There are two kinds of people: the bold who chomp right into their Popsicles, or pops as we call them, and the more reverent folk who are much happier to lick away each drip of juice until there is nothing left but the stick.
I prefer biting right into my pops. I find the flavor is most intense that way, but Julia takes the slower approach.
On a blistering hot day recently, Julia and I, who are working as summer interns with Nathalie Dupree, found ourselves talking about this and dreaming up idea upon idea for new pops, drawing inspiration from ingredients we had on hand as well as from favorite sweets.
Popsicles have been the summer staple everyone turns to for cooling off for nearly 90 years. Children flock to them, thrilled by the novelty and whimsy of a cool treat on a stick, but adults are not immune to their lure. Because pops are not as bound to the status of after-dinner dessert, they are often favored time and time again.
Thinking back, I don't remember when my family's freezer wasn't stocked with at least two different types. Even now I have fudge bars and lime pops stashed away in the bottom drawer.
Julia's first memories of pops were simply frozen bananas stuck with a stick. Her mother not only used them for babies who were teething but also for tots who needed a cool quick fix.
On the other hand, while my mom always insisted on making other treats from scratch, pops didn't qualify. Instead, she relied on commercial Popsicles or Good Humor bars to bring the fun into the house. My brothers and I were never disappointed with those options, but then again, a kid with sugar is a happy kid.
The pop that stands out most in my mind does not even have a stick! Freeze Pops, plastic tubes filled with sugary, neon juice, were ever-present. They made an appearance at every soccer game, class party and summer barbecue.
Julia's grandmother remembers Popsicles as a road trip treat for those days before air-conditioned cars. There was a stop every couple of hours to get some shut eye, fill up on gas, and cool down with a pop.
One of the most wonderful aspects of ice pops is their versatility. Any combination of flavors and textures that exists in another dessert can be manipulated to work in a pop.
We rummaged through the pantry to see what we already had on hand. We extracted cereal, nuts, spices, cookies and anything else that looked interesting. We flipped through a few cookbooks to help spark our imaginations, but we ultimately chose to create flavors that were our own.
Diet Coke pops, Nutella pops, Girl Scout Cookie pops, papaya pops. Anything goes. Have some extra sweet tea or lemonade? Make some pops. Feel free to let the imagination run wild.
Pops are not limited to icy, sorbet-like frozen lumps. The buttermilk pops we made were intended to be churned into ice cream, but then we realized that we forgot to freeze the ice cream canister. When we poured the ice cream custard into the pop molds, it hardened beautifully and more quickly than some of the other pops.
In fact, all of the ice pops that contained milk took less time to freeze. Milk-based pops might be preferable if a craving for a chilly treat strikes and waiting for them to freeze is just too difficult.
If the pops are going to be served at an outdoor picnic or meal, storing them in plastic bags surrounded by dry ice would help avoid a cooler full of sticky liquid. Be sure that the dry ice does not touch any food directly.
Many things other than special molds can be used to shape ice pops, especially if you do not want to run around town trying to find these molds. We used silicone Madeleine molds, plastic cups and even banana peels to mold our pops.
The silicone molds were very easy to use, as they released the pops once they were frozen. The Dixie cups required us to fiddle with the pops a little more after they had hardened, and we lost one or two pops to the floor. Next time, we will release them over the sink.
Some of our ice pops had toothpicks or wooden skewers for handles, while others wanted craft sticks. The thinner toothpicks worked well with the smaller pops but were not strong enough to support the large pops, so we substituted craft sticks. Ice cube trays would work well with any size stick.
Depending on the flavor, pops can be as beautiful as they are delectable. Our Independence Day pops were whimsical and patriotic, while the grapefruit pops were elegant and feminine. Pops with multiple flavors can be frozen in layers for geometric appeal, or the different flavors swirled together to achieve a more psychedelic look.
Single-flavor pops require a little less planning because the layers don't have to be frozen separately.
Whichever style of pop is chosen, the process is as simple as making a liquid mix, pouring it into a mold and moving the molds to a flat surface in the freezer.
Both of us had such fun inventing new pops. We are still having those aha moments, as new ideas continue to unfurl in our brains. Every step of the process was a joy, from the flavor creating to the actual construction to the naming of each pop. Have fun with this step, and be sure to solicit the help of the kids.
Makes 6 pops
Just like patriotism, these pops should not just be relegated to the Fourth of July. They are adorable and tasty, a great reminder to be proud to be an American. We used strawberry-kiwi juice, but just because we had it.
1 1/2 cups frozen strawberries
1/2 cup strawberry juice or water
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries
1/2 cup blueberry juice
6 Dixie cups or pop molds
6 pop or craft sticks
Puree the frozen strawberries with the strawberry juice in a food processor or blender. Divide strawberries evenly between Dixie cups or molds. Put in freezer until the strawberries have somewhat hardened. Insert sticks into puree.
