Cool off with ice pops on a hot summer day




It’s July, and you know what that means when you live in Pittsburgh. Hot, sunny days that morph into muggy nights. 

Tips for making ice pops

• Puree the heck out of the ingredients or you’ll end up with a chunky ice pop. If you’re using fruit with small seeds, strain it after it is pureed in the blender. 

• Cold liquids freeze quicker, so always start with a chilled mixture. That includes bringing syrups to room temperature.

• When making ice pops with separate layers, be sure to freeze each layer until it’s set or it will bleed into the next.

• When filling, always leave about a quarter inch at the top of the mold to allow for expansion during freezing. Remember to wipe excess liquid from the top of the mold as frozen residue can complicate the unmolding process.

• To unmold a frozen pop without pulling out the stick, turn warm water on the outside of the mold for 10 to 15 seconds, or until you feel the pop begin to release. Or, use a towel dampened in warm water.

• Ice pop molds with built-in stick holders take the worry out of positioning the stick. But if you’re going old school with a Dixie cup and wooden stick, freeze the pop until it’s partially frozen (about an hour) so the stick will stand up on its own. Then, return the pops to the freezer until it’s completely frozen.

• The back of the freezer is the coldest, so that’s where the molds should go. Freezing times will vary but it generally takes at least four hours.

• When well wrapped in sealable plastic bags or airtight plastic containers, ice pops will last in the freezer for about a month. 

Even after a dip in the pool or a run through the sprinkler, you and your kids are probably hot. You need something cold and tasty to cool off. 

We have the answer: homemade ice pops.

Simple enough for even the youngest cooks to lend a hand, these frozen treats have helped people beat the heat since 1905, when 11-year-old Frank Epperson left a cup filled with powdered soda, water and a stirring stick on his San Francisco back porch, and the mixture froze in the chilly night air. He’d debut his “Epsicles” at a California park in 1923, start distributing them across the U.S. two years later and in the years since built a frosty empire. Today, some 2 billion Popsicle brand ice pops are sold each year in multiple flavors and colors. 

While it’s easy to pick up a box of pops at the grocery, it’s almost as easy — and way more fun — to make them in your own kitchen, especially if you have little hands to help. All it takes is a handful of ingredients, a blender or food processor to whirl them into a freezable liquid, and some sort of mold with a stick.

It could be as simple as blending some fruit with a little sugar in water and popping the mixture into the freezer, or you could spend a couple hours layering different colored purees into a striped masterpiece. 

Why go to the trouble? Making ice pops at home allows you to control the amount of sugar in the treats and also puts the kibosh on artificial flavors and preservatives. Plus, it allows you to add your own creative touch in the form of herbs and spices. 

Websites such as Amazon have dozens of plastic and silicon molds in all prices ranges and colors to choose from, and you’ll also find them at big box stores like Target. You can also make ice pops in any type of freezable container. Think paper Dixie cups, spare ice-cube trays, plastic drink cups or even yogurt containers. 

And you don’t even have to limit yourself to Popsicle’s all-time favorite cherry flavor, because almost any fruit or vegetable that can be pureed can be turned into an ice pop. If you want fresh and fruity, go for strawberries, peaches, melons or tropical fruits such as pineapple or kiwi; think spinach, carrots and roasted beets if you’re trying to get a serving of vegetables into your kid. 

For an adults-only treat, add some alcohol and a flavored simple syrup to re-create your favorite frozen cocktail — for instance, vodka and ginger-infused  syrup for a Moscow mule pop. Just know that doing so will lower the melting point of the mixture, resulting in a softer ice pop. 

Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

Spinach-Banana Ice Pops

PG tested

These sound like they’d appeal only to health nuts, but they’re surprisingly yummy. You won’t taste the spinach at all, but you’ll enjoy all of the vegetable’s nutrients. 

1 cup pineapple

1½ cups fresh spinach

1 large overripe banana

1/2 cup water, milk or juice from pineapple

Place all the ingredients into the blender. Process until completely smooth, 2 to 3 minutes.

Pour into the molds and freeze until set, 3 to 4 hours.

Makes 6 to 8 pops.

— Gretchen McKay


Cantaloupe-Basil Ice Pops (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

Cantaloupe-Basil Ice Pops

PG tested

I used basil in this refreshing melon pop, but mint or thyme also pair nicely with cantaloupe. To tell if the fruit is ripe, give it a sniff — it should smell sweet, as well as  feel heavy for its size. 

¾ cup cold water

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

15 fresh basil leaves

1¼ pounds (from 1 medium melon) cantaloupe melon chunks

4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice

Dump the water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add herbs, and cook just until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Place cantaloupe chunks in a food processor and blend to a smooth puree. Add cooled mixture and lime or lemon juice and blend again.

Pour syrup mixture into your molds, leaving 1/4-inch space at the top of each mold to allow the mixture to expand when it freezes. Insert a stick into the molds and freeze until solid, about 2 hours.

Makes 6 to 8 ice pops.

