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Originally published Sunday, July 10, 2011 at 1:00 PM

Paletas, fruity ice pops, are the perfect summer treat

How to make paletas, the creamy, fruit-flavored Mexican ice pops, at home. Recipes: Watermelon Paletas, Strawberry Ice Pops, Mango and Chili Paletas, and Yogurt Ice Pops with Berries

St. Petersburg Times

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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-type 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.

While paletas have been a trend for years in Los Angeles and other cities with sizable 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 Michoacan, 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, 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 Gerson's "Paletas" and Donna Tortorice of Pop Craft Pops in Sarasota, Fla., 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 ¼ 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."

MANGO AND CHILI PALETAS

3 cups frozen mango

1 ½ cups cold water

¼ cup sugar, or to taste

1 teaspoon chili powder

3 tablespoons lime juice, or the juice of one lime

Put all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Pour the contents from the blender into molds and freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Makes 8 ice pops.

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STRAWBERRY ICE POPS

4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters

¾ cup sugar

½ cup water

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine strawberries and sugar in a bowl. Let sit until strawberries start releasing natural juices, 20 to 30 minutes. Place in a saucepan with the water over medium heat, simmer until they are slightly softened, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor, add the lemon juice and purée until smooth; alternatively, you could leave some chunks in if you like.

If using conventional molds, divide the mixture among the molds, add sticks and freeze until solid, about 6 hours. If using unconventional molds, freeze until the pops are beginning to set (1 ½ to 2 hours), then insert the sticks and freeze until solid, 4 to 5 hours. If using an instant ice-pop maker, follow manufacturer's instructions.

Makes 8 to 10 pops.

— "Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice and Aguas Frescas" by Fany Gerson (Ten Speed Press, 2010)

YOGURT ICE POPS WITH BERRIES

1 lemon

½ cup water

½ cup sugar

1 ½ cups plain unsweetened Greek-style yogurt

2 tablespoons honey

2 cups fresh blackberries, or the berry of your choice

Rinse the lemon, then peel it. (This recipe uses only the peel, so save the lemon for a different use.) Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil and sugar has dissolved. Add the lemon peel, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve, then refrigerate until chilled.

Put the yogurt and honey in a blender, add the chilled syrup and blend to combine. Pour a bit of the yogurt mixture into each of the molds, to a height of about ¾ inch. Freeze until the mixture begins to set, about 40 minutes.

If the blackberries are big, cut them in half. Divide the blackberries among the molds, then pour in the remaining yogurt mixture, dividing it evenly among the molds.

If using conventional molds, snap on lid and freeze until solid, 3 to 4 hours. If using unconventional molds, freeze until pops are starting to set (45 minutes to 1 hour), then insert sticks and freeze until solid, 3 to 4 hours.

If using an instant ice-pop maker, gently fold the blackberries into the yogurt before filling the molds and follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Makes 8 to 10 ice pops.

— "Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice and Aguas Frescas" by Fany Gerson (Ten Speed Press, 2010)

WATERMELON PALETAS

½ cup water

½ cup sugar

1 ½ pounds peeled and diced watermelon (about 4 cups)

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Pinch of salt

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until mixture comes to a boil and sugar has dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.

Pour the syrup into a blender. Add the watermelon, lime juice and salt and blend until smooth.

If using the conventional molds, divide mixture among the molds, snap on the lid, and freeze until solid, about 5 hours. If using unconventional molds, freeze until the pops are beginning to set (1 ½ to 2 hours), then insert the sticks and freeze until solid, 4 to 5 hours. If using and instant ice-pop maker, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Makes 8 to 10 ice pops.

— "Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice and Aguas Frescas" by Fany Gerson (Ten Speed Press, 2010)

St. Petersburg Times food and travel editor Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com.

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