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Top Pick Of The Week

May 2, 2006

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Corn Ice Cream Dessert
Sweet Corn ice cream: Eat it straight from the pint, in a cone, or turn it into an elegant dessert. For the recipe for Corn Ice Cream with Melon Soup and a Compote of Strawberries (or, use a currant garnish, as shown above), click here. Photo copyright Marco Harzing.
WHAT IT IS: Superpremium ice creams, sorbets and frozen fruit bars with the heavenly flavors of Mexico.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: Flavors you won’t find elsewhere: Mexican Caramel, Flan, Hibiscus, Mexican Chocolate, Sweet Corn. Yes, there are tiny specialty shops and regional brands in pockets around the country, but Palapa Azul is aiming to bring its magic to everyone!
WHY WE LOVE IT: Fresh, exciting, addictive flavors. Even if you can’t imagine eating an ice cream called Sweet Corn or a frozen fruit bar called Cucumber Chile, one bite and you’ll be hooked for life.
PURCHASE AT: Specialty food stores and Whole Foods Markets. Visit PalapaAzul.com for other locations.


Palapa Azul Ice Cream:
Blue Heaven

CAPSULE REPORT: In January 2005, the most startlingly different and exciting food we discovered at the Winter Fancy Food Show was the line of ice creams, sorbets and frozen fruit bars from Palapa Azul, a Los Angeles-based company founded by two relocated Mexicans who created the types of frozen desserts they enjoyed back home. Along with Mashti Malone’s Persian ice creams, they have provided us with more frozen excitement than we could have hoped for in one calendar year.

We had been saving our review of Palapa Azul until their e-commerce function was ready. It still isn’t, but with Cinco de Mayo upon us and the line available in many Whole Foods Markets nationwide, we don’t want to keep these wonderful products to ourselves anymore. Don’t miss Mexican Caramel (Dulce de Leche, but better than any you’ve had), Mexican Chocolate and Sweet Corn Ice Creams; Coconut Sorbet; and the Mango Chile and Cucumber Chile frozen fruit bars. Read the full review below.

Cook Up A Cinco de Mayo Storm
With These Books By Chef Rick Bayless

Mexican Kitchen Authentic Mexican Mexico One Plate At A Time
Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the Vibrant Flavors of a World-Class Cuisine, by Rick Bayless. Nothing modern here: This book is all about very traditional Mexican dishes, replete with the stories behind the food: insights, techniques, and, if you want, sources for deeper research. Just reading it made us want to repair to Chicago to eat at Chef Bayless’s restaurants. Click here for more information. Authentic Mexican, by Rick Bayless and Deann Groen Bayless. The authors travel the six distinct regions of Mexico to introduce you to the cooks, kitchens, markets, and feasts. Traditional and contemporary variations accompany each recipe, allowing the cook to substitute and be creative. Recipes have all the pointers needed to re-create genuine Mexican textures and flavors, along with preparation tips for busy working families. Click here for more information. Mexico One Plate At A Time, by Rick Bayless. Those who want to “begin at the beginning” will learn the joys and wonders of Mexican cuisine via great guacamole, shrimp ceviche, tamales and tortilla soup, the simpler—but still fabulous—dishes. If Cornflakes-coated Snapper sounds like it should come from Battle Creek, Michigan, think again! Excellent building blocks for a lifetime of enjoyment of Mexican cooking. Click here for more information.

Palapa Azul Mexican Ice Cream, Sorbet & Frozen Fruit Bars:
Blue Heaven

INDEX TO REVIEW

MORE TO DISCOVER

We’ve never been to Mexico to enjoy the native flavors of ice cream, sorbets and ice bars that vacationers return raving about. Now we don’t have to rush: Mexico has come to us via Palapa Azul’s exciting line of rich and ravishing frozen treats—from specialty pints elegant enough for a formal dessert to frozen fruit bars refreshing for any occasion.

Certainly there is no paucity of enticing ice cream flavors in the U.S. But what’s missing, given the immense popularity here of Mexican food, are the scintillating frozen desserts from South of the Border. Palapa Azul, an all-natural superpremium ice cream producer based in Los Angeles, is trying to change that with a spectacular line of Mexican frozen delights. Our response:  Si! si! and mas! mas!

The company name combines palapa, a thatched palm structure like a jumbo permanent beach umbrella that shields one from the sun; and azul, or blue, like the ocean and the sky. The company intends it to evoke a languid afternoon on the beach, sitting under the palapa with a dish of their Mexican ice cream or perhaps a frozen fruit bar, as the ocean waves lap softly at one’s bare feet. Copy on the cartons invites one to “just escape.”