— Adapted from leitesculinaria.com


Fresh Ginger Moscow Mule Pop (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

 

Fresh Ginger Moscow Mule Pop

PG tested

Ice pops aren’t just for kids. This adults-only treat is a lickable version of the Moscow mule, a popular cocktail made with vodka, spicy ginger beer and lime juice.

3½ ounces vodka

Juice of 1 lime

1 thumb-size piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 ounces ginger syrup (recipe follows)

8 pieces of ginger from ginger syrup

13½ ounces club soda

In a jug, mix the vodka, lime juice, grated ginger, ginger syrup and club soda.

Divide mixture between ice pop molds, place lid on tray and freeze for 30 minutes.

Add ginger pieces from the syrup to the molds, slide ice pop sticks into the lid slots and freeze for a further 12 to 14 hours, until solid.

Makes 8 ice pops.

— Adapted from ”The Poptail Manual: Over 90 Delicious Frozen Cocktails” by Kathy Kordalis (Hardie Grant, May 2017, $14.99)

For ginger syrup

8½ ounces boiling water

3½ ounces (7 tablespoons) super-fine sugar

Large piece (about 1 ounce) fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin rounds

Stir boiling water and sugar together until sugar has completely dissolved.

Add ginger and leave until cool. Cooled syrup will keep in the fridge to 4 weeks.


Pineapple Chipotle Ice Pops (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

Pineapple Chipotle Ice Pops

PG tested

These are on the spicy side but so refreshing! The recipe also would be terrific with mango or papaya.

1 pound pineapple chunks, frozen

3 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon lime juice

1/2 teaspoon minced canned chipotle chiles, or more to taste

1 pinch salt

In a food processor or blender, puree together the pineapple (and any of its juice), honey and lime juice. You may need to add some water to make it smooth. 

Add chipotle peppers and salt with a few quick pulses of the processor or blender until it's mixed in (you should see bits and specks of the peppers in the mixture). At this point, you can taste the mixture and add more chipotle peppers, if you wish.

Divide mixture among 6 frozen pop molds (about ⅓ cup per mold). Freeze for 4 to 6 hours or until completely frozen.

Makes 6 ice pops.

— Homecookingmemories.com


Carrott and Green Fruit Juice Pops (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

Carrot and Green Fruit Juice Pops

PG tested

Yes, you can make ice pops with just about any ingredient that can be pureed, including vegetables. The star of this healthful pop is carrots spiced with ginger and cinnamon. As for the green layer, the original recipe called for wheatgrass juice, but it proved illusive. So I substituted a bottled “green goodness” fruit juice smoothie.

This pop takes some time, as you have to separately freeze the individual layers. Be sure to use a mold without snap-on tops, as you want to be able to pour the ingredients around the stick. (I didn’t, and had to use a hot knife blade to cut a slot for the sticks.) 

3½ cups apple juice

1/2 cup brown sugar

1½ cups peeled and diced carrots

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup coconut milk, homemade or canned, divided

1 cup green fruit juice smoothie

In a saucepan, combine apple juice and brown sugar and stir over low heat for 5 minutes to dissolve the sugar. Set aside 1½ cups of the mixture.

To remaining apple juice mixture in the saucepan, add the carrots, ginger and cinnamon. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat and pour into a bowl to cool to room temperature.

In a food processor or blender, puree the carrot mixture until smooth. Add 1/2 cup of the coconut milk and process to combine.

In a bowl, combine green fruit juice, 3/4 cup of reserved apple juice mixture and remaining 1/2 cup coconut milk.

Partially fill the ice pop molds with the carrot mixture. Insert the sticks. Freeze for at least 2 hours. Add a layer of green juice mixture, freeze for 2 hours, then add a layer of the remaining reserved apple juice mixture.

Repeat layers, freezing for at least 2 hours between layers, until the pop molds are full. Freeze for at least 4 hours.

Remove from the freezer; let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes before removing the pops from the molds

— “Pops! Icy Treats for Everyone” by Krystina Castella (Quirk Books, 2008)

Strawberry Paletas (Mexican Ice Pops)

PG tested

Whoever said no to a strawberry ice pop? No one, ever. These Mexican paletas, made with fresh fruit and a moderate amount of sugar, are a snap to whip up. Just be sure to puree the fruit with enough liquid so that it’s very smooth. Lemon juice adds a zippy finish and also helps keep the pops bright.  

4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine strawberries and sugar in a bowl. Let sit until strawberries start releasing natural juices, 20 to 30 minutes. Place in a saucepan with the water over medium heat, simmer until they are slightly softened, about 5 minutes.

Transfer mixture to a blender or food processor, add the lemon juice and puree until smooth; alternatively, you could leave some chunks in if you like.

If using conventional molds, divide the mixture among the molds, add sticks and freeze until solid, about 6 hours. If using unconventional molds, freeze until the pops are beginning to set (1½ to 2 hours), then insert the sticks and freeze until solid, 4 to 5 hours. If using an instant ice-pop maker, follow manufacturer’s instructions.

Makes 8 to 10 pops.

— “Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice and Aguas Frescas” by Fany Gerson (Ten Speed Press, 2010)

 





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