Alas, the summer’s energy wanes quickly,
A moment and it is gone.  – John Ashbery
Earlier this year I had been eagerly planning a trip to Mexico City. I would check airfare on a weekly basis, search for places to stay and question whether there would be time for a little side trip to Oaxaca, the home of what is said to be the world’s best mole. But even without the added bonus of this culinary mecca, there were so many other things I wanted to experience: the flavors of the San Juan Market, a hike through the ruins of Teotihuacan, the colorful treasures of the Bellas Artes Palace…This trip was going to be one of those whirlwind sightseeing vacations that both exhaust and invigorate you. We were planning on going in late May as a way of celebrating both of our birthdays, but we neglected to take one very important thing into account: the weather.

It turns out that starting in late May through October, Mexico City can be rainy and humid; while I’ll admit I’ve always felt there’s a certain charm to thunderstorms and light drizzles, we ultimately decided that we didn’t want to spend our trip running to and fro with umbrellas and soggy shoes. The only option was to postpone. While this was certainly disappointing, I’ve been tracking the weather in Mexico City since mid-May on my phone’s weather widget and the forecast headers have consistently ranged from smoke to ash. In short, I think we made the right call.

Plus, there are other ways to get to “travel” to a place. Although it may not be as good as the real thing, I’ve always been a big believer in the power of imagination, as well as in my own ability to (re)create certain experiences at home based on things I’ve read or eaten. Given my collection of Mexican cookbooks (I realized recently that, besides books devoted to Greek and Californian cuisine, the next biggest section in my collection focuses on the flavors of Mexico…and I do include Tex-Mex in this number, although I do realize it’s its own cuisine. If you’re curious, this article by Pati Jinich really illuminates the differences between the two and also explains the prevalence of cumin in Tex-Mex cuisine, which has always mystified me), I realized that I could go a number of ways. For a number of years now, my heart has been set on making a mole negro (think chocolate, chiles, nuts and spices), but I’ve always been daunted by the process, as well as by the list of ingredients and Diana Kennedy’s precise, no-nonsense instructions (this woman, the authority on Mexican food, is also its greatest champion. She’s both feisty and steadfast in her belief that there’s a certain way a dish should be prepared and, more importantly, a certain way it should taste; she may be slightly terrifying, but she’s also inspiring). I would also like to make my own tortillas and sopes and spend my days drinking horchata on a sunny patio. When we eventually make it to Mexico, I clearly need to visit a cooking school or take a few classes. There are, after all, some things that books simply can’t teach you.

For now, however, I decided to keep things simple and sweet with paletas, Latin American ice pops that are typically made from fresh fruit. On a recent trip to the Berkeley Public Library, where I sometimes go just to wander and see what I might find, I stumbled upon Fany Gerson’s slim volume on paletas and other frozen Mexican treats. I knew of her from her first cookbook, My Sweet Mexico, and from a trip to the High Line a few summers ago when I was lucky enough to find one of her paleta stands on a particularly hot New York day. 
I was immediately taken in by the various ideas for frozen desserts–Queso Fresco Granitas with Syrupy Apples (come October in the Bay Area, this may be just what I want), Lime Pie and Apricot-Chamomile Ice Pops, Cantaloupe Seed Horchata–so I decided to check it out. This is a book that features my favorite kind of dessert–the frozen kind. And because I tend to prefer creamy desserts to entirely fruit-centric ones, as well as the occasional boozy little kick in my sweets, it’s no surprise that I went straight for the Sour Cream, Cherry and Tequila Ice Pops.

There is nothing hard about this recipe or about making paletas in general. Besides the required patience to allow everything to chill properly, all you’ll need is a set or two of ice pop molds (I like the plastic ones since they don’t require wooden sticks, but some people swear by the silicon molds. Know that you have options). It just so happens that I have three sets in different shapes and sizes–stars, rockets and “groovy” (i.e. grooved)–which may sound excessive, but not only do I keep one in Greece (the summer there screams ice pop), but also, depending on the kind you buy, you really get only 6 molds per set. If you consider that most recipes make at least 8-10 ice pops, you’ll want to have at least two–that or prepare to halve a lot of recipes. And, trust me, you won’t want to do this, especially with a recipe like this one. The sweetness of the cherries, the tart creaminess of the sour cream and the ever-so-slight hint of tequila combine to make this a true summer treat, the kind that   feels like a celebration of the best the season has to offer. 
It’s a day early, but I’m wishing you all a Happy Fourth of July! If there’s ever a day to pull out the star ice pop molds, this is it. 
Sour Cream, Cherry and Tequila Ice Pops (Paletas de crema y cereza con tequila)
Yields 8-10 ice pops

