My spruce tip ice cream recipe is one of my spring standby's, and a cornerstone in a canon of wild food recipes I've developed over the years I served in my restaurants.
Spruce tips are a great introductory flavor for people getting into foraging, but also for others that may be knowledgeable about plants and mushrooms, since thinking of spruce tips as an edible commodity is a relatively new thing.
Besides being delicious, they're easy to spot, widely available, and difficult to over-harvest, just don't remove the apical (top) tip of small trees as it can stunt their growth.
The most important thing to know is that each coniferous tree species will produce tips with different flavors. They will all have a similar resinous, piney taste, but some of them have an intense astringency that follows, you want to avoid this.
The best flavored tip species that I have found in Minnesota is that of the blue spruce, white spruce, and Norway spruce.
All of those have a nice citrus flavor, and only mild astringency. I haven't eaten all of the available spruce species in my area, but I do know that I don't care for balsam fir tips (not technically a spruce) although the cones can be useful to a degree after they're cooked in syrup.
Hands down though, the greatest recipe I've ever made with spruce tips is this simple ice cream. Nothing really captures the aroma and flavor of your spruce tips like some good'ol ice cream. It's pleasant, mild, and ends up tasting a bit like melon rind.
When you use nice tasting species, it's not astringent at all, not like eating a pine cone, or the Caucus mountain preserves called varenye (pine cones cooked in syrup) which can be too strong for many people.
Tips for success
After making my spruce ice cream for years now, it's like an old friend--tried and true. As happens on the internet with original ideas, there's been plenty of people who've tried to copy this recipe and claim it as their own, or just outright plagiarize it and not give me credit, which is when I call my trademark attorney.
You don't want to play around with the proportions here—I've dialed them in well over the years. Contrary to what others might say, you cannot make a good spruce ice cream without pureeing the tips in the dairy, just chopping them and trying to make an infusion is amateurish, and will not give a flavor like the recipe here.
You also want to make sure that the spruce is pureed cold, in order to keep the flavor and color bright. You also need to strain it to avoid it being overly tannic. Not straining the ice cream base is lazy, and can be overly tannic.
Can you use spruce syrup?
A lot of people make spruce syrup, and I've seen a few recipes that use it in cooking, but I don't recommend starting out cooking with the syrup as it's difficult to control the sweetness, as it can take a good amount of syrup until you can taste the flavor.
Pine cone syrup mugolio, or long-infused sun-syrup products made of spruce tips, pine cones, needles, and other aromatic products are good, but prohibitively expensive to cook with in the amounts needed in most dessert recipes, for what it's worth. The best thing you can do with those syrups most of the time, is to just drizzle them on things and keep it simple.
If you like cooking with conifers, make sure to take a look at my original guide to spruce tips, too.
Spruce Tip Ice Cream
- 3 cups half and half
- ½ cup fresh spruce tips
- 5 large egg yolks
- ¾ cup sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon lime juice optional but recommended--helps to balance the flavors
- On low, heat the half and half, sugar, salt, and egg yolks in a small sauce pan, whisking occasionally until the mixture is hot and thickens slightly.
- Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, then transfer to a blender.
- When the mixture is cool, chop the spruce tips well, then add to the blender and puree until very smooth. It takes a bit of horsepower to break down the needles, for the best flavor you really need them finely blended.
- When the mixture is pureed, pass it through a fine mesh strainer. If possible, allow the custard to sit in the fridge overnight, which will give a better texture in the finished product. Before spinning, whisk in the lime juice.
- Place the spruce custard in the bowl of an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturers directions. Mine usually takes about 45 minutes.
I had that ice cream last night, and will vouch for the wonderfulness of it!
This article is very informative but it took me a long time to find it in google.
I found it on 15 spot, you should focus on quality backlinks building,
it will help you to rank to google top 10. And i know how to help you, just search in google
- k2 seo tips and tricks
I know that your recipe calls for fresh spruce tips, but do you also freeze, or otherwise preserve them (aside from pickling)?
Make a juice of them. Then freeze.
You can puree the spruce tips in milk or half and half, then freeze. They get a bit wilted from freezing raw. I haven't played with many other preservation techniques for them.