We need a different vision: Palapa Azul is far too palate-dazzling. Languid and tranquil are words that do not apply here. Lively, eye-opening, and epiphanic are words that do. Far from being something you might imagine nibbling prior to a nap, the Mexican equivalent of a warm glass of milk, these are complicated flavors so textured with ingredients that you’d expect them to be turned out by the pastry chef of a three-star restaurant. You’d expect to say “Wow!” And you do.

Palapa Umbrella
Palapas on a beach in Mexico.
Photo by Tim Gulick.

Ice Cream

When we were in high school, we spent some time as a student in Latin America, but we don’t remember any helados like these! The four Palapa Azul ice creams are dense, they are chewy, and if that isn’t enough, each of them has something textural going on. You won’t mistake them for a line of ice cream you’ve had before, and you won’t find a four-scoop combo that’s more food-lover-fabulous. Granted, Palapa Azul is a niche line—how many Americans are looking for Mexican ice cream flavors in a country where vanilla still is the number-one seller? But even folks who have never had Mexican food and can’t pronounce Palapa Azul (puh-LA-pa ah-ZOOL) would have to declare these flavors winners. To us, the craftsmanship and the beautiful interpretation of other foods—Mexican caramel, flan, Mexican chocolate and sweet corn—into the medium of ice cream, deserve some kind of food achievement award.

  • Flan is the frozen version of the popular dessert: butterscotch-caramel and eggy richness combined in a sweet ice cream the color of the pudding. For added interest, there are caramelized pecans. It’s very good, but the best is yet to come.
  • Mexican Caramel (Cajeta) is the ultimate dulce de leche, and has little to do with products by that name that you may have had from American ice cream companies. Thick and chewy with a rich, tan color (in fact, the color of the luscious goat’s milk caramel, cajeta, from which it is made), with chunks of cookies mixed in, this opulent ice cream mimics the popular Mexican treat of “maria” cookies spread with caramel. Everyone, from children to gourmets, will adore it.
  • Mexican Chocolate is crunchy with ground cinnamon and large chunks of chocolate. Each time you bite into the ice cream and get the taste of the chocolate combined with the taste and texture of the cinnamon, it is heaven.
  • Sweet Corn is a bit like creamed corn turned into ice cream. It is surprising, it is sensational. You can serve it at a barbeque or at the end of the most elegant five-course dinner.

A dessert of one scoop each of Mexican Caramel, Mexican Chocolate and Sweet Corn is about as much as any food lover could ask for. In fact, it may put you off of real food for a day or so: you will have no desire to eat anything other than more of this ice cream.

With a spoon and a pint, wherever you are, you’re sitting at the beach under a palapa azul, enveloped in the warmest of culinary breezes.

Corn Ice Cream
Sweet Corn and Mexican Chocolate Ice Creams: two
amazing flavors, along with Cajeta (goat’s milk caramel) that make Palapa Azul worth seeking out. Photo by Melody Lan.

Sorbets

The word for sorbet in Mexico is nieve, the Spanish word for snow, a charming etymology since the first sorbets (thousands of years ago) were fruit juices mixed into snow. When you want something lighter than ice cream, in both weight and calories, sorbet is the answer. Palapa Azul makes three flavors that are lovely, clean, and so honestly fruity. You can find good mango and coconut sorbets in other artisan lines. Compare their versions to what you may currently be buying to see which you prefer. We ditched our incumbents for Palapa Azul.

  • Mango, smooth and with just the right amount of sweetness, this is one of the best 80 calories-per-serving sorbets around. Why is it so much better than the mango sorbet we’d been buying from a major national prestige brand? Purified water, certified organic evaporated cane juice, lime juice to enhance the flavor—and probably better mango purée to begin with.
  • Coconut—which does look like snow but tastes like frozen, shaved fresh coconut—is a flavor that in other brands can taste artificial. If you haven’t liked other coconut ice creams, try this one. The stroke of genius was to make Coconut a sorbet instead of an ice cream: the richness of the coconut meat is very satisfying, but there’s no heavy cream to overkill. It’s our new favorite pairing with chocolate desserts for special occasions: it adds so much richness in flavor without any richness in weight at the end of a big meal. Regarding daily consumption, we are usually generous with our food, but we guard that pint like a selfish simian, warning all others not to touch our coconut cache.
  • Hibiscus is the exotic cousin, made from the extract of the hibiscus flower (see the article on edible flowers in last month’s issue of THE NIBBLE online magazine). It just may be one of the more complex flavors one will encounter. There is the tang and racy acidity of citrus and an overwhelming combination of black and red fruits—almost as if blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, and other, unnamable berries contributed their flavor genes to the flower. The overall effect is citrus, exotic fruit and spice. If you like pomegranate, and want more of a kick—a lot more—you’ll like hibiscus. It’s the color of pomegranate, but pom tastes pallid by comparison.

