While some people look forward to autumn for the return of pumpkin spice lattes or pumpkin beers, anyone looking to don their Ugg boots or cozy sweater as soon as possible knows the best way to go is a cup of ice cream. While we may not intuitively think of the chilly fall as great weather for frozen food, it does bring the return of the quietly best part of the fall food landscape: pumpkin ice cream.
When we set out to rank pumpkin ice creams, we weren't prepared for the variance we'd find. We expected an array of pleasant orange ice creams with some spicy notes of the classic pumpkin spice ternary: cinnamon, clove, allspice, nutmeg. And while those are certainly prevalent, some of our top scorers went beyond expectations to explore new frontiers in pumpkin-based ice cream wetware. So while you're carving a smile into your jack-o-lantern, it's entirely possible one of these pun'kins will be putting a smile on your face at the same time.
Read more: 25 Best Ice Cream Brands Ranked
Halo Top Pumpkin Pie
Halo Top is like bullet-journaling: You either go all the way in and your world can never be the same, or you're standing around wondering why everyone's so excited about a less fun, if more effective, solution. And it's not that Halo Top isn't very good at what it does, which is make high-protein, healthier ice cream. It's just hard to eat any of it without thinking of "The Good Place" take on frozen yogurt — that it seems like the most human thing in the world to make something a little bit better by making it a little bit worse.
So although a tasty way to get a better version of that pumpkin ice cream craving down your gullet, it's hard to completely shake the feeling that Halo Top isn't really ice cream as we know it. But if it's ice cream as you enjoy it, more power to you. We'd rather have a spoonful of the real deal than a half-pint of a half-measure.
Baskin Robbins Pumpkin Cheesecake
Look, it's Baskin Robbins. It's good because it's ice cream, but it's not here to change anyone's entire approach to dessert. You know what you get here, and you have fond associations with it, just as with its frequently conjoined brandmate Dunkin' Donuts. You're buying reliability here, not revelation.
Or are you even? Pumpkin Cheesecake falls a bit below the level of quality as Favorite Day for good but not remarkable, except it costs you a lot more than that box of ice cream from Target would. Additionally, some reviews feel it's lacking in that essential pumpkin flavor while still being a very tasty serving of sugar and fat. While the spiciness is present, the promised pumpkin and cheesecake profiles never quite emerge.
It's a shame, because for a minute Pumpkin Cheesecake looked ready to break some ground here, opting for a cinnamon cream cheese swirl and using ginger snap cookies rather than an expected graham cracker crust. But the end result is something out of bounds from its intention.
Favorite Day Pumpkin Cheesecake
A lot of pumpkin-flavored ice creams have hewed towards cheesecake in recent years. Perhaps it's because graham crackers seem like they stand up to freezing better than flakier pie crusts. How often do you even see a pumpkin cheesecake out there? Anyway, this is Target's new-ish in-house brand (one of almost four dozen), and it's good, as all pumpkin ice creams are good, but it's not standout. People get more fired up about Favorite Day's pumpkin whipped cream than the ice cream they'll be putting it on.
What gets it up here is a very solid pumpkin base suddenly gussed up a bit with the cheesecake embellishments. It does the pumpkin job, delivers a little bit extra, and is available everywhere for an affordable price. If you're not looking to find the very best out there and just want a consistently pleasant, fluffy ice cream with a dose of pumpkin in your autumn, guess what? You've found your pint already. You can stop reading. (Note: Please do not stop reading. You scrolling to the bottom is how we pay our bills.)
Ben & Jerry's Pumpkin Cheesecake
Man, these Pumpkin Cheesecake attempts just cannot stick the landing. If there's a throughline to these benchwarmers, it's that they're good or good enough ice creams, but they tend to miss the mark on pumpkin, cheesecake, or both. Ben & Jerry's gets fantastic reviews, but can't quite deliver on the cheesecake portion. Some blame a new version using smaller pieces of crust and denying the people that gnarly crunch we crave, but most feel there's just too much nutmeg here to relax around.
Still, if you're not shy about spice or you're just a colonial-era farmer who's come unstuck in time and trying to make sense of this crazy world you're living in, you'll probably embrace the nutmeg-forward profile. But that reduction of the graham cracker to mere crumbs? That's cold, Ben & Jerry, and not in the good way we like our ice cream. You could have just made a pumpkin flavor instead of teasing us with the promise of cracker pie crust and a tangy cream cheese aspect. Heck, re-release this and just call it Pumpkin Spice Grenade. Somewhere there's a blonde woman named Ashleighhye wearing a knitted cap who's been waiting her whole life for that.
Turkey Hill Pumpkin Pie
Pennsylvania mainstay Turkey Hill might not be anybody's flashy first-round draft, but damn if it isn't out here doing reliable work every day. You can always count on finding it around the northeast, it's usually a banger balance of ingredients, and it's perpetually on sale. It's like we've just been waiting for Turkey Hill to take off its glasses and shake its hair loose, and we realize ... wow, it's what we've always been looking for. And Pumpkin Pie might just be that movie moment.
According to the brand's own account, Pumpkin Pie is one of the most popular flavors the brand has put out going on over a decade now. After nailing the pumpkin flavor (see how that's done, Baskin Robbins?) and choosing cinnamon as the main spice in its arsenal, Turkey Hill gives it the gun with a bit of graham cracker providing perfectly toothsome variety. (See how that's done, Ben & Jerry?) It was you, Turkey Hill. It was always you!
