How to Make Ice Pops, from Quick-and-Easy to Downright Fancy
Whether you call ’em ice pops or paletas, we’re always in the mood for these icy, fruity treats. (Just don’t call ’em Popsicles, unless you’re talking about the actual brand; it’s a “Kleenex-tissue” sort of situation.) Not only are they refreshing and hydrating on a hot summer day, but they also require less equipment than certain other frozen desserts—looking at you, ice cream. That said, there are a few basic levels of ice pops you can make at home. Read on to learn about the tools and ingredients you need for any ice pop your heart desires.
Level 1: Frozen Fruit Juice
The most basic level of ice pop is so easy, you don’t even need a special mold for ’em. Just choose your favorite fruit juice, or a combination of juices; apple-cranberry or grape-lemon-lime, for example. Even a really great lemonade can be transcendent. Pour into a small—or large; we don’t judge—waxed paper cup (like a Dixie cup), and freeze with a wooden craft stick stuck in the middle. For smaller pops, cut or snap the stick in half, so the frozen treat isn’t too top heavy.
Level 2: With Veggies
This is where you take your basic ice pops to the next level with vegetable juice. Wait—vegetable juice? You bet. Choosing the right veggies will make for a pop that’s both healthier and palatable. Go for veggies that are inherently sweet, like beets and carrots, and strain out any tough or fibrous pulp (if juicing them yourself). Don’t forget about herbs: These Lemon-Thyme Ice Pops are proof that fresh herbs can enhance more than your basic pan sauce. (Infuse the juice with the herbs, but remove them before freezing, so you’re not picking leaves from your teeth later.)
Level 3: Textured
Give your pops a little texture by adding semi-puréed, ripe fresh fruit, or sliced dried fruit. You can even use vegetables (see Level 2 for more inspiration!) that are either cooked or ripe and tasty to eat raw—like cucumbers. You can use a blender to achieve the ideal texture for this style of ice pop. The unfrozen mixture should be thicker than plain fruit juice; still pourable, but with a slushier consistency.
Level 4: Creamy
Consider these ice pops the happy medium between frozen fruit and ice cream. They’re more labor-intensive, but still less of a commitment to make than most ice cream recipes. The basic formula calls for steeping dairy (cream, milk, condensed milk) or alt-milks (like coconut milk) with the flavoring agents you’d like to add to your pops (ginger, vanilla, lemongrass, etc.). Then, strain out the solids and mix in your sweetener and any other additions, like chopped dried fruit, chunky, puréed fresh fruit, chopped nuts, or even cooked grains, like starchy arborio rice, as in the case of these Apricot Rice Pudding Pops.
Level 5: Boozy!
If you’re serving an adults-only crowd, go ahead and add a little of the fun stuff to your juice mixture. A few hints to keep in mind: Alcohol won’t freeze solid—that ancient bottle of vodka in your great-uncle’s freezer is proof—so don’t put too much in your fruity, juicy mixture. On average, three-quarters of a cup of alcohol per 24-30 pops (depending on the size of the mold) is just the right amount to give you a buzz along with your brain freeze—without turning into a melting mess before you can eat it.
Helpful Hints for Any Pop
Use the Right Sweetener You can love the nutty, golden, and roasty flavor of raw sugar. Just don’t love it in your ice pops. Sugar that comes in granule form (in other words: the liquid has been evaporated) doesn’t mix seamlessly into liquid ingredients. Avoid any grittiness in texture by using a liquid-at-room-temperature sweetener, like maple syrup, agave, or simple syrup. But taste the juice (or juice mixture) before adding sweetener. The fruit may be sweet enough that you don’t need any sweetener—or at least need less than you originally thought.
Partially Freeze Before Adding the Stick All ice pops will have a very liquidy consistency before freezing. If you add the wooden sticks right after pouring the mixture into molds, the sticks will fall over, freezing sideways or at a slant. To make sure the handles are straight up and down, place the molds in the freezer for 30-40 minutes. Once the juice/fruit mixture has slightly solidified, wedge the sticks in. They’ll stand tall as the slushy-textured liquid freezes completely.
Account for Expansion Don’t forget that liquid expands as it freezes. If you fill your molds to the brim, the pop mixture will bust out at the seams as it fully freezes. Avoid the mess by only pouring your juice mixture only three-quarters of the way up the mold.
Want more ice pops? Our best recipes, right this way.