How to make your own unicorn frappuccino

The fabled unicorn frappuccino has gone the way of the dodo, all in the blink of an eye. Starbucks made the unicorn frappuccino available for only five days, and the vast majority of locations ran out of supplies way before that. Some people loved it, some hated it, but it certainly spread like wildfire and gave Starbucks a significant boost in sales.

The barista at the Starbucks I visited told me that her store–and every other store in the area–ran out three days into the phenomenon. The kind woman also explained how she could basically give me the same thing without the "unicorn" part. For a mere $3.70 (or $3.54 if your Starbucks is located in a national "big box" store with its own Red Card … I forget the name) the nice barista served up the base frappuccino and said the rest is in the special "unicorn" parts. A few friendly sentences later and before I knew it, I had the secret formula to the unicorn frappuccino.

Here's how it happened. (Full recipe is at the end for the ambitious.)

Let's get to cooking!

Here's what you need to make your own unicorn frappuccino: ice, vanilla ice cream, milk (any kind, but I'm using whole milk because skim milk is white water), mango syrup (or mango slices from a can), coconut syrup (or pureed coconut from a can), coconut oil, and white chocolate (in any form that you can melt down).

That's for the flavor. For the visual effect, I used sour blue flavoring, pink dry food coloring, powdered sugar, food coloring (neon blue and neon red), a blender of some sort, whipped cream, and a cup. You can also use a Starbucks cup, which I've done here for added effect. (Full ingredients list is at the end with the recipe.)

What's a frappuccino?

Before we begin building a copycat unicorn frappuccino, we need to define what exactly a frappuccino is. It's time to get real: this is a milkshake, and it may or may not contain coffee depending on what you order. The biggest difference between a frappuccino and a milkshake is one is copyrighted and one isn't. People in New England are probably familiar with the frappe, and they will tell you straight up that a milkshake and a frappe are completely different. Milkshakes are thin, while frappes are thick(er). But in their soft centers, the difference lies only in nomenclature. This is a thick, cream-based cold item loaded with sugary flavoring.

Basically, Starbucks threw some Italian-sounding words together, kinda like calling its 20-ounce drinks "venti" because it's Italian for 20. Regardless, when we're talking frappuccinos, think milkshake with more flavoring offerings. And note that the unicorn frappuccino has no coffee in it.

The base for a unicorn frappuccino–according to my friendly barista who revealed way too much information–is a mango frappuccino. The rest is just sweet and sour stuff. So for all intents and purposes, we're simply making a milkshake with a bunch of other stuff in it.

And now it's a unicorn?

The unicorn frappuccino is a crazy concoction with a teeth-shaking sweetness and then a punch of sour. The base is a mango frappuccino, which is available on the Starbucks secret menu. However, there's something that's a little off from the (standard but traditionally secret) mango frappuccino. The base for the unicorn frappuccino isn't mango-colored; it's white. Also, the mango frappuccino clearly has coconut in it. The official ingredients for the unicorn frappuccino spell it out. To my taste, there was a little more than just coconut oil and coconut butter used to create the blue drizzle. The two semi-difficult parts seem to be creating the sweet pink flavoring, and the sour blue flavoring. However, those are the easy parts. The hard part is actually making the frappuccino itself.

Let's get sour

The sour part of the unicorn frappuccino is made from a white chocolate base. Without going through Starbucks' entire list of chemical ingredients, we'll need the following basics: white chocolate, sugar, and something sour.

I asked my friendly barista if the sour base was just Fun Dip. Her response: "Exactly." Whether Starbucks literally bought a bunch of Fun Dip or whether it's just Fun Dip-like, there's no need to construct our own citric acid with blue flavoring when a few coins will get you a pack of Fun Dip. Plus it comes with the dipping stick! Fun Dip is sour, but it isn't super sour. I thought a Baby Bottle Pop might be a good sour replacement, so I taste-tested it against some Fun Dip before using it in an early version of the unicorn frappuccino. Lick for lick, the Baby Bottle Pop was significantly more mouth-puckering. But after I made an entire unicorn frappuccino using a Baby Bottle Pop, it wasn't even remotely sour. The Fun Dip has the sour staying power, so that's what we're using here.