(The review continues below the yellow box.)

Hibiscus Sorbet
Hibiscus and Mango Sorbets. If you think of hibiscus only as a flower, be prepared to discover what we think should be one of the next hot flavor trends. Photo by Melody Lan.

Cinco de Mayo (May 5th)

The holiday of Cinco De Mayo is not, as many people think, Mexico’s Independence Day. That is September 16th. May 5th commemorates the 1862 victory of a small and poorly-equipped Mexican militia led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin over the much larger and well-outfitted French army at The Battle Of Puebla. It temporarily stopped the French invasion of the country. A year later, Napoleon sent 30,000 more troops, deposed the Mexican army and installed Maximilian as ruler of Mexico. That victory, too, was short-lived: the U.S. sent assistance to the Mexicans, and Maximilian was executed in 1867.

Today Cinco de Mayo is primarily a regional holiday celebrated in the Mexican state of Puebla, and to a more limited extent in other areas of the country. It is actually a bigger event in the United States, in cities with a significant Mexican-American population, where it is a celebration of Mexican culture—food, music and dancing. Several U.S. cities hold parades and concerts during the week leading up to May 5th, and Mexican restaurants nationwide use the holiday as an opportunity to hold festivities. Thanks to American promotional know-how and a large population of people who like to celebrate, Cinco de Mayo has become a bigger holiday north of the border than it is in its land of origin.

In our opinion, there’s no better way to celebrate than by trying “one of everything” from Palapa Azul.

Mexican Food Terms

Cajeta (kah-HAY-tah). Caramel made of goat’s milk, that is particularly creamy and rich. Today, products are available that are made of cow’s milk, or of half goat’s and half cow’s milk. Goat’s milk has a special flavor, though; cow’s milk cajeta tastes like American caramel.

Cajeta developed as a specialty of the Mexican town of Celaya and takes its name from the small wooden boxes it was originally packed in. Elsewhere it is called leche quemada (“burned milk”), dulce de leche (“milk candy”), and in Colombia and Venezuela, arequipe. Only the Mexican product uses goat’s milk; it is available in plain (quemada), vanilla and sometimes other flavors. Dulce de leche has become extremely popular throughout the U.S. as a result of the 1997 introduction of Dulce de Leche ice cream by Häagen-Dazs®, which is now third in popularity after their Vanilla and Fudge Ripple.

Flan. Called crème caramel in French, a term favored by English speakers, flan is a Spanish dessert custard made with whole eggs, milk and sugar. It is typically flavored with vanilla but variations include almonds, pistachio, lemon and other fruits. It is traditionally cooked in a bain-marie with the caramel sauce on the bottom. When the cooking is finished, the mold is inverted, covering the flan with the sauce.

Flan is similar in consistency to English custard. The French dish crème brulée is a cousin, with less eggs and thus a softer, creamier consistency. Its similarity to flan is the caramel—in this case a hard caramelized sugar top instead of the caramel sauce of the flan.

In the world of pastry, a pie with a custard base, usually topped with fruit, is also referred to as a “flan.”

Mexican Chocolate. A bittersweet chocolate to which sugar, ground cinnamon and sometimes ground almonds are added. It is available in disks, bars and syrups, and is used to make Mexican hot chocolate and mole sauce.

Cajeta
Cajeta, in both spread and hard candy forms. To purchase authentic goat’s milk cajeta, $3.75 for 10.9 ounces, click here. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Flan
Flan. Photo by Bonnie Oishi.

Ibarra
Mexican chocolate is less sweet than American chocolate but has a spicier, richer flavor.

Frozen Fruit Bars

Frozen fruit bars, or paletas, are a traditional Mexican treat (paleta refers to the stick—any ice pop would be a paleta). There are good fruit bars out there, but these are especially good, crammed with fruit and made with Nievespurified water, organic evaporated cane juice and some vegetable gums that provide a pliant texture.

It’s tough to get bored with a choice of these nine flavors: Cantaloupe, Cucumber Chile, Grapefruit, Mango, Mango Chile, Mexican Papaya, Pineapple, Strawberry and Watermelon. They are a relatively low-calorie snack, often fewer in calories than a piece of fresh fruit. Mango and Watermelon have 70 calories a bar, Cucumber Chile 60, and the rest are 80 and 90 calories. Like fresh fruit, they are fat-free and dairy-free. 

All flavors are excellent, but the real surprises are Cucumber Chile and Mango Chile. A little bit of spicy heat contrasting with the sweetness and the cold makes them exciting. The combination of fruit and spice is the more authentic Mexican experience; and while we can’t claim to have had paletas in Mexico, to us they evoked the flavors of Thailand. They’re extremely refreshing, unlike anything else we’ve ever had, and as one taster said, “I’m running down to Whole Foods to buy every bar in stock.”

