Frosty Mexican Paletas Are the Perfect Summer Treat
Playful Mexican pops become a sophisticated grown-up treat for a sultry-weather cool-down.
By Christina Barrueta | Photography by Rob Ballard
For some of us, our most mouthwatering summer memories consist of frozen confections on a stick—tricolor Bomb Pops, Creamsicles and Strawberry Crunch Bars—that were passed through the window of our neighborhood ice cream truck. But there is another hot-weather refresher that should be added to that repertoire—the beloved Mexican ice pops known as “paletas.” These piquant treats filled with fresh fruit are a more grown-up, sophisticated version of the sugary pops of our youth. Visit a “paleteria” (popsicle stand) or “neveria” (ice cream shop), and you’ll find stacks of colorful paletas in a taste-tempting array of flavors, including the ever-popular “coco” (coconut), “sandia” (watermelon), “piña” (pineapple) and “nuez” (pecan), as well as more traditional Mexican ingredients, such as “rompope” (Mexican egg nog) and “arroz con leche” (rice pudding, with a touch of cinnamon). Commonly divided into two styles—”paletas de agua” (water and fruit pops) and “paletas de leche” or “de crema” (dairy-based pops)—these South of the Border sweets are often studded with fruits and nuts and flecked with spices.
“Mango was my favorite flavor growing up,” recalls Alizia Alonzo, head pastry chef at Zinc Bistro in Scottsdale and the young talent behind the creative desserts. A Flagstaff native who honed her skills as a pastry cook at Enchantment Resort in Sedona, her memories of enjoying paletas revolve around festive family gatherings, where the frosty treats were always part of the fun.
Alonzo was inspired by Tajín, the popular Mexican condiment made with ground chile, lime and salt used to add a tangy accent to fruits and vegetables. “But I wanted to do something a little different that you can make at home,” she says. A mélange of dried and candied citrus zest with pink peppercorns and a gentle chile kick creates an addictive spice blend that is as versatile as it is delicious. “The lemon and lime blend really well with the chile, and then the candied orange peel adds a sweetness. You can use it on any flavor of paleta, sprinkle it on fruit such as berries, mango or watermelon, or try it as a sweet/spicy margarita rim.”
When creating the recipe on these pages, “I was thinking of something refreshing that adults could enjoy,” Alonzo explains, “and I really love sangria and how the flavors intertwine.” She suggests adding fresh fruit, such as diced apples and seasonal berries, and candied kumquats for a fun textural surprise. While the paletas are wonderfully delicious unadorned, a zingy citrus dust spiked with a bit of chile elevates the treat to one that looks as good as it tastes.
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Alonzo recommends a medium-bodied, fruity red wine, such as merlot, in this recipe. For a virgin variation that children can enjoy, substitute cranberry juice or sweetened “agua de Jamaica” (hibiscus tea) for the
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
1 cup fruity red wine (or 1½ cups cranberry juice for a nonalcoholic version)
½ up orange juice, with or without pulp
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Fresh fruit (such as diced apples, berries and candied kumquats)
Citrus-Chili Dust (see recipe)
Combine sugar and water in a small pot and boil until sugar dissolves to create a simple syrup. Add wine, orange juice and optional vanilla. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to one hour for best results. Add fruit to paleta molds, and pour in chilled liquid. Insert popsicle sticks into molds, and freeze for at least eight hours. Unmold and sprinkle with citrus chile dust. If having trouble unmolding, run under warm water for three seconds before releasing from molds.
1 tablespoon dried lime zest
1 tablespoon dried lemon zest
1 tablespoon ground pasilla chile powder
1 tablespoon ground candied orange peel
1 teaspoon ground pink peppercorns
Using a fine grater or microplane, zest three limes and three lemons, avoiding the bitter white pith. Spread the zest out on wax paper on a baking sheet and place in a 150 degree oven with the door ajar for approximately four hours. Combine with the remaining ingredients and store in an airtight jar. The zest can also be used fresh in the same manner.
Makes 6-8 paletas