Mix the yogurt and honey together thoroughly. Divide yogurt mixture evenly between cups or molds on top of the frozen strawberry puree. This second layer will freeze around the stick and help stabilize it. Return to freezer until firm.
Puree the frozen blueberries with the blueberry juice in a food processor or blender. Divide blueberry puree evenly between molds on top of the frozen yogurt mixture. Put in freezer until firm, about 3 hours.
Once the pops have set, they can be stored in a large plastic bag. Remove from freezer 5 minutes before ready to eat. To remove mold, push gently on the bottom of the cup while twisting the stick around.
Makes 48 ice cube-size pops or 8 Dixie cup pops
We combined grapefruit juice and thyme-flavored simple syrup to create delicate and sophisticated pops sure to meet the needs of any loungers on the porch or afternoon garden party. They can be simply frozen in ice cube trays with a toothpick in them. They released without any trouble.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup pink or ruby-red grapefruit juice
Toothpick or pop sticks
Heat the sugar, water, thyme and salt in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring gently until the sugar has completely dissolved and it is a clear sugar syrup, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and let the mixture steep for 1 hour.
Strain the syrup through a mesh sieve into a medium bowl, add the grapefruit juice to the syrup and whisk until completely mixed. Pour gently into your pop molds and freeze for 1 hour, then remove from freezer and insert pop sticks. Store in the freezer for up to 2 days or, if longer, cover to prevent freezer burn.
-- Adapted from "Spice Dreams: Flavored Ice Creams and Other Frozen Treats" by Sara Engram and Katie Luber.
Makes 6 pops
When a simple, fruity pop just doesn't hit the spot, leaving a hankering for something darker and sweeter, these crunchy chocolate pops are just the thing. The Nutella in these pops helps keep the cocoa rice cereal from floating and also contributes a subtle hazelnut flavor that dresses the pops up a bit.
6 Dixie cups
6 tablespoons crunchy chocolate cereal or cookie crumbles
6 tablespoons Nutella
6 cups chocolate milk, store-bought or homemade
6 pop sticks
Pour 1 tablespoon of cereal or crushed cookies into the bottom of each cup. Drizzle 1 tablespoon Nutella on top of the cereal; this adds a nice chocolate bite but also holds the crunch at the top of the pop. Insert the pop stick into the chocolate. Freeze for 30 minutes. Once the chocolate is firm, pour 1 cup of chocolate milk in each cup. Freeze this for an additional 3 hours or until firm.
Makes 24 small pops
John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Miss., created a recipe for a smooth and dreamy ice cream. We took it one step further and made it into a lip-smacking pop. These pops are luscious and rich without being too overwhelming, so a smaller pop is satisfying and will leave room for a fresh peach.
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped down the center (optional)
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Heavy pinch of salt
Whisk the yolks, 1/2 cup sugar and vanilla extract until thick and light, preferably in a stand mixer.
Meanwhile, heat the cream and remaining 1/4 cup of the sugar in a large saucepan with the vanilla bean until a few bubbles arise around the side of the pan; remove from heat and allow to steep for 15 minutes.
Whisk a cup of the hot cream into the yolk mixture, then whisk in the rest, to lightly warm the yolks. Return the mixture back to the pot.
Cook, stirring constantly over medium heat with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon and a line remains when a finger is drawn down through it, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool briefly before whisking in the buttermilk, lemon zest and salt.
Pour into molds and freeze.
Makes 14 Monkey Pops
We were encouraged by Julia's Uncle to create a banana pop. Julia's love of ginger gives it that extra bite. Using the banana peel as the pop mold, and a simple smashed banana as the pop, you'll find yourself coming back to this recipe time and again for its ease and deliciousness.
7 ginger snaps, crushed
4 tablespoons butter, melted
7 very ripe bananas
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Stir together the crushed ginger snaps and the melted butter in a bowl until combined. Set aside.
Cut the bananas in half from tip to tip, as if to create a mirror image of the halves. Scoop out the banana flesh and move it to a large bowl. Arrange each skin gently on a baking sheet to create a canoe shape with the skins. Press the desired amount of the gingersnap and butter mixture into the banana canoe. At this point, freeze the banana peels for 30 minutes, until they are hard and maintain their canoe shape. This step is fun, because you can play with the amount or design or the crushed cookies in the pop.
Smash the bananas with a potato masher or two forks, and then stir in the milk, vanilla, ginger and cinnamon. Stir with a fork. Spoon the mixture into the now frozen banana canoes. Freeze for 1 hour. Remove from freezer and insert the pop sticks into the base; refreeze until firm. Before enjoying these pops, let them sit out for about 10 minutes to soften the pop and help remove the peel. Carefully remove the peel and enjoy the Monkey Pop on a stick.
To store the frozen pops, slip them into a large zip-top bag or keep them in a freezer-safe plastic container.