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Temperatures are soaring here in Minnesota.  Some summers are so cool I barely wear shorts, but today I actually had to put on the air – and when that happens, you better believe, you betcha, that I’m looking for cool things to eat and ways to keep the oven off!  While I try to limit junk food and treats, I always have to make Lemon Buttermilk Popsicles this time of year.

Lemon Thyme Popsicles

Lemon Thyme Popsicles

This is one of the strangest recipes but really “works” and it is amazingly good.  Think of a super creamy creamsicle with a little tang and a lemon flavor instead of orange.  I first found this back in ’02 in Bon Appetit.  Never told my kids what was in it and they’ve “lapped” it up every summer, for the past ten years.

Three ingredients:  Buttermilk, Lemon and Sugar.  I did adapt the recipe just a bit – I cut back on the sugar and changed the size to fit my popsicle mold, and rather than trying to juice and measure, I just use two lemons.

Since all molds are different, if you don’t know how much yours holds, fill a measuring cup with water and fill up the molds.  Mine is a Progressive and holds three and 1/4 cups of liquid and makes ten 2.5 ounce popsicles.  It’s a standard mold and similar to most of the ones available out there.

Progressive Popsicle Mold

When my kids were smaller, I used molds that were thin and cylindrical and held much less, not a bad thing to think about when shopping for your molds.

I microplane the lemon zest and you can just barely detect it in the pops, which I don’t mind at all.  If a very slight texture bothers you, maybe leave it out (which would be a bit of a shame with their bright flavor) or maybe give it a whirl in the food processor or blender.

Lemon Buttermilk Popsicles, (makes 3 1/4 cups)

  • Juice and zest of two lemons
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 1/4  cups buttermilk
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  • finely minced thyme leaves (optional)

Zest lemons and squeeze into a container with a spout.  Add zest and sugar and whisk, add part of the buttermilk and mix until sugar is until the sugar is dissolved. Add the rest of the buttermilk.  Pour into the molds and freeze for about four hours and up to five days.  (It does take the full amount of time to freeze.  I’m sure they’d be fine longer – mine have never lasted more than a day or two.)

There are two tricks that help keep the popsicle sticks in the right place in the popsicle.  One is to presoak the sticks for about an hour.  They don’t want to “float up” as much and the slight swelling helps them stay tighter in the mold.  The other is to wait until your mixture has started to slightly thicken, but isn’t frozen yet, to add them.  You could start soaking the sticks when you make your mixture and then poke them in after the mixture has been frozen for an hour or two.)

One thing to make life easier:  When you unmold popsicles, generally you dip the molds in warm water which can create a damp surface on the outside of the pop.  No problem if you’re eating them a.s.a.p., but if you want to freeze, they’ll stick together and stick to anything you put them on.  Take a small flat pan like a jelly roll pan, line it with waxed paper or parchment.  Place the pops in a single layer and freeze.  If you think ahead, you can have that pan in the freezer ahead of time so it’s really cold already and can stop any melting process in its tracks.  The wax or parchment paper peels off easily.

Nutrition:

First of all, lets not pretend ANY popsicle is healthy, even ones made from pure juice with no added sugar, ok?   If you want healthy, eat the whole fruit, in moderation, with the fiber intact.  (Frozen grapes are a wonderful treat!  Frozen bananas on a stick go over very well with kids.)

Can we say some popsicles are not as bad for you as, perhaps, than other treats.  Yeah.  I’ll go with that.  Are you likely to have less additives in a homemade pop?  Oh, yeah.  And do homemade popsicles with fruit have a lot of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber?  definitely yeah.

Here are the values for a Lemon Buttermilk Popsicle:  Cal 103; cal from fat:  4.45 (4%); tot fat: .55g; chol: 2.21mg; sod 58.73; tot carb: 24.95; fib 1.02g; sug 22.6g; prot 2.08g.

These Lemon Buttermilk pops do have a cup of sugar (16 tablespoons) divided among 10 pops.  I’ve done a lot of comparing of different recipes, and a most of the pops out there use this same ratio of sugar to liquid.  It must have something to do with how the sugar doesn’t allow an absolute hard freeze.

