When summer comes, it’s easy to get excited about lazy afternoons in the pool, vacations, and longer days. What we don’t think of until we’re in the thick of it, though, is just exactly how damn hot it’s going to be. When you’re not in the pool, it’s a real drag to hang out in 100+ degree temperatures. Should you find yourself stuck outside, at a family barbecue or watching the umpteenth game of 5-year-old tee ball, sometimes the only respite can come in the form of an icy cool popsicle.
Whether you love old-school Otter Pops or prefer something a little more sophisticated, popsicles are unequivocally a superior summer food. Unfortunately, the popsicles at the grocery store tend to be syrupy-sweet, and incredibly pricey once you consider that they’re just frozen sugar water or juice on a stick. Customize your own flavors and make healthier, at-home popsicles with these five tips. You’ll thank yourself later, when it’s 104 degrees out and the air conditioner is suddenly on the fritz.
The most obvious choice for molding a popsicle is, well, a popsicle mold. You can find basic models on Amazon or at any supermarket, like this Tovolo set for just $9, but you don’t necessarily have to buy yet another kitchen gadget to make good popsicles. Paper cups are great for making popsicles, but you’ll need to make sure that they’re waxed on the inside to avoid sticking. In a pinch, an ice cube tray or small plastic container can serve as a popsicle mold.
Unless you’ve got small children, you probably don’t have piles and piles of popsicle sticks just laying around the house. In most cases, a toothpick won’t be sturdy enough to hold your ice pop once it’s frozen, but a wooden skewer is perfect for paper cup popsicles or those made in an ice cube tray. Just cut your skewers down to size, cover a tray of prepared paper cup popsicles with plastic wrap, and stick them through until the popsicles are frozen solid. If you can convince yourself to run to the craft store, though, there’s really no substitute for a good old fashioned popsicle stick.
You’re going to need liquid of some kind to make popsicles, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be plain-jane water. Try apple juice (Simply Apple is particularly good), or freshly-squeezed orange juice. If you have a juicer, just about any combination of fruits is good for a summer popsicle, and you won’t have to worry about running to the store for ingredients. For a creamy popsicle, try adding almond, coconut or cow’s milk. If healthiness isn’t your goal, try your favorite soda — the bubbles that create fizz will also keep your popsicle from freezing too hard.
When preparing popsicles, it’s important to consider what you’re going to make them with. Most juices and soda freeze too hard to create the right texture for a popsicle, and no one wants to gnaw on a rapidly-melting ice cube while they’re trying to relax in the air-conditioning. Use your blender, and mix fruit with juice to create a velvety, easy-to-chew texture. You’ll get more flavor, and won’t have to worry about breaking your front teeth. Try blending mixtures of your favorite fruits to approximate the popsicle flavors of your childhood, like strawberry-kiwi, peach-banana, and cherry-lime. The results won’t disappoint you.
Depending on the size of your mold, popsicles take between 6 and 8 hours to fully freeze. If you try to pull them out of the molds too quickly, they’ll fall apart and be impossible to keep on the stick. If you find that they’ve frozen a little too hard and are difficult to pry out of the molds, hold them under warm water for a few seconds until the popsicles pop out freely. From there, it’s all about the eating. No one’s going to blame you if you eat the entire batch in one sitting.
Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor. Her favorite popsicles involve booze. Tweet her @aemccarthy.