Icy cold popsicles can be a welcome addition to summer gatherings, even more so if you make them yourself in festive colors and interesting flavors. While popsicle-making is a simple endeavor, the range of equipment options for making them is extensive.
Molds for Ice Pops
There are molds made specifically for this purpose that can be purchased this time of year at nearly every grocery, kitchen, and department store. They tend to be fairly inexpensive—usually somewhere between $1 and $20 for a set—and can be reused. Some models come with plastic sticks, which are almost always fitted with a cap that snaps in place over each popsicle cavity, holding the stick upright and in place and preventing prefreeze slops and spills.
After the ice pops made in these molds are frozen and unmolded, the cap-handles catch drips. And, because the sticks and handles are made from smooth plastic, there's no danger of splinters. The main drawback with these molds is that there's a finite number of stick-caps, usually one per pop compartment, so you can only make one batch at a time. Plus, the sticks almost invariably end up chewed and gnarled or just plain lost. (Though kids generally prefer the colorful plastic sticks that the kits come with, a serviceable remedy to the lost-stick issue is wrapping the filled compartments tightly with plastic wrap or tin foil, making a small puncture in the wrap with a paring knife, and then slipping a wooden stick in place through the puncture.)
Of this variety of mold, my pick for 4th of July pops is Tovolo’s Shooting Star Pop Molds (right) which yields a half dozen manageable-sized pops that are star-shaped in section.
The other main type of store-bought popsicle mold consists of a tray of popsicle cavities, generally with one slotted cap that fits over the entire mold and holds standard wooden popsicle sticks in place. These molds are less slop-proof, but they allow for the easy production of multiple successive popsicle batches (once one batch of popsicles is frozen solid, they can be removed and wrapped in parchment or wax paper, and the molds can be refilled and fitted with new sticks). The sticks don’t always stay perfectly vertical in these models, but I’ve found a few chopsticks or straight-sided butter knives to be sufficient stabilizers (above). Progressive’s Castle Freezer Pop Mold is my current favorite in this genre. Though the popsicles it yields are a little large for my tastes, its stepped-cylinder shape is great for making precise tricolor beauties with the recipe I provide below.
A few one-off notables include Lekue’s Silicone Ice Mold, for making stick-free push up–style pops, and Cuisipro’s Rocket Pop Molds, which combine the best of features from the two standard types of purchased popsicle molds—individually capped popsicle cavities that take standard disposable wooden popsicle sticks.
DIY Popsicle Molds
While I appreciate the convenience of all of these purchased molds, most kitchens are rife with possibilities for ad hoc popsicle molds. Ice cube trays of all shapes and sizes and mini muffin tins can be employed to make diminutive pops. Silicon baking cups and molds work for larger pops, and Dixie cups make for inexpensive, albeit rather large, molds that double as disposable wrappers once the popsicles are frozen (shown at right).
Now that you're armed with supplies and tips, use this recipe to fill your molds: Red, White, and Blueberry Pops
Along those lines, with a little patience and know-how, you can easily make molds out of parchment or waxed paper (I’ve found parchment a bit sturdier). Aside from being inexpensive and adaptable for different sizes, shapes and occasions, these molds result in pre-wrapped pops, which melt more slowly in the heat (due to their snug, insulating wrapping) and make for tidy storage and serving. Origami books are a good source for ideas, but for the cone-shaped Red-White-and-Blueberry pop pictured with the recipe, I made parchment cornets (see the array below for details), which are a staple in professional pastry kitchens for piping melted chocolate and icing. I stood them upright in a loaf pan with the help of some rubber bands before filling and freezing. Because it takes a little practice to produce cornets so tightly made that their tips won’t leak, I suggest gently pressing each tip into a marshmallow or gumdrop, which makes the cones leak-proof and easier to stand upright during freezing. The candy can be removed before serving, but left, they make a cute finial for each pop and provide an extra little treat.
How to Make Parchment Cornets
Fold the paper in half and cut.
Fold the paper in half again and cut.
Fold paper along the diagonal and cut to make triangular pieces of paper.
Take one end of the piece of paper and curl it around the inside to form a cone shape.
Take the other end of the piece of paper and curl it around the outside.
Adjust the paper so that it forms a tight seal at the bottom.
To finish, take the outer end of the paper and fold it over the side into the cone. Seal the tip with a marshmallow or gumdrop if desired. Stick upright into rubber band-wrapped loaf pan.
You've Got Your DIY Mold; Now You Need Sticks
When it comes to handles for homemade pops, there are lots of options. Virtually anything that will fit in a given mold, is non-toxic and sturdy enough to hold the weight of the popsicle can be used, but my preference is for wood or paper options. Because these have a slightly rough texture and are somewhat absorbent, they tend to hold on to the popsicle better, preventing it from sliding down the handle as it melts.
