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Popular Popsicles: Learn How to Make Seasonal Sweets for Summer

By Brook Harlan
Chef Brook Harlan holding up three popsicles

It’s hot and getting hotter. You can grab some popsicles that are just frozen sugar water for pennies at the store, spend a little more to get ones with some actual fruit, or spend a little time and make ones with 100% fruit and a combination of delicious flavors that you want to eat. Think about shopping
for fruit in season at the farmers market. You get your fill of strawberries, peaches or blueberries, but if you buy some extra, you can have those delicious strawberries months later.

VESSEL

Popsicle molds have come a long way since I was a kid. You can get molds that have reusable handles for the popsicles, molds where you can use your popsicle sticks and then bag them. Or if you want to splurge a little extra, you can get an impulse sealer (most are around $20-$30, they have a hinged arm and a heated white that presses and seals the bag) and use slim vacuum seal bags to make your own push out popsicles which will stay fresh in the freezer much longer. Plus, you won’t have to worry about freezer burn.

FILLING

Here is where the sky’s the limit, almost. You can make just about any combination of fruit, herb, yogurt, nuts, honey or any other ingredient you can think of. The most important part is the taste. Take into consideration, how it tastes before freezing will be subdued once frozen. You want to make sure the flavors pop a little more when in liquid form. Even though it is sweet, a little salt might help bring some flavors forward. Acid is also a great thing to add to help things pop, a little lemon or lime juice works great, as well as a little vinegar, or sumac if you have some available.

Chef Brook Harlan pulls out frozen popsicle from red mold

WILL IT FREEZE?

If it tastes great, being a little icy might not be an issue. If it won’t freeze, that is an issue. Long ago, while working at a restaurant in New Orleans, we would make sorbet in the summer to go on some of the specialty desserts. Many times, we just had a rough ratio and would use different fresh fruit and produce as it came in. If the mixture did not have enough sugar, it would be icy once we spun it into sorbet. If there was too much sugar, we would just get a cold sweet sauce that would never freeze. I am sure they had a refractometer somewhere to test the sugar content, but I am also sure it would have been broken regularly if they had let us use it. We were taught the floating egg method. You can use a CLEAN raw egg to roughly figure out the density and sweetness of your mixture. An egg will sink in water, but as you add more sugar, the egg will start to float. As the egg starts to break the surface of the liquid, you look at the size that is above water. A dime will yield a frozen product that is not too icy, but just barely sweet. If it gets too much larger than a quarter, you run the risk that the mixture might not freeze at all. The sweet spot seemed to be between the size of a nickel and a quarter. There are other factors to consider (density of the fruit and its cellulose fiber), but this gives you a pretty good idea.

SWEET

Sugar or a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, boiled and cooled) will work to sweeten the popsicle, but if you are making them at home, you can go so much deeper and add flavor from your sweetening ingredient as well. Honey, agave syrup, molasses, monk fruit, stevia, maple syrup, sugar or any other sweeteners can be used. Some may take a little heat to dissolve while others may just need to be whisked to be incorporated.

honey being poured on top of chopped watermelon in a bowl

FLAVOR COMBOS

Each month will come with a new batch of fresh produce. Don’t feel tied to fruit, some of my favorite combinations have had vegetables or herbs. Here are some combinations, but don’t take my word for it. Sometimes things that grow together, go together.

STORAGE

Once the popsicles are frozen, it is best to keep them in a sealed bag (or if you are using a bag, it is already in one). A zip- closure bag or bag sealed with the impulse sealer will do the trick. The popsicles can be stored for a month or two in the freezer. Longer than that, you run the risk of getting freezer burn. Popsicles in a bag can be stored for much longer.

Popsicles

Notes

LOCAL COMBOS
Strawberry Basil
Blueberry Corn
Peaches Yogurt
Watermelon Mint
Cucumber, Mint and Honey
Plum Cherry
Plum Red Wine
Peach Vanilla
Raspberry Tarragon
 
NOT SO LOCAL COMBOS
Pineapple Lime
Kiwi Banana
Mango Chili
Plum Pomegranate
 
Trial and error is key. If you are not sure, just make a small batch. Documentation is also helpful, so make notes on how much you added to everything. Weight is much more accurate than volume. This will allow you to tweak from previous times and recreate the batches you liked.
 
ADULT VERSIONS
Having popsicles with a little extra kick hanging out in your freezer with little ones around is not a good idea. But … if you have a secure freezer, or a house empty of minors, here are a few tips. You can do molded popsicles, but you need to make sure that the percentage does not exceed 10%, that is roughly 2 to 2 1⁄2 ounces of a 35%-45% spirit per 8 ounces max so it will freeze solid. If you are freezing sealable bags, you can go a little higher. Worst case you might end up with more of a slush.

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