The popsicle is a state of mind, a way of being, a worldwide indulgence that expresses flavors and cultures. Free your mind and prepare your freezer.
I love popsicles. That fact should perhaps be cleared up in advance – this issue of “Rabbit Hole” will not be an impartial journalistic exercise in restraint and neutrality, published here at the very height of popsicle season in America, a time when the minds of the nation, young and old, are turning to all things freezable. They taste incredibly good, popsicles, but beyond that, they’re both an optical illusion and a Rorschach test – personal and meaningful, and much bigger than they appear in the mirror.
The entire farmers market can be turned into a popsicle. The wildest idea in your most intimidating cookbook, the sweetness of your dreams, the Proustian flavors of childhood waiting to be recaptured: all of this can be poured into a mold, dipped with a stick and frozen overnight. Gimme Creamy Pops, Custard Pops, Sweet & Spicy Ice Cream Pops, Savory Pops, Subtle Pops, Lime & Lemon Muddle Pops! I am a firm believer that the popsicle is a mindset, a way of life, a spiritual life practice. All you need are a few tools, basics to serve as building blocks for flavor, and an open mind. As soon as you unlock the popsicle inside you, you realize that the whole world around you is waiting to be frozen.
These are your Popsicles and you’re in charge.
It’s best to start with inspiration. I am fortunate to live in the city of Portland, Oregon, where popsicle choices are overwhelming and a multitude of cultures and traditions are expressed through the popsicle profession. I can visit my home within ten minutes Kulfi PDXGagan Aulakh and Kiran Cheema’s South Asian dessert shop offering kulfi popsicles with flavors like malai (caramelized milk) and mango lassi (for dipping). White chocolate) and thandai (cardamom, fennel, saffron and almond); ice queen, founder Rebecca Smith’s ingrained neo-paleta salon, with flavors like Oatchata (oatmilk horchata), Strawberry Switchblade (a vegan twist on the ice cream truck favorite), and Cucumber, representing this Jewish man’s freezing dream of frozen brine with a dill wedge embedded in it; And Naughty Marketthe store next door to Katy Millard’s acclaimed Pacific Northwest Bistro, with a freezer stocked with delicious popsicles like Blood Orange Creamsicle, Oregon Strawberry Lime, and homemade Chocolate Puddin’ Pops with the chef’s homemade cookie sprinkles.
Duly awakened by the pop scene Around me (especially the salty, electrolytic, rippling popsicles at Ice Queen — lord, is that good) I set about proclaiming the art of making popsicles at home. This is a very good way of being as it allows you to incorporate pop psychedelic ways of being into your daily kitchen practices. A few essential tools will help you in your search.
Popsicle molds to keep out the cold
The internet is teeming with popsicle molds of various sizes, shapes and compositions, from cheap and basic silicone molds to more professional metal sets, with a corresponding increase in functionality and price.
The Housewares Brand Table offers an appealing selection of silicone molds that come in a variety of shapes and sizes from the standard to the whimsical (e.g., a unicorn-shaped popsicle) for around $20. Other brands such as MEETRUE and YSBER offer comparable products at a slightly lower price. Silicone molds offer many advantages: they are easy to clean, easy to freeze, and the finished pop is easy to pop out of the mold. Once you take on more esoteric shapes – like a pineapple or a star – you risk having a form-inhibiting function. (No one likes a drippy pop.) But I love the idea of buying, say, a popsicle mold shaped like a watermelon slice and turning it into a homemade version of a salty and sweet watermelon tajín pop (more on that in a moment).
There’s also a world of metal popsicle molds that are a little more professional in shape but are still easy and convenient to use for home cooks who want to take their popsicle practice seriously. The onyx brand A great place to start, the stainless steel molded tray features six interconnecting freezer compartments and a helpful supply of wooden sticks. Popsicles in metal molds freeze to a pleasantly firm consistency and temperature, and it just is feel are more like the original than their silicone brethren – which in my experience are a bit thinner and don’t seem to set quite as firmly. But they cost more — the Onyx is $40 at most retailers, and there’s that, too beforewhich makes 20 pops at a time, but costs about $60 — and it can sometimes be difficult to pop the finished pops out of those metal molds (a spritz of warm water helps).
Popsicle bases (some use cases)
Do you like creamy popsicles, custard pops or refreshing water and fruit-based treats? There’s no wrong way to make popsicles, but each ingredient choice will produce a different frozen result. At my house, we like to start with a milk base from the constellation Lassi / Yakult / “drinkable yoghurt”. Ronnybrook Farm‘s drinking yoghurt is the platonic ideal, as is the Karoun And gopi Brands. Gopi’s mango lassi drink requires no additional embellishment apart from perhaps a dash of fresh cardamom from your glass heavy, modern spice rack. Here you can get as weird as you like with your favorite pudding, a coffee pop with condensed milk, or a mix of fresh blueberries with creamy Smetana from the Russian grocery store.
There’s the popsicle universe, from which much of the Mexican paleta tradition derives (there are also many milk-cream based paletas, including my favorite paleta of all, paleta de coco). Water pops are essentially a puree of fruit like pineapple or lime with water and sugar. These are the classic cooling-down flavors most commonly associated with the summertime popsicle treat. The simplest recipes here involve making a simple syrup with a one to one ratio of water and powdered sugar (100 grams each is perfect) and then mixing it with a fruit puree –Designer Strawberries maybe with a little fresh lime juice or fresh and very seasonal Oregon marsupials just starting to pop. You can puree the puree to a perfectly smooth consistency, or leave it a bit chunky to add some consistency to the pop. The world is your popsicle.
Popsicle flavor to infinity
Here we get into something metatextual – the divine, the deity, that which cannot be fully expressed but is nonetheless deeply felt. These are your Popsicles and you’re in charge. How about an avocado popsicle based on a Vietnamese Sinh Tó Bo recipe that mixes avocado with condensed milk, whole milk and ice cream? The same combination pairs easily with jackfruit, mung beans, durian, or lychee, all of which make for delightful pops.
Or maybe you have access to summer peaches and fresh cherry bomb peppers? A little spice is a welcome addition to a fruity popsicle, as long as it’s clearly labeled and doesn’t appeal to sensitive palates. The aforementioned watermelon tajín is particularly welcome here — the sweetness of the fruit balances the salt and spiciness of the spice blend for something profound. In all of these cases, seasonality is your friend, and you should embrace the farmer’s market cycle: rhubarb pops in late spring, pumpkin pops in early fall, vanilla ice cream and mince pie pops with Christmas leftovers in January, and you’re good to go.
My dream popsicle—the essence of my being in popsicle form—happened quite by accident while researching this Rabbit Hole column. There I sat, happily eating a batch of my all-time favorite dessert, Fergus Henderson’s wonderfully wobbly and creamy Rice Pudding, as described in The Book of Saint John. Leftovers aren’t usually a problem with this pudding, but I had a surplus and took a chance by carefully packing it into a ready-made ice cream mold and adding some yellow raspberry puree. The rice retained its natural bite when frozen, but the flavors were only enhanced as the vibrant acidity of the berries fused with the creamy cooked milk and subtle bay leaf. For me, this is the perfect popsicle. What will be yours?
rabbit hole is a column that delves deep into the culinary issues, from the recipes and products that augment our domestic routines to the food cultureists and content creators that make us hungry and curious. Along the way, we’ll explore the ever-golden gastronomic moment of the 21st century: never boring, always hungry.