I scream, you scream, we all should scream for . . . paletas.
No, it doesn't rhyme, but there's still plenty of synchronicity between the creamy, dreamy Mexican ice pops and summer's most flavorful fruits. When mangoes, peaches or cherries are at their most luscious, mix pulpy flesh with water and sugar and scoop the mixture into Popsicle molds. Six hours later, you've got frozen treats with the pow-pow power to refresh.
It's not just fruit that makes paletas so distinctive. Savory herbs or hot chili tangle with sweet ingredients. Toasted coconut or chopped nuts provide texture and taste. And even seemingly odd ingredients, like avocado and cucumber, make perfect sense. A bit of booze — think rum and coconut — isn't out of the question either.
Making paletas is a fun summer project, especially with the kids out of school, but you can also buy them at Mexican markets around the bay area, including Clearwater's La Reyna De Michoacan (1915 Drew St.; (727) 467-0092) and La Feria de la Nieve Ice Cream (1390 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd.). Paletas made by Donna Tortorice and her son, Martin Scott, of Pop Craft Pops in Sarasota (popcraftpops.com) were a big hit in their inaugural season at the St. Petersburg's Saturday Morning Market. Her stall often had a line, drawing lots of children with their mothers in search of more healthful treats.
The market is closed for the summer, but Pop Craft is one of a smaller group of vendors that has moved to Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg for a Saturday market through August.
Scott, who is a certified sommelier, comes up with the flavor profiles, says Tortorice, and his signature paleta is lemon blueberry basil.
"He actually creates the flavor profiles by combining flavors and smells. He has the unique ability of being able to pair flavors without even tasting," Tortorice says.
While paletas have been a trend for years in Los Angeles and other cities with sizeable communities of Mexican immigrants, they are reaching a wider market now. A new book, Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice and Aguas Frescas by Fany Gerson (Ten Speed Press), is a colorful introduction to the world of ice-cold Mexican refreshments. Paletas are served throughout Latin America, but it's widely believed that the fruity ice pop was born in Michoacán, Mexico.
There are two kinds of paletas, water-and-juice versions and those made with cream or milk. The hallmark of both is chunks of fruit laced throughout the pop. Sink your teeth into the icy sweetness and be happy when you hit a fat strawberry chunk as the smell of crushed mint hits your nose. Likewise the tingle of cayenne pepper plays nicely with soft, frozen mango and your taste buds.
To make paletas at home, you'll first need molds. Old-school plastic models work just fine, as do paper cups; buy the sticks at craft stores. Summer brings new ice pop molds to the market, some touting interesting shapes and others true innovations. Last year, quick-pop makers came on the scene, making the paleta process more tempting by speeding up freezing time.
They work something like ice cream makers with the frozen cylinders, and promise finished products in less than 10 minutes. Both Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table carry the Zoku brand. The six-pop maker is about $50.
The following tips from Fany Gerson's Paletas and Donna Tortorice of Pop Craft will help you turn your kitchen into a paleteria.
• The key to a great pop with the proper consistency is keeping all the ingredients as cold as possible before freezing.
• Fruit that is very ripe — maybe even getting too soft to eat out of hand — works well in paletas. Flavor and natural sugars are at their height at this point.
• To unmold an ice pop, dunk the mold in warm water. This will release the pop from the sides of the mold. Do not leave in the water for more than a few seconds or you risk a melted mess.
• No matter what mold you choose, the liquid mixture will expand as it freezes. Leave about 1/4 inch at the top to allow for expansion.
• A bit of alcohol adds a nippy spike to frozen treats, but keep in mind that alcohol doesn't freeze. If you add too much, you won't get a hard pop. Even a little will make the finished pop softer.
• The longer paletas stay in the mold, the harder they will be. They need to be frozen at least six hours, and more is fine. But don't keep them in the molds for more than a week or ice crystals will form. After the liquid is adequately frozen, remove them from molds and place in sealable plastic bags, only one per bag.
• Because the fruit chunks are heavier than the base liquid, they will sink to the bottom of the mold. To achieve better distribution, pour a bit of the base liquid into the mold and freeze for about an hour. Add the fruit-liquid mixture and then top with more of the base.
• Don't be scared away from unusual or savory ingredients. Remember what carrots and zucchini do for cakes and quick breads. Be brave!
And then say, "Paletas, gracias."
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.