Looks wonderful! Thanks for the recipe, I featured it on my blog:
Spruce is a tough find here in the Coastal Range of Oregon but we have Fir everywhere (both Douglas as well as true Firs). Have you tried substituting Fir for Spruce in the ice cream recipe or others? IF so, any suggestions or tips?
I would think you could just taste your local fir or similar conifer tips and find some that taste good to use. Obv pine cones are too tough to puree, but you can make a decent ice cream flavored with pine cone syrup, although it's brown, and not an attractive green.
I just made this recipe with Douglas fir tips. It was quite good. The Douglas fir flavor was not as strong as I would have liked. The Douglas fir also didn't make the ice cream as green as the spruce tips are in these pictures. I will make it again next year and add more tips.
Yes different species will vary in flavor. It's quite strong made with Colorado blue or white spruce.
I know this coment is over a month old but I remember hemlock tips tasting very nice. Also hemlock has a long history of use by coastal people.
If I only had access to a stick blender or a food processor (no real blender sadly, too small a kitchen), how would you recommend going about this? Steeping the spruce tips in the hot half and half? Stick blending it? (Seems like it might not go too smoothly) or using the food processor and vigorous straining?
Hey sorry to be pokey here. If you have a stick blender, try mincing the tips and then buzzing and straining. Keep pureeing until it tastes good and looks nice and green.
The lime juice, Is it optional?
Lime juice is optional. Add it while pureeing the spruce w the half and half.
Angela T Kantola
Like just added some depth. I would increase the amount slightly or maybe add a small amount of zest?
Wonderful way to use spruce tips! Thank you for the recipe
Thank you for this outstanding recipe. I love spruce tips as a hiking snack but the flavor is often too strong and these proportions gave just the right amount of flavor and a beautiful green hue.
Our whole family loved it. We served it with a chocolate/hazelnut macaroon and the pairing was on point.
So much good information you have shared here. Thank you! This ice cream is a treat I wasn't expecting... it's got a nice, light, and clean flavour. I will make it again! 🙂
Have you tried adding candy cane bits? I've been wanting to make a douglas-fir and candy cane "Christmas" ice cream for years! I was going to make a syrup with the needles so I'm glad I read your tips. <3
No I haven't, but it might be alright. The ice cream isn't overly sweet to begin with. Chocolate shavings are good too.
Fantastic recipe. I previously tried one other similar recipe that had me cooking pine needles in a custard then straining the needles out. It was very time consuming, messy, and the final consistency of the ice cream was strangely dry and crumbly, with what seemed like little bits of resin in it. This recipe was much simpler, and the results much better (very creamy).
A few notes: I couldn't find spruce tips, so substituted an equal amount of needles cut from my Christmas tree (a Nordman Fir, specifically Abies nordmanniana). I used a double boiler for the custard, heating it to 170 deg F, and used an instant thermometer to prevent overcooking the custard. Once cool, I then used a Ninja blender to finely chop the needle/custard mixture. The Ninja (or a Vitamix, if you happen to have one) made quick work of the needles. I then double strained it, first with a medium-fine mesh strainer and then with a very fine mesh strainer (it helps to push the mixture through the strainer with a flexible spatula). I topped the finished ice cream with toasted pine nuts--seemed appropriate!
Thanks Brian, I'm glad you were able to make it work with mature needles. I've done similar things with them in making brines for meat, but never used them sweet, and now I wonder why I haven't before. Pureeing and straining is key here, and yeah a good blender will pulverize those needles and extract the flavor you want.
love this recipe, since last summer I got vegan and spring is in the air, is there any possibility to change the ingredients to make it vegan
thanks for letting me know.
Try using coconut milk thickened with cornstarch. After the milk cools to room temperature, puree with the spruce tips, strain and proceed as directed.
Thanks so much for this Q&A, I'm going to try a coconut milk variation!
That should work fine, just keep the proportions the same.
Looking forward to making this! FYI - Balsam fir is not a spruce. Spruce is the name for a specific genus of conifers. Fir is another, pine another, etc.
I'm aware, but I could see how that could have been inferred from my description. Since people cook with the meristematic tips of many different conifers, I occasionally include tidbits about other ones, since many can be used similarly.
Hi! This recipe looks really interesting. Because it is essentially a creme anglaise before making it into ice cream, do you think that it could be used as a glaze for a petit gateau?
