumpkin to remove the seeds and pulp (you can save and roast the pumpkin for a healthy quick snack!) . Cover each half of the pumpkin with aluminum foil.   With the foil side up, bake in the preheated oven, for about 1 hour or until tender.  Remove the pumpkin halves from the oven. Remove the foil and allow the pumpkin to cool slightly.  Scrape the pumpkin meat from shell halves and puree in a blender or food processor. The pumpkin meat may contain some string like piece so you can strain if needed. Allow the meat to cool completely before using in the ice cream maker.  

Option 2 –  Canned Pumpkin Puree

Caned pumpkin puree can be purchased in 15 oz cans in pretty much any grocery store.  Most, if not all, canned pumpkin purees contain only pumpkin but be sure to check the ingredients before purchasing.  Organic puree options are available at most health focused grocery chains like Whole Foods or Chamberlains.  Canned pumpkin is available year round, it is easy to use and generally cheaper then fresh pumpkin.

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