Starbucks calls its sugar "classic syrup." This is just a simple syrup with citric acid, and it helps make things sour. We're already using Fun Dip, so let's add a little to our simple syrup. Simple syrup is a 1:1 mix of water and sugar, cooked down. Add a scant ¼ cup sugar to ¼ cup water. Then add in ½ teaspoon of Fun Dip. The key to making a simple syrup is to bring this mixture up to a high temperature, then drop the heat to a simmer just as you begin to get bubbles. Start stirring right away to prevent crystallization. Simmer for 10 minutes and then allow to cool. It doesn't need to get all the way down to room temperature because we're going to use it again quickly.

Make sour drizzle

While that's cooling, we'll construct the rest of the sour drizzle, which is actually pretty simple. The base is white chocolate, so that's half the battle. Before you put anything in your pot or double-boiler, add just a touch of coconut oil. Ghirardelli white chocolate doesn't contain coconut oil, but it's somewhere in the Starbucks recipe. I dipped a silicone spatula into the coconut oil and spread it on the bottom of the double-boiler bowl. (A pot should work, too, as long as you're careful with your heat.) It's subtle, but that's what the Starbucks ingredients point to.

Then add 5 ounces of evaporated milk, 10 ounces of condensed milk, and ⅓ cup of white chocolate. You can use wafers, chips, or bars. The only thing that will change is how long it'll take to melt down.

Place over medium-low heat. As the chocolate begins to melt, pour in your simple syrup. You'll notice a blue tinge to it and a slightly sour taste. That's what we're going for: just a touch of citric acid flavor to the syrup. The citric acid acts mainly as a preservative, but it also cuts some of the sweetness in the drizzle, which we will definitely need.

After the white chocolate sauce melts down, move half of it to a bowl and hit it with the remainder of the open pack of Fun Dip. You can even use a pack and a half for more sour flavor. We need some Fun Dip for the whipped cream topping later, so you'll be opening two packs either way. You can also add a little neon blue food coloring to give it a darker blue tint, and you might try adding some red food coloring, too, although I did not. (More on that later.)

Move your concoction to a squeeze bottle and refrigerate; the longer the better. I ended up with extra white chocolate sauce for multiple test runs, so I've reduced the portions in the recipe at the end. It's also doubles quite nicely as a dip for strawberries.

The actual frappuccino

There are two different ways to make a unicorn frappuccino. There's the easy way, and there's the "I'm strong and independent" way. The easy way is to head down to your nearest Starbucks, which is probably not too far away, and either order a mango frappuccino or tell them you want the base for the unicorn frappuccino. Ask for an extra cup, and order it without whipped cream.

If you're actually going to build it from scratch, you'll need to concoct the coloring base first. Making the unique coloring is the true secret. My kind barista told me exactly what gave the unicorn frappuccino that obnoxious shade: powdered sugar and pink coloring. Take ¼ cup powdered sugar and add ½ teaspoon of dry pink food coloring. Dry food coloring should be available at the same type of store you found the white chocolate wafers.

Combine 1 cup ice cream, ½ cup ice, 2 tablespoons mango syrup, and ½ teaspoon coconut syrup in a blender with a ¼ cup milk, along with 2 tablespoons of that pink powdered sugar. Finding coconut syrup and mango syrup might be difficult. Unless you want to order ahead from an online store, don't feel too bad substituting the juice from a can of each.

Or if you don't have the mango syrup, take two mango slices and 2 tablespoons of the juice from the can and liquefy that in the blender first, along with ¼ tablespoon of coconut from the can. That'll give you the mango flavoring you need. After (a lot of) trial and error, I found that this delivered the mango flavoring without overpowering the drink.