Angelina, I wouldn’t use it for that. Much better to purée them into a cold custard, mousse or something similar. I don’t think a glaze would transfer much of the flavor.
Thank you! I think I will make a mousse with this as my base 🙂
Good idea, just use the same proportions of spruce to dairy and you'll be fine, don't be tempted to increase it.
Trying it today and it’s looking good so far.
A couple questions out of curiosity - have you tried steeping the spruce tips in the cream cold for any amount of time, and then pureeing/straining? (or puréeing before steeping)? Wondering what difference there might be between pureeing and immediately straining vs some amount of steeping.
Also wondering what effect steeping/pureeing while the mixture is warm has on the ice cream?
Thanks so much!
Jake, you'll love it. I haven't tried any of the steeping ideas you've tried. As I've made this recipe for many years, I don't see any need to tweak it, if it's not broken, don't fix it, ya know?
Forgive my ignorance, I had the tips but none of the ingredients to make the ice cream so I bought vanilla ice cream to blend together with the tips. At this point (too late) I’m wondering if the tips were suppose to go to any heat treatment (hot water/ milk whatever) prior to blending? I did them raw + ice cream and thats it. Tastes like olive oil 😅 not too bad to be honest. And I can feel the bits of it - very very tiny. Thank you so much
Nat, no heat treatment is necessary as the spruce tips will discolor and have their flavor denatured from heat. I puree the cream and tips after mixing with sugar and heating at room temperature since it would curdle and make butter otherwise. Making "ice cream" out of pre-made ice cream is not ideal here, but I'm glad it worked for you. Definitely recommend trying the recipe as written-I've spent years working on it and it had a cult following at my first restaurant.
Just wondering if there’s a reason you don’t infuse the spruce tips in the cream and then strain. The only reasons I can think of are that I t may change the flavour and colour, and you would get the additional body from the puréed tips.
Hi Susie, there's definitely a reason. Some recipes (all are imitations of this original one here) say that you can just chop up the tips, infuse them in the cream and strain. This is just not true, and anyone who says it is, is just lazy. For the best flavor and color, the tips must be pureed in a blender. For the best texture, the custard base needs to sit overnight, and it should be strained beforehand. The tips don't add body after pureeing in the cream, just the opposite, they tiny particles will end up adding additional tannins (the intensity of which will depend on the particular species of spruce tips you're using) and the texture of them, even after pureeing, is unwanted and inferior compared to a silky, creamy ice cream. I know it's tempting to think that just tossing some chopped up spruce tips into the cream and allowing it to infuse might work, but it won't, and it will yield an insipid, lackluster finished product. Hope that helps. 🙂
Thanks, chef. Makes sense.
One more question. Does puréeing the custard break down its protein network at all? I’m aware that it can fix a slightly over-coagulated custard but I’d worry it would reduce the viscosity of a perfectly cooked, overnighted custard.
I appreciate your passion in the answer here 😀
I also really appreciate this recipe and have been following it for the past 3 years and look forward to spruce ice cream every spring!
But of my personal preference, I do differ on one point. I blend it up fine in the blender, but then I actually prefer it unstrained! I looooove the texture the little pieces give to it, and the taste doesn't get too intense (Norway spruce. Or maybe I just eat it too fast, or like the intense.... Haha)
Anyway, thanks for this and many of your recipes!!
Thanks Jo. Everyone's tastes are a little different. I'm glad it works for you without straining. Straining can be putsy if you don't have a big chinois like I use-they're kind of a chef tic.
I'd really like to make this for a party. How many servings- or how much does it make? This will be my first if hopefully many endeavors into making ice cream☺️
This is a rich ice cream, so assume about 4-6 servings. I only serve a scoop or two at a time.
This ice cream is my favourite way to freak out my friends ("made out of WHAT??!--OMGTHISISTHEBESTTHINGI'VEEVERTASTED!"). I just took out a small white spruce and harvested about 5 lbs of perfect tips (my brewer friends are salivating), so i'm firing up the ice cream factory. Can the custard be doubled safely? My go-to heavy-bottom pan is a bit big for a single batch, and i'm ultimately making 4 qts.
Yes you can double it.
The best spruce tip ice cream I ever have made! (and I have tried a few before)
Glad it worked for you Karin. Thanks.