The classic, disposable wooden popsicle stick is inexpensive and easy to find at most craft and department stores, and for many of the store-bought molds that don’t come with their own plastic sticks, these are the only handles that can be used. Popsicle mold manufacturers often sell these wooden sticks in small quantities, but the sticks are invariably more affordable, and just as well suited to making popsicles, when purchased in larger quantities from craft suppliers (just make sure they are labelled “non-toxic”).
Used Stained Sticks for an Extra Flash
Though wooden sticks are most widely available in their untreated, natural finish, I’ve also found them stained in bright nontoxic hues, good for adding a little zest to plain pops. Out of the package, the colored sticks tend to give off their dye, tinting the popsicles they’re used in and staining fingers along the way (above).
Through a little trial and error, I’ve found that this problem can be checked by soaking the sticks in hot water and lemon or lime juice (each color soaked separately) and then drying them on paper towels overnight before use. The colors will be less vibrant but far less problematic.
Stick Options for Small Pops
For smaller pops, like those made in ice cube trays, I prefer to use paper lollipop sticks or short sections of a wooden dowel or disposable chopstick. Toothpicks could also be used, but they tend to look disproportionate, lack sturdiness, and are difficult to grip.
Sticks for Large Pops
For larger pops, my hands-down favorite handle option is the wooden craft spoon (like the ones that probably came with little cups of ice cream in your elementary school cafeteria). Though slightly less common than regular wooden popsicle sticks, these are still inexpensive and generally easy to find wherever you can buy children’s art supplies. Wider and shorter than regular wooden popsicle sticks, they are easier to stand up straight in freezing popsicle liquid than other options, and their wide, tapered bases provide a good grip.
With so many options, there’s nothing stopping you from freezing up a batch of popsicle treats for Friday’s festivities or any other hot summer day.
Recipe: Red, White, and Blueberry Pops
- makes about 24 two-ounce ice pops -
For the red layer: 1/4 cup water (55g) 1/2 teaspoon powdered gelatin (optional) 1 cup strawberries, hulled (~130g) 1 cup raspberries (~110g) 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar 1/4 cup honey (80g)
For the white layer: 1/4 cup milk (55g) 1/2 teaspoon powdered gelatin (optional) 1/2 vanilla bean (optional) 1 6-ounce container of plain yogurt (170g) 4 ounces cream cheese (110g) 1/4 cup honey (80g) Pinch salt
For the blueberry layer: 1/4 cup water (55g) 1/2 teaspoon powdered gelatin (optional) 1 pint blueberries, picked over (~250g) 2 teaspoon lemon juice 1/4 cup honey (80g)
1. Pour the first ingredient of each layer into separate microwave-safe bowls. Sprinkle the surface of the liquid in each bowl with 1⁄2 teaspoon each of powdered gelatin. Set the bowls aside.
2. Rinse and hull the strawberries and place them in a food processor or blender, along with the raspberries, vinegar and honey for the red layer. Puree smooth, scraping down the sides occasionally, to ensure thorough blending. Place one bowl of water and gelatin in the microwave and heat for 5 second intervals, stirring in between, until gelatin is fully dissolved. Add melted gelatin mixture to pureed mixture and process until fully incorporated. Carefully pour about 4 teaspoons of this mixture into each of eight 2- to 2-1/2 ounce popsicle molds. Place partially filled molds in the freezer for about 20 minutes while preparing the white layer.
3. Thoroughly clean the food processor or blender, add the scrapings of the vanilla bean (save the pod for another use) and add the remaining four ingredients for the white layer. Blend until very smooth, scraping down the sides occasionally, to ensure thorough blending. Place the bowl containing the milk and gelatin in the microwave and heat for 5 second intervals, stirring in between, until gelatin is fully dissolved. Add melted gelatin mixture to cream cheese mixture and process until fully incorporated. Remove the partially filled molds from the freezer and carefully pour about 4 teaspoons of the cream cheese mixture into each mold. Return the molds to the freezer for about 20 minutes while preparing the blueberry layer.
4. Clean the food processor or blender once more. Add the blueberries, lemon juice and remaining quantity of honey and pulse to make a slightly chunky puree, scraping down the sides occasionally. Place the remaining bowl of water and gelatin in the microwave and melt gelatin as per the previous layers. Add the gelatin mixture to the blueberry puree and gently stir to combine (do not puree or the blueberry mixture will become very foamy). Carefully pour about 4 teaspoons of the blueberry mixture into each of the popsicle molds and return to the freezer for about 20 minutes.
5. Once the blueberry layer has set slightly, carefully insert a stick into each popsicle, taking care not to disturb the various layers. Freeze pops completely before unmolding and serving.
Note: The gelatin in this recipe helps the layers to set up more quickly in the freezer, allowing for speedier assembly, and it helps to slow the pops melting at room temperature, but it may be omitted without serious consequence. If you decide to omit the gelatin, the water or milk may be omitted from each layer as well.