“Oh no,” my husband whined. It was a rainy late-summer day, just cool enough to warrant hot coffee, and he’d taken his first sip of a pumpkin spice cafe au lait.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. I wondered whether I’d messed up the coffee somehow, or used milk that was a bit past its prime.
“It’s good,” he moaned, absolutely dejected. “It’s problematic that this is so good.”
He was right: It was delicious, and that surprised us both. Because as much as I adore pumpkin spice everything—from scones to muffins to ravioli to ramen—I’ve never found a pumpkin spice coffee drink that I like all that much.
The Starbucks PSL? Cloying. Pumpkin cream cold brew? Fine, but not milky enough. Dunkin’s attempts are valiant, but the coffee always leaves a lingering artificial aftertaste. Bespoke pumpkin spice coffees from third-wave shops tend to be too heavy on either pumpkin or spice, and are never quite sweet enough.
So this year, after a few disappointing commercial pumpkin spice beverages, I decided to make my own perfect pumpkin foam.
I like my pumpkin-flavored things to be at least a little orange, with a distinct dessert note to them. But merely adding some pumpkin puree to spiced cream doesn’t work. Raw pumpkin may have a nice vibrant color, but the flavor tends to be watery and bland. So I started, Starbucks-style, by making a pumpkin sauce.
When you use a homemade pumpkin sauce as your base, you can prepare a large batch to store in the fridge, and it’s good for a lot more than just making pumpkin latte foam. You can drizzle it on ice cream, fold it into oatmeal or granola, stir the sauce straight into your black coffee—the possibilities are endless. The sauce takes mere minutes to come together, and it’s easy to adjust the intensity of the pumpkin flavor each time you use the sauce to make foam.
To make the pumpkin foam, you’ll need to decide whether you want cold foam or hot foam. While you can use the exact same recipe for both, I tend to like my hot foam on the milkier side, and my cold foam a bit creamier. Many people use straight cream for their cold foam, which results in a super stable, airy topping, basically just pumpkin whipped cream. In the recipe below, I offer a slight variation in the ratios of heavy cream to whole milk for hot and cold applications, so you can find the one that works best for you in any situation.
Then, there’s the mixing method. Starbucks makes its cold foam in a blender, but I personally don’t love hauling out my blender to make small-batch things. I use either a regular old wire whisk or a handheld milk frother for both hot and cold foam applications. If you have an espresso machine with an integrated foaming wand, that works great, too.
Finally, I add a pinch of my secret pumpkin spice ingredient: garam masala. Actually, this is not a secret at all, and I certainly didn’t invent the combination. Garam masala and pumpkin are an obvious match, and countless Indian recipes prove this point. A blend of cinnamon, green cardamom, coriander, black peppercorn, cumin, mace, and bay leaf lends itself just as well to sweeter preparations as it does to rich curries and stews.
This pumpkin foam is perfect for coffee (and even a good, strong cup of tea), but try using it wherever you’d use whipped cream—and try eating some straight from the container, too. Even if you have pumpkin spice skeptics in your life, there’s a good chance they’ll like this.
Perfect Pumpkin Foam
For the pumpkin sauce:
- 4 oz. pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
- 4 oz. sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- ½ tsp. ground ginger
- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp. garam masala
- Add the pumpkin puree and condensed milk to a small saucepan, then add vanilla extract and spices.
- Cook over medium-low heat, whisking continuously, until the mixture just starts to bubble and thicken slightly. You’ll notice that the color will shift from a bright orange to a softer bronze color.
- Remove from heat and pour into a jar. This sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
For the pumpkin foam:
Makes enough foam for two 12-oz. coffee drinks
- For hot foam: 5 oz. whole milk + 4 oz. whipping cream
- For cold foam: 2 oz. whole milk + 7 oz. whipping cream
- 3 Tbsp. pumpkin sauce (recipe above)
- Combine your ingredients in a small saucepan. If making cold foam in a blender, you can dump everything right in the blending pitcher.
- For hot foam, heat gently over medium heat until warmed through, then whisk vigorously with a wire whisk or handheld frother. For cold foam, simply skip the warming step.
- To make this vegan-friendly, swap sweetened condensed coconut milk in the pumpkin sauce, and use your favorite non-dairy creamer for the foam. A homemade combination of coconut milk and coconut cream also works beautifully.
- The milk-to-cream ratios above, like all recipes, are merely a suggestion. It works with all-milk and all-cream, and any combination in between.