We sketched the old-fashioned French pot process Graeter's has used for its lengthy existence in our list of the 25 best ice cream brands, so it's no surprise to find this one so well regarded. The flavor is fantastic, an agreed-upon A-plus that delivers exactly what you want from a pumpkin ice cream.
Unfortunately, we didn't find the texture to be quite what the reputation promises regarding creamier-than-average scoops. Greaeter's is still a little bit icy at the start and end of the spoonful. It's not freezer burn but there's a tail on how it thaws in your mouth that breaks more towards water than cream There's also a slight grittiness, though it's difficult to say if these are finely ground pumpkin spice seasonings or granules of slightly larger ice crystals.
All of this could be a negligible factor based on shipping versus buying Graeter's locally or how your freezer runs, so we're not deducting a lot of points from what's still a quality texture, and don't want to overemphasize a criticism. Graeter's remains delicious. As classic pumpkin ice cream, this is a top pick: no distractions, just pure pumpkin and spice blend.
And what's a disadvantage in one presentation may be everything needed for another; if you're looking to do an at-home pumpkin spice affogato, this would be our first pick for your scoop. Its high butterfat and strong spice will only stand up to the overwhelming flavor profile of coffee.
Talenti Pumpkin Pie Layers
Talenti is mighty big on using the best ingredients and extracting maximum flavor, but also has seen some real success with these layered pints, and has begun churning out a number of flavors in both literal and figurative senses. With alternating layers of satin ice cream, a dollop of extra sweetness, and crumbles for satisfying texture, Pumpkin Pie Layers sticks to a winning formula. It's all structured for you to eat your way straight down rather than around the pint, though this can make it difficult to reach the ice cream in same-spoonful tandem with those coveted mix-ins and syrup. In this case, the latter is a very seasonable brown sugar, while some crumbly texture comes courtesy of pie crust nuggets.
While the brown sugar is overt enough to pull things away from a traditional serving of pumpkin pie in texture and outright sweetness, Pumpkin Pie Layers gelato remains on point for flavor. And yes, gelato is technically distinct from the baseline definition of ice cream, but still solidly in the family, so we're including it here. Listen, if Halo Top gets to call itself ice cream, we're not going to fault anything that wants to go to the other extreme. Talenti has also put out a more traditional, homogeneous Pumpkin Pie flavor, but it's unclear if you can still catch that on shelves anywhere.
Cold Case Pumpkin
Woah. This is something else. The texture is very creamy and really delicious in flavor. If there's a fault, it's that Cold Case's flavor doesn't taste too much like pumpkin — it's more like vanilla ice cream with pieces of pumpkin bread. A couple of servings of chocolate in chips and what seems like sauce further bury the autumnal aspirations of this pint. (It seems like there might be brown butter herein as well, which would bring it back on track.)
Now then: This is still an exceptional ice cream. We can respect anyone who dares to be different, and this pumpkin-bread formula works very well. You can say it's surfing on chocolate but the fact is this comes together really nicely. The pumpkin is playing a more supporting undertone but it's definitely present. This is a partnership.
If we were ranking these strictly as ice cream flavors, Cold Case would move up even higher. But as you're specifically looking to scratch that pumpkin itch, you might not find this quite strong enough for your tastes. Still, chocolate and pumpkin work together here better than you'd ever guess.
Clementine's Maple Pumpkin Crunch
Clementine's Creamery flavors have thoroughly impressed us in tastings, with some of the creamiest ice cream to ever pass our lips. Maple Pumpkin Crunch continues that trend with the best texture in our freezer. The mix-ins here are borrowed from the St. Louis dairy dessert destination's Maple Bourbon With Candied Pecans flavor from its flagship "Naughty and Nice" boozy line-up of on-point ice creams.
Tasting it, we fully expected to end up ranking this one top spot and it definitely deserves to be up there for the quality of its ice cream, but it is personally challenging to say it's the best pumpkin ice cream when it traffics so heavily on the strength of the candy pecans and pure maple syrup. Flavorwise the maple is outshouting the pumpkin. This is an expected risk because maple hits so strong and spicy while pumpkin is pretty subtle and earthy.
That said, speaking strictly as an ice cream, Clementine's is fantastic. But if you're asking for the most exemplary pumpkin, this is a little more afield. As with Cold Case, we respect the outlying aspects, but they do pull it away from showcasing the pumpkin itself.
Smitten Pumpkin Spice
In a surprise to none, the Bay Area's Smitten comes in top of the heap here, with its proprietary, space-age process of making the smoothest scoop on planet Earth via liquid nitrogen. But texture's just one part of taste, so flavor has to count too. Happily, ice cream is an obsession for founder Robyn Sue Fisher, so the base custards here invariably hit hard in the bullseye of their fresh targets. Pumpkin Spice is a strict adherent to this intense approach to success.
While Smitten has tried out at least one other pumpkin or pumpkin-adjacent flavor (oh, like you never used butternut squash in your pumpkin pie for easier baking) to acclaim with Maple Brown Sugar Squash, the 2017 debut of Pumpkin Spice (with pumpkin seed brittle) really hit. It's back in October for Smitten's featured flavor. But hurry up! After Halloween rolls over into midnight, the specialty scoop turns back into ... well, not a pumpkin, but probably something with apples or cranberries.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.