After everything is blended up, hit it with a drop of neon pink food coloring to give the pink more of a blast. Then I did one more twirl in the blender to spread that neon color around.

The build

After your sour sauce has rested for 30 minutes to an hour in your refrigerator, drizzle it on the inside of your cup. If you don't let it rest, it will just run down the sides. Pour the drizzle inside the cup, squirting it along the sides in a fancy up and down fashion or doing whatever other artsy thing you feel like. Then pour in the pink frappuccino base and top it with whipped cream. Sprinkle half the whipped cream with some of the Fun Dip, and the other half with the pink coloring.

If you chose the easy way, just dress the inside of the clean cup with the drizzle, pour in the purchased mango frappuccino with some of the pink powdered sugar, and top with whipped cream in the same fashion. Then don't tell a soul.

How close are we?

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to try the real unicorn frappuccino myself before it was gone, but I found a friend who did. After she tried the homemade version, she reported the sweetness was dead on–the powdered sugar made all the difference. In a "dry" taste test, pitting the base sans "pink" sweet flavor against a mango frappuccino, the two were nearly identical. The sour was a little off; it wasn't sour enough. It would probably be best to go with a pack and a half of Fun Dip, or find another sour blue flavoring with a bit more punch. After some trial and a lot of error, I also found that letting the sour drizzle stay in the fridge longer helped it grip the sides of the cup much better.

But let's address the elephant in this kitchen: the coloring is off. I ended with a bit of an orange-green version, while the real unicorn frappuccino is more of a blue-purple. It's possible that a little red food dye and extra blue food dye might fix this issue. (That's assuming it needs fixing; who's to say there weren't orange-green unicorns in history?)

My taster said this copycat unicorn frappuccino didn't quite nail the crazy sweetness of the original, but she did say it was more drinkable because of that fact. The sour helps balance it out a tad, but it's not an everyday treat either way. Sometimes, you're better off not exactly nailing the flavor.

Directions

Prep time: 30-60 minutes. Cooking time: 3 minutes. Servings: 1.

The hardware:

To make sour flavoring

  • Scant ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 packs blue Fun Dip
  • ¼ cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 2 ounces condensed milk
  • 4 ounces evaporated milk
  • Neon blue food dye
  • Neon red food dye (suggested)

To make frappuccino

  • 2 mango slices
  • 1 tablespoon mango juice (or 2 tablespoons mango syrup)
  • ½ tablespoon coconut puree (or 1 tablespoon coconut syrup)
  • 1 cup vanilla ice cream
  • ½ cup ice
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon dry pink food coloring (you might also try purple, or a red-blue blend)
  • Neon pink or purple food dye

The process

To make sour drizzle

  1. In a small pan, combine sugar with water and ½ teaspoon Fun Dip. Place over high heat until mixture just starts to bubble, then simmer, stirring regularly to prevent crystallization, for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow syrup to cool slightly.
  2. In a pot or double boiler over medium-low heat, combine white chocolate, coconut oil, condensed milk, and evaporated milk.
  3. As the white chocolate begins to melt, pour in the simple syrup. Stir to combine, then remove from heat. Add 1 to 1½ packs blue Fun Dip. Add blue and red food colorings until color is satisfactory.
  4. Pour into a squeeze bottle and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.

To make frappuccino

  1. In a blender, blend 2 mango slices and mango juice until smooth. Add coconut syrup and blend.
  2. In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar and dry food coloring, mixing until the coloring is fully incorporated.
  3. Add vanilla ice cream, ice, and milk to blender. Transfer powdered sugar mix and blend all together.
  4. Add neon food dye and blend until color is satisfactory.

The build

  1. Drizzle the sour mix from the squeeze bottle around the inside of the cup, coating the sides.
  2. Pour in frappuccino mix.
  3. Top with whipped cream. Sprinkle the whipped cream with the blue sour mix and more dry food coloring.
  4. Drink and enjoy!