In Mexican neighborhoods across the United States, the paleta man is a familiar sight, pushing his cart full of homemade fruit pops and ringing a tinkly bell.
Acclaimed pastry chef Fany Gerson wants to elevate the status of these humble frozen treats. Her new book, "Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice and Aguas Frescas," lends them an almost artisan touch, with versions that include mezcal, tequila, roasted banana, Mexican eggnog and even savory flavors such as avocado.
Gerson was raised in Mexico City, but cut her sweets teeth at restaurants such as Spain’s Akelare and New York City's Eleven Madison and Rosa Mexicana. She is now a paletera herself -- she makes the pops from scratch and sells them in New York under the brand La Newyorkina.
“I just want to share the flavors of Mexico with as many people as I can,” says Gerson.
"Paletas" follows Gerson’s first cookbook, "My Sweet Mexico: Recipes for Authentic Pastries, Breads, Candies, Beverages, and Frozen Treats," which was recently nominated for a James Beard Award. Here’s more from her on why paletas are better than ice cream and the best ways to make them at home.
What's so great about paletas, as opposed to say, ice cream?
I always like texture when I eat. With a paleta you have both -- it’s a drink and a food. And it’s also self-contained. You don’t have to worry about a little spoon. Don’t get me wrong, I love ice cream and sorbet, but there’s something really fun about holding your treat in your hand.
My only experience with popsicles is freezing Kool-Aid as a kid. Is making paletas much harder? Do you need special equipment?
It’s not hard in the sense that you need fancy equipment. Maybe a blender. But it takes a little more time if you want a really good paleta.
What are your top three favorite paleta flavors?
Tamarind, guava. Just three? Can I do four? Lime and mango-chile.
Is there a strange combination you've put together that's actually worked?
I recently did this article where it was infusing, making syrup and infusing different herbs and spices, and we had stir-ins. ...There was a combination of coriander-infused mango with chopped-up dried cherries, and it really worked. I think just playing with more unusual flavors and treating the paleta like you would a more complex dessert -- it’s fun.
What are the basic rules if you’re going to try to make paletas at home?
Try to choose fruit that’s in season and ripe. The riper it is, the more flavor it will have and the less sugar you will need. Remember that when you taste it, it’ll lose some of that sweetness once it’s in the freezer. And there are no rules in the sense of do you strain, do you not, is it smooth or chunky. I think the most important rule is to have fun with it. And if you have a little left over, you can freeze it into something else.
You include a few alcoholic paletas in your book. Which kind of alcohol makes the best paleta?
The best I’ve ever tried is mezcal. The smokiness really comes through. But you can’t put too much or else it won’t freeze.
Recipe: Spicy Mango Ice
Recipe: Raspberry-Hibiscus Ice Pops
Recipe: Avocado Ice Pops