Even if you’re staying at home, there’s no reason you can’t celebrate summer with a little DIY fun by running through the sprinklers, camping out in the backyard or — yes! — whipping up your own ice pops.
The frozen treat is the perfect way to cool down, according to Eden Passante, founder of the home and entertaining blog Sugar and Charm. “And since they’re on a stick, they’re easy and convenient,” she adds. “They’re also super versatile and the flavor options are endless.”
For many, they’re also synonymous with the carefree, long summer days of childhood, according to Megan Neveu, founder of the food blog Olives+Thyme. “Even into adulthood, they invite us to pause and enjoy a simple summertime treat,” she says.
We asked Passante, Neveu and Abbey Sharp, a registered dietician, founder of Abbey’s Kitchen and author of “The Mindful Glow Cookbook,” for their tips and tricks for making DIY ice pops. Because, sure, a bowl of ice cream or sorbet is nice, but, as Sharp says, “anything on a stick is more fun!”
How to make ice pops
“If you want to do it on the cheap, Dixie cups and popsicle sticks are always easy,” Sharp says. “I also love a classic popsicle mold with the nice ridges for authenticity sake. I prefer to go simple rather than invest in the fancy single pop molds because this way, you don’t need to worry about losing a specific popsicle stick. Just throw in a disposable wooden one with every batch!”
Norpro Frozen Ice Pop Maker ($24.09; amazon.com)
Sharp and Passante both like this reusable, durable, BPA-free mold that includes 24 disposable wooden treat sticks. “I use this one most of the time,” Passante says. “It’s affordable and always works well.”
When it comes to choosing a mold, Neveu says to first decide which kind of treat you want to make. “Reusable sticks or wooden ones? Metal or silicone? Classic shape or more creative and playful?” she says. “I prefer to use silicone molds with wooden sticks. I love the look and nostalgic feel of the classic shape.”
MintLeaf PopsicleLab Premium Popsicle Mold ($32.54; amazon.com)
Neveu says she recently ordered this BPA-free silicone mold that includes 50 sticks and bags plus a silicone funnel for easy pouring.
Ouddy 10-Cavity Popsicle Maker ($29.99; amazon.com)
This easy-to-use silicone tray also comes with 50 sticks and bags, a funnel and even a brush to help clean the molds, making it popular with food bloggers, according to Neveu.
Oster Blender With Smoothie Cup ($69.99, originally $79.99; amazon.com)
Neveu uses this Oster blender to mix up her ice pop recipes. With seven speeds, including preprogrammed settings for shakes, smoothies and salsas, it also includes a smoothie cup to take your blend on the go.
Anchor Hocking Glass Measuring Cup ($15.89, originally $19.99; amazon.com)
To prepare your ingredients, Neveu recommends this classic, clear glass 32-ounce measuring cup to make mixing, measuring and pouring a snap.
Cuisinart Set of 3 Fine Mesh Stainless Steel Strainers ($14.99; bedbathandbeyond.com)
Working with fruit to make your ice pops? Neveu likes this set of mesh colanders to remove seeds and other grainy textures before pouring your mixture into molds.
Oxo Good Grips 3-Piece Mixing Bowl Set ($24.99; amazon.com)
As an alternative to a measuring cup, Passante recommends these mixing bowls that feature spouts and handles. “A spout is key for pouring the liquid into a popsicle mold,” she says.
Acerich 200-Piece Craft Sticks ($8.99; amazon.com)
Make ice pops on repeat with this 200-pack of wooden sticks favored by Passante.
“Making popsicles is easier than making sourdough and more customizable than banana bread, yet it’s just as satisfying,” Neveu says. “The most important thing to remember is to get as creative as you want and have fun.”
As far as ingredients go, she says, the sky’s the limit.
“Now is the time to use fresh, seasonal produce and get creative,” Neveu says. “By pairing seasonal fruit at its peak, the flavors are almost guaranteed to work well together. For sweetening, I like to use a simple syrup or other liquid sweeteners such as honey, agave, or maple syrup. For something creamy, I like to use yogurt or milk (regular and plant based), coconut milk or sweetened condensed milk. Bananas also work really well for creating a creamy base.”
Sharp says she likes to add a little extra to her pops by using a protein-rich Greek yogurt or chia pudding made with almond milk and chia seeds.
“Fresh fruit also always looks super beautiful,” she adds. “If you want to add some texture, toss in some crunchy whole grain cereal or granola. And don’t forget about herbs: Basil, mint or thyme are all really beautiful in a summer popsicle with fruit.”
And Passante likes something sweet. “Personally, I have always loved a classic chocolate fudge popsicle,” she says. “I also love adding gourmet ingredients into popsicles, like our roasted blueberry creme fraiche. Sounds fancy, but it’s easy to make. Any berry or citrus fruit works well in popsicles too.”
If you’re doing a cream base, she adds, yogurt, heavy cream and coconut cream are all wonderful flavors, as is fresh juice.
“My son recently made his own fresh orange juice popsicles and eats them with his breakfast,” Passante says. “How can I say no to a popsicle for breakfast, if it’s just orange juice?”
Making ice pops can be easy enough to do with the kids, but a few helpful hints will take them from good to great.
“If you’re making a cream-based popsicle, add in a few teaspoons of cornstarch to keep the popsicle from becoming too icy and to give it a creamy texture,” Passante says. “It’s our secret ingredient in popsicles.”