I kept coming up with recipes in my search that only used 1/2 cup of sugar, but as I examined them, they were only using about 1 1/2 cups of liquid.  Most of them claimed to be “healthy” and several were on a site called “Women’s Heath.”)  A lot of them were on sites for Moms and a few were sites from babysitters and nannies suggesting “healthy” treats.

(The photos invariably all showed pops made in the same type of mold I used, which is somewhat misleading, as you would only get about 4 3/4 pops for the amount of liquid – and sometimes, if they were even given (which was rarely) their nutritional values were way, way off – as if they’d based the nutritional values on the full ten pops that come in the standard molds.)

Some of the healthier recipes used 1/4 cup of sugar to 1 1/2 cups liquid, and some only used 2 tablespoons honey or agave.  When comparing, keep in mind the amount of sugar (or honey or agave – marginally, but not much better for you than sugar) compared to the total amount of liquid, and keep in mind the total carbs per serving.  (fruit has sugar, too.)

The healthiest pops, of course, are ones using all of the whole fruit with no added sugar.

When making these comparisons, carbs are the key factor to look for – technically, to find the true carb rate, you can subtract the amount of fiber from the amount of carbohydrate. That’s part of what makes whole fruit better for you than juice – the fiber helps to slow down the glycemic process, and helps, well, you know.  (Protein will help to slow down that glycemic process, too.)

These pops work out to a little less than five teaspoons of sugar per pop – which I consider high, although the sites for other recipes claiming “healthy” popsicles with the same ratio, considered this same ratio low. (Part of the reason for the amount of sugar is the lemon is really tart, and, as discussed the sugar helps the texture in the frozen treat.)

A standard Popsicle brand popsicle, which is smaller in size, has about three teaspoons sugar, but when you factor the size, it works out to about the same as these. A half of a cup of ice cream has about 4 1/2 teaspoons of sugar – who eats 1/2 cup?  (One good thing about a popsicle?  Portion control.)  A 12 ounce soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar.

My advice:  Eat sparingly – and be sure to savor every single lick when you do.

Money & Time Saving Strategies:

  • Buttermilk:  I’ve never seen buttermilk on sale, but if it goes on sale in your area, grab it.  It keeps forever in the fridge, but you’ll need to shake it.  Try pouring it into a clean jar for storage.  I do try to have in mind other recipes to use up the rest when I buy it.
  • Lemons:  Do go on sale, pick the heaviest, not the prettiest ones.  (Oh, if only real life were like that!)  They do last for a good amount of time in the fridge, loosely bagged in plastic.  Don’t let them get wet with condensation or they’ll rot away.
  • Sugar:  You can almost always get sugar on sale, especially during any holiday week.  Thanksgiving through New Years usually has great sales with coupons, so stock up.

Put Your own Spin on It:

  • Just a touch of thyme makes these really interesting, but it only really takes a few small leaves to flavor the whole batch.  Be careful – the flavor comes through strongly!  Maybe try a few leaves in one or two to see if you like it.
  • I haven’t tried these with orange (the lemon is just that good) but I can’t imagine you could go wrong with it!

By the way – curious about a recipe for popsicle (or other treat)  you want to make and aren’t sure what the nutrition – Comment and give me the items and measurements – I’d be glad to figure it for you.  I’d also love to hear YOUR favorite healthy pop recipe!

Recipe made June 2012

Lisa Johnson Fitness:  How much sugar do we eat in a day?

  • Notice how close, in the above post on the Red, White and Blue Berry popsicles, the carb rate and sugar rates are to the pops I made?  These pops also don’t give you any way to determine the measurements and sizes, and the ratio of sugar to liquid is difficult with the fruit.  (I’d say they’re on about the same par as mine health wise, and I don’t think mine are too healthy.)  But they do look really good!  I’m just saying, if you claim something is “healthy” it should be and you should back up your claim with values – which mean nothing without the sizes.
  • These “Spa” pops are in multiple places on the internet.  They don’t have much sugar, but they don’t give the sizes or the amount it makes, so there is no way to judge or compare to other pops.  I like the idea of the fruit and vegetables, and they *seem* very low in sugar, but they say “Dietician Drive” and any self-respecting dietician I know is pretty exacting and pushes portion control and sizing!  I’m just saying, you WANT to know what you’re eating, and how much.  A person may actually be a little misled if they “think” something is healthy and go overboard.
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