When the sun is shining and your guests are feelin’ the heat, a cookie, cake or pie are nice but… they simply won’t do it like a homemade frozen treat. And popsicles are way easier (and healthier) to make than ice cream. Find a blender, some molds, your favorite fruit and you’re on your way to making kids giggle and grown-ups feel like kids. (Though if you want the grown-ups to feel like grown-ups, check back next week for recipes for boozy pops).
Popsicles were “invented” by Frank Epperson, when he accidentally left a cup of soda with a stir stick sitting outside on a cold night. He called it the “Eppsicle.” While Frank’s kids preferred referring to their pop’s invention with his name in the title, Frank patented the (way more charming) term “popsicle” in 1923. Nine decades later, we’ve learned a thing or two about making them great. You can, obviously, freeze any drink or puree into a popsicle, but here are some tips to making them more refreshing and delicious than ever.
Picking the Ingredients
From orange juice to chocolate pudding, you can make popsicles out of anything that will freeze. Especially during the summer months, though, the very best base for a popsicle is in-season fruit, pureed in a blender or food processor. You can jazz up the puree by incorporating ingredients to taste like yogurt, juice, fresh herbs, spices, coconut milk, milk, cream, or—why not?—pudding. My standard, minimalist, all-fruit, no-dairy popsicle recipe is as follows: Puree 4 cups of diced fruit. Mix with ½ cup of simple syrup and 3 tablespoons of citrus juice (lemon, lime or orange, depending on how much tartness or sweetness the fruit needs).
Sticking with an in-season fruit is one of the keys to sending the flavor of your popsicles into another universe. If you’re buying from a farmer’s market, ask the farmer for her bruised, ugly selection (at a discount!) since blended fruit needn’t be beautiful. Bonus: usually that fruit is the ripest.
Sweeten with Simple Syrup
Simple syrup is my favorite ingredient for sweetening pops since it blends into your mixture easily and evenly. To make 1½ cups of simple syrup, combine 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cool. This stuff will last for eons in your refrigerator and is perfect to have on hand for sweetening iced coffee. Remember that the amount of sugar will vary from fruit to fruit, so always taste your puree and adjust to taste before freezing.
Tart it Up
A natural acid like fresh lemon, lime or orange juice adds a bright, nuanced dimension to popsicles, especially if you’re using very sweet fruit. Since cold tends to numb the tongue a bit, tartness helps to “wake” it up. Lemon juice is the perfect match for any berry while lime juice does wonders to cherries and tropical fruits. Or use a mild vinegar: My favorite thing to do is swirl in a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar into pureed strawberries.
Molds and Sticks
You can find popsicle molds at most housewares stores and wooden sticks at craft stores, but official gear isn’t strictly necessary. The end result isn’t as glamorous, but Dixie cups or ice cube trays stuck with plastic spoons or chopsticks get the job done. Remember, it’s easier to unmold the popsicles if the mold tapers a bit toward the tip.
Unmolding, Storing and Serving
Make sure your pops are frozen throughout—it will take at least 6 hours in your freezer. To unmold, dip the mold in a bowl of hot water or hold under hot running water from the faucet for 10 seconds. Immediately put in a plastic sandwich bag (the simple ones, sans ziplock) or wrap in plastic wrap, and store in your freezer for up to a week.
To serve, fill a big, beautiful bowl with ice and stick the popsicles into the ice with the stick poking out for easy grabbing. Put the bowl in the middle of your dinner table, or walk around and pass your popsicles to your guests.
Blueberry-Lemon Cheesecake Pops
Juicy cherries, sweet strawberries or tangy pineapple are also delicious instead of blueberries for this cheesecake-inspired recipe.
Makes eight 3½ ounce popsicles
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
½ cup plain yogurt
Zest from 1 lemon
¼ cup milk
2 cups blueberries
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons simple syrup
1 cup crushed graham crackers
3½ ounce popsicle molds
Wooden popsicle sticks
Combine dairy: In a medium bowl, vigorously whisk together the mascarpone and plain yogurt until smooth. Add the lemon zest and milk. Mix and set aside.
Blend berries: Put the blueberries, lemon juice and simple syrup in a blender. Puree until smooth. You’ll end up with about 1½ cups of puree.
Combine: Immediately pour the blueberry mixture into the milk mixture. If you let it sit, blueberries tend to get thick and lumpy and turn a funny brown color (they’ll still taste okay, but you’ll have to loosen the lumpy batter by stirring and deal with brown-ish blue colored popsicles). If you want a swirly marbled look, mix just a little. Otherwise, mix a lot.
Fill molds: Carefully pour the mixture into your popsicle molds about 1/3 full. Spoon in 1 teaspoon of graham cracker crumbs. Fill another 1/3 of the way with blueberry mix. Add another layer of graham crackers. Fill to the top and finish with a sprinkling of graham crackers. Insert popsicle sticks into the center of each mold and freeze for at least 8 hours.
Serve: Unmold and serve.