She also advises leaving about a quarter-inch space at the top of the mold before placing the stick in. “When the liquid freezes it will expand a little and if there’s any liquid seeping over the top, it makes it a lot harder to get the pops out,” she says, adding that she highly recommends freezing them overnight.
Speaking of getting them out, Passante says to run the bottom of the mold under warm water first. “Keep turning the mold, so the water hits each popsicle insert,” she says. “Give the stick a light tug — it should slide out easy. If it doesn’t, give it more time under the water. Don’t pull too hard on the stick or the popsicle can break in half.”
Ready to step up your game with pretty layered pops? Passante says to make two flavors and then alternate by layering and freezing each new layer. “So start with one flavor, fill the mold one-quarter of the way full, freeze for 15 minutes, then add the second layer one-half of the way full, freeze again and continue until you reach the top,” she says. “Then freeze overnight.”
Another important tip, according to Sharp: Be sure the stick is inserted straight. “A crooked stick can easily cause your whole popsicle to fall apart when you unmold,” she says.
And Neveu has this advice for making the best DIY pops:
- Use seasonal fruit that’s ripe or slightly overripe.
- For a smoother consistency, blend fruit to a puree and push/strain through a mesh colander. For a chunkier consistency, blend for less time and skip the straining step.
- Wipe any excess liquid from the top of the mold to prevent difficulty with unmolding.
- For molds that use wooden sticks, partially freeze the pops for 90 minutes to two hours. Insert the sticks and freeze an additional three to six hours, until solid.
- Keep the molds in the back of the freezer where it’s coldest.
- Finally, place all unmolded pops onto a parchment- or wax paper-lined pan or plate that’s big enough for them to lie flat with no overlap. Then freeze them an additional 30 to 60 minutes.
While classic, simple recipes are great, don’t be afraid to to try more unusual — but still approachable — flavor combos. Neveu suggests mixing coconut, avocado, simple syrup and lime for a tropical take; fresh sweet corn, Greek yogurt, vanilla extract and a sweetener like agave or honey for a creamy summer version; or banana, tahini, yogurt, cinnamon and honey for a Mediterranean twist.
Want to impress guests? Sharp’s vegan Banoffee pie pops include a coconut milk, banana, coconut yogurt and chia seed base with a date caramel swirl that’s dipped in dark chocolate. “To make the Banoffee popsicles, I recommend using a nice ripe banana so it sweetens the popsicle naturally,” she says. “I also suggest getting your chocolate ready for the moment they come out so you can immediately dip it and have it set.”
Sharp also has recipes for kombucha and fruit pops (“Cut your fruit small enough that you get little bits throughout”); pops for teething babies (“You can freeze virtually any purees you have and use the opportunity to make them nutrient dense with hemp hearts, chia or flax”); and banana cream pie ice pops (“This version with high-fiber cereal is one of my personal favorites because you get a creamy base, lots of fruit flavor and a nice crunch”).
Passante, meanwhile, has whipped up an avocado-flavored pop “that tastes amazing” and suggests using dried, edible flowers in your ice pops for something new. She also has a recipe for the ultimate summer treat: a s’mores ice pop. “To make a s’mores popsicle, you’ll need some marshmallow fluff and a kitchen torch,” she says. “You have to serve these right away as they will melt quickly. It’s a fun experience for guests though because you can make their s’mores popsicle right in front of them, quickly torching the marshmallow so it becomes nice and toasted. They’re great for an outdoor movie night under the stars.”
Making it boozy
And if you thought ice pops were just for kids, you may not have considered adding a little liquor to versions for the grown-ups.
“Boozy popsicles are so fun for summer,” Passante says. “You can use about one shot of alcohol in one cup of juice. Since alcohol doesn’t freeze, the ratio is a lot lower so the popsicle will actually hold its shape.”
Frozip Disposable Ice Popsicle Mold Bags ($10.95; amazon.com)
Want a boozy pop with a bit more of a kick? Passante says to fill these special ice pop bags with your concoction. “This way you can serve it as more of a slushy texture and can add a little more booze to your pops,” she says.
When making boozy pops, Neveu adds, just remember that most alcohol doesn’t freeze at the temperature of your home freezer. For liquor-based pops, she recommends a ratio of five parts juice or other liquid to one part liquor. “Wine freezes better than liquor, so the ratio is more 1:1,” she adds. “Now you can recreate your favorite craft cocktail as a popsicle!”
And don’t forget your presentation. “It’s even more fun to serve the popsicle in a glass of the alcohol used as the base,” Neveu says. “Prosecco pops in a glass of prosecco…yes, please!”
Want to up your ice pop style game? Try a mold that goes way beyond basic. Here are a few styles to try.
Tovolo Dino Ice Pop Molds ($16; amazon.com)
Junior paleontologists will roar over these prehistoric-looking silicone molds that come with tail-like bases.
Tovolo Zombies Pop Molds ($20.93; amazon.com)
For the zombie lovers in your household, you can’t get any better than this. This set of four molds come with bases that look like legs with appropriately torn pants and skirts, and even a skeleton core.
PennieHouse Popsicle Mold ($12; etsy.com)
Create adorable pops with this reusable silicone tray mold that features sweet shapes. Choose from animals, fruit, “love” letters and more.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.