Retailers are more resistant to stocking these chile-flavored bars, feeling (no doubt correctly) that the more mainstream flavors will move faster, especially in neighborhoods where the chile flavor in an ice pop is a less familiar concept. The catch-22 is that consumers will never have the opportunity to try new flavors if retailers won’t stock them; new and different things need exposure and promotion to develop an audience.

We first had Palapa Azul ice creams at the Winter 2005 Fancy Food Show, then again at the Summer 2005 show and most recently at the Winter 2006 show. So why has it taken us more than a year to tell you about them? Distribution, distribution, distribution.

If you’re a Californian, you’re much closer to these magnificent ice creams, sorbets and frozen bars than the rest of us. Some Whole Foods Markets outside of California have been carrying some of the frozen fruit bars all along; and a larger number, as of May 1st, are carrying the ice creams. The company is building an e-commerce capability, and these frozen delights will be worth sending for. (Plan ahead for some memorable barbecues and hope that the functionality is up and running.)

In the interim, if you have friends in the specialty food business or have influence over your local store owners or restaurateurs, convince them to bring in this line and give it the promotion it deserves. They, you, and your fellow customers will be very happy.

Then, if you’re not of Mexican heritage, each year you, too, will have something truly meaningful to celebrate on Cinco de Mayo. And on all the other days of the year too!

—Karen Hochman

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to anyone who loves ice cream, Mexican food, and great flavors in general.

PALAPA AZUL: Ice cream, sorbet, &
ICE BARS

ICE CREAMS: Flan, Mexican Caramel (Cajeta), Mexican Chocolate, Sweet Corn
SORBETS: Coconut, Hibiscus Flower, Mango
ICE BARS: Cantaloupe, Cucumber Chile,
Grapefruit, Mango, Mango Chile, Mexican
Papaya, Pineapple, Strawberry and
Watermelon

Certified Kosher (Dairy) by KOF-K

Suggested Retail Prices*:

  • Ice Cream & Sorbets
    $3.99/Pint
  • Fruit Bars
    $1.99 each
    $4.75 three-bar multipacks

Many Whole Foods Markets on the West Coast have been carrying much of the line, and as of May 1st there should be broader distribution within the chain. If they’re not at your store, ask the store manager to bring them in.

Pints
Above, ice creams and sorbets. Below, frozen fruit bars.

Paletas

For more information and a store locator, visit PalapaAzul.com or telephone 1.888.570.0099.

NOTE: The store locator currently works better for the frozen fruit bars. It is better to telephone Palapa Azul to find a retailer for the ice creams and sorbets.

*Prices and flavors are verified at publication but are subject to change.


Read about some of our other
favorite sweets in these sections of
THE NIBBLE online magazine:



Ice Cream-Lovers’ Reading List

Williams-Sonoma Ultimate Ice Cream Book Gelato
Williams-Sonoma Collection: Ice Cream, by Mary Goodbody. More than 40 easy-to-follow recipes, from all-time favorites (lemon sorbet) to delicious new flavors (chocolate hazelnut gelato). The goal of this book is to inspire you to make your own ice cream—and we’ve recommended some of our favorite ice cream makers below, too. Click here for more information. The Ultimate Ice Cream Book: Over 500 Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, Drinks, And More, by Bruce Weinstein. Recipes for just about every ice cream imaginable, from four different versions of vanilla to corn, avocado, and oatmeal. There’s a different recipe to keep ice cream lovers busy for a year and a half, including one for homemade ice cream cones. Click here for more information. Gelato!, by Pamela Sheldon Johns. Johns, an expert in the foods of Italy, clearly loves her subjects. With spectacular recipes handed down from generations, and fascinating stories from Italian gelato artisans—plus gorgeous photography—this is a volume for any ice cream-lover’s collection. Click here for more information.

Favorite Ice Cream Makers


cuisinart ice-30bc

Cuisinart ICE-50BC
CUISINART ICE-30BC. Makes two quarts of ice cream in under 25 minutes. Just add your favorite fruit, nuts or chips, turn the machine on, and you can enjoy the frozen desserts of your dreams in almost no time. Click here to purchase or for more information.
CUISINART ICE-50BC. Make one and half quarts of ice cream, frozen yogurt or sorbet without having to wait between batches. This ice cream maker even features a fully automatic 60-minute timer and does not require pre-chill or pre-freezing. Click here for more information.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION, special offers, contests, opinion surveys, THE NIBBLE prior issues archive, product gift-finder and more, visit the home page of TheNibble.com.

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