Nothing sounds more appealing on a hot summer day than a frosty, glistening ice pop. The warm-weather treat may conjure up images of simple bars of flavored ice, but nowadays, there are companies and chefs transforming the old-school Popsicle into a creative treat.
From pulpy paletas to "poptails" -- alcohol-infused ice pops -- to all-natural icy desserts made from fresh produce, this breed of frozen confections is not only delicious but also easy to whip up at home. Check out the tips below from local chefs and purveyors who are experimenting with the frozen treat.
The best homemade ice pops start with simple and fresh ingredients, said Eric Keppler, executive pastry chef at Quattro at the Four Seasons in East Palo Alto. Keppler is a fan of paletas, a popular dessert in Mexico and Latin America made with fresh fruit, water and sugar, and sometimes laden with chunks of fruit and flecks of spice.
Keppler's handcrafted paletas start with the season's freshest fruits. For those who want to make them at home, Keppler recommends going to local farmers markets and asking for "seconds" -- fruits that are not on display because of small blemishes.
"Those are the ones that are more flavorful and you can usually get them for half price," he said, adding that overripe fruit is perfect for paletas since the flavor of the natural sugars will be at its best.
Keppler uses a variety of fruit in his paletas, including peaches, watermelon, pineapples, raspberries and strawberries. He mixes the pureed fruit with simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar), scoops the mixture into molds and lets them freeze for six hours or overnight.
To add a boozy twist, Keppler will incorporate alcohol, including wine, beer or liqueur, to create "poptails."
The alcohol adds another layer of flavor, but Keppler warns that adding too much means the ingredients won't freeze.
"It's about finding that balance," he said, adding that low-proof alcohol freezes better. Moonshine, bourbon and vodka tend to be higher-proof; when using those, Keppler said he doesn't use more than 10 to 12 percent of the total volume of the recipe. (Don't worry: You can still taste the alcohol at that level, he said.)
There are a variety of ways to incorporate alcohol, Keppler explained, including swapping out the simple syrup and using wine or beer instead. If it's a liqueur, add it after the simple syrup just for taste.
Keppler's favorite pairings include peach and elderflower-flavored liqueur St. Germain for a fruity yet floral treat, or bourbon and lemonade for a punch of tartness. Other combinations: ale and watermelon or mezcal and orange (the "barrel-aged oak flavor" of mezcal, a smokey tequila-like alcohol, blends well with the citrus, Keppler said).
Looking for a faster (and less boozy) paleta option? Head to family-owned Las Delicias Fruits on University Avenue in East Palo Alto for the real deal: paletas de leche (dairy-based pops) and paletas de agua (water-and-juice-based pops).
Instead of sorbet or frozen yogurt, how about cooling down with frozen green juice? The same health-conscious crowd that fuels the cold-pressed juice craze will enjoy mixing up a batch of nutrient-packed frozen juice pops.
Most of the Popsicles in the frozen-food aisle are loaded with sugar and artificial flavors and colors, said Lori Kenyon Farley, co-founder of Project Juice, a Bay Area chain with a location in downtown Palo Alto.
Project Juice's bottled, cold-pressed, all-organic vegetable and fruit juices can be frozen in molds to create a healthy version of the childhood favorite. Making ice pops from cold-pressed juice is "great for everyone but especially parents who want to give their kids something healthy," Kenyon Farley said.
For something fruity, try Project Juice's Watermelon Berry: a blend of watermelon, strawberry, young coconut water, green apple and lime. Leave it as it is or add chunks of fresh strawberry for some added texture.
"Fruits with a red hue to them are really good at protecting against UV rays, so that one is really good during the summertime," Kenyon Farley said.
For something richer, try the Cashew Mylk, a creamy beverage made with cashews, water, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and raw agave. Kenyon Farley said pureed blueberries and strawberries go well as an add-in.
Pressed Juicery at Stanford Shopping Center also offers cold-pressed, fresh vegetable and fruit juice mixtures as well as creamier drinks with ingredients like almonds, cacao and vanilla bean that can be transformed into healthy Creamsicles.
If you're more in the mood for chilled dessert, a creamy gelato bar might hit the spot.
The eye-catching frozen pops at Palo Alto's Gelataio start with fresh, Italian gelato made on-site. Owner Christianne Mares pasteurizes the milk herself before mixing it, filling special molds and blast freezing it, but homemade gelato pops are a simple-enough dessert to make at home, Mares said.
Make your own gelato using an ice cream machine (stop when the mixture looks like a thick custard, since gelato is supposed to be a lot less airy than regular ice cream, she explained) or use store-bought gelato, then fill the molds and place them in the freezer for four to five hours. Paper cups can also substitute for plastic molds.
Gelato -- dense and rich -- also lends itself to being dunked in chocolate. Say no more.
"People can make chocolate at home too," Mares said. Take a glass pitcher, put your favorite chocolate in it and heat it in the microwave very slowly. (Don't overdo it; the chocolate will burn if it's in there too long.)
Dip the frozen gelato pops in the melted chocolate, stud them with your favorite chopped nuts, like hazelnut or pistachio, and pop them in the freezer again until the chocolate hardens.
Gelataio also offers dairy-free fruit bars made with sorbetto (the fruit version of gelato). An easy alternative at home is to mix Greek yogurt, milk, honey and the fruits of your choice in a blender. Pour the mixture into paper cups, filling them each about three-quarters full. Cover the top with foil, insert sticks into the center and let them freeze for four to six hours.
Recipe for Drunken Blackberry Lemon paletas, courtesy of Quattro's executive pastry chef Eric Keppler
For the lemon bourbon base:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup room-temperature water
1 cup cold water
1 cup fresh lemon juice (seven to eight lemons)
3 tbsp bourbon (Keppler likes the taste of Bulleit bourbon)
For the blackberries:
1-1 1/4 cup fresh blackberries (depending on how large they are)
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp bourbon
Heat sugar with 3/4 cup of water in a small saucepan until sugar dissolves. Pour into large bowl and add remaining 1 cup of cold water. Let cool and set aside.
Gently wash the blackberries and in a small bowl add the blackberries, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of bourbon. Toss to coat and let marinate for 30 minutes, tossing occasionally so all the berries are coated.
To complete the lemon bourbon base, combine the cooled sugar water with the lemon juice and the bourbon and set aside.
Stuff some of the drunken blackberries into each mold, and top with the lemon bourbon base. Or you can puree the blackberries with all the bourbon juices in a food processor or blender until they are liquefied.
If you use the blackberry puree, you have a couple of options:
Option one: Blend the puree into the lemon base and pour into the molds and freeze.
Option two: Give your paletas a more layered look by filling your mold 3/4 full with the lemon base and topping it with blackberry puree.
Freeze paletas for six hours or overnight.
To remove paletas from their molds, dip the frozen molds in a bowl of warm water and give them a tug every couple of seconds until they loosen. Do not soften more than absolutely necessary.
Slip each paleta into a small sandwich bag, place them all into a large zip-top bag and pop them back in the freezer until they are served. They can be stored this way for weeks if not months.