I liked the sound of the recipe as it was written, so I didn’t think that there was any need to make any major changes. The biggest one I made stemmed from the lack of blanco tequila in my liquor cabinet; I used a darker reposado tequila instead. I didn’t feel that this created any kind of noticeable imbalance in the flavor, so my advice would be to use what you have.
     I also ended up using some water–less than 1/4 cup–when I was making the cherry syrup. It didn’t seem like the confectioners’ sugar was dissolving and I was worried about scorching it, so I decided to give it a little help by diluting it. Perhaps because of the additional water or just because the syrup has to thicken to the consistency of maple syrup, the first step took about 25-30 minutes. 
        Finally, although I loved this flavor combination, it got me thinking of other possibilities for a similar tangy and creamy base (yogurt or creme fraiche instead of sour cream)–strawberries and basil brandy, tequila and peanut butter (think the frozen dessert equivalent of a torito), apricots or peaches and Metaxa. Maybe there’s even a combination that would be ouzo friendly; if so, I may just make it my summer project to find out.

8 ounces stemmed and pitted cherries (fresh or frozen)
1/3 cup confectioners’/powdered sugar
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons silver, blanco or reposado tequila
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sour cream (full fat)

-Combine the cherries and the confectioners’ sugar in a small saucepan with 1/4 cup water and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar has completely dissolved, lower the heat and stir in the lemon juice.
-Bring the mixture to a slow simmer. Stirring often, continue to cook until the syrup has thickened and taken on the consistency of maple syrup, about 25 to 30 minutes.
-Once ready, remove from heat and stir in the tequila. Pour the mixture into a small bowl and let cool for about 10-15 minutes before placing it in the refrigerator to chill completely, from up to a few hours to overnight.

-In the meantime, combine the milk, granulated sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has come to a boil.
-Remove from the heat and add the sour cream. Using a whisk, stir until completely smooth. Whisk in the teaspoon vanilla extract and then pour the mixture into a small bowl. Let cool for 20 minutes and then place the mixture in the refrigerator to chill, from up to a few hours to overnight.

-Once the mixtures have chilled completely, remove them from the refrigerator and prepare your molds.
-Drain the cherries, reserving the liquid for something else (Gerson suggests a raspado, or shaved ice; I like using it as an ice cream or yogurt topping).
-Put a few spoonfuls of the sour cream mixture into each of the molds (I set off using 8, but ended up using another one, which was pure sour cream mixture with no cherries mixed in) to a height of about 1 inch. Place in the freezer until the mixture begins to set, about 30 minutes.
-Remove the molds from the freezer and continue assembling. Dividing evenly, add the drained cherries to the molds and then pour in the remaining sour cream mixture. Be sure to leave about a half inch at the tops of the molds so as to be able to snap on the lids.
-Freeze until solid, 3 to 4 hours or overnight.

-When pulling the ice pops out of the molds, dip them into a container of warm water for about 30 seconds. If the ice pop still resists coming out, repeat this process. Success will eventually be yours.

8 thoughts on “Celebrating Summer

  1. Yum! And I love those molds! And find it entirely charming that one of your sets lives in Greece;) I should start scattering my most beloved things around the places I frequent too. I am kind of surprised that I haven't made anything like this yet this summer, since my main food cravings are 1) FRUIT and 2) COLD. And I am also excited about things leaning in a Mexican direction–loved the pic with all the peppers! I am always thinking I should really learn about all the different kinds. No time like the present, right? 🙂

  2. I saw this on the holiday weekend and thought, How perfect! Creamy desserts are my absolute favorite, too, and even though I haven't looked through this book, I bet I'd chosen the exact same recipe first. Sour cream, cherries, and a splash of tequila sound like a divine combination! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hello, friend. Thank you! Well, with the molds, I got them just before I was going to Greece and, since I wanted to use them then and now, I decided I had space for them in my suitcase. There may not have been space on the way back, but that is how things end up being wonderfully scattered! As for cold things, I suppose since the wee one tends not to like these things (sweet frozen things, that is–at least not yet), it makes sense why you're abstaining. 🙂

    As for the Mexican direction, I'm excited too! I tried a few recipes last night and, while I think I discovered my new favorite way of cooking zucchini, I'm not entirely sure the chicken was a success (however, I think there was a flaw in the recipe. It just never became “sticky”). More soon! 🙂

  4. Hello, Moriah and thank you! You were right about what you said on Instagram, by the way; I made these before we left for Pasadena and we were really happy to have a cool treat to come home too (of course, I've also been cooking and eating soup, but there's always room in my heart for ice creams and custards–in all shapes and sizes!). There are a lot of good recipes and ideas in the book; the photography is also stunning, which is why it's also hard to decide. But I'm glad that we agree on the best recipe in the book–tequila and cherries, what's not to love? 🙂

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