My childhood was unsupervised for about an hour a day—after school let out and before my parents came home from work. My friend Hana and I would take advantage of these moments and book it to the ice cream truck for some corn syrup–laden contraband. One afternoon she was strapped for cash, but that wasn’t going to stop her from getting a sugar fix. All it took was one look from those big eyes and the ice cream man handed her a Pelon Pelo Rico for free. I thought I’d give it a go too, making myself as doe-eyed as possible, but all I got was a hard “no.” I forked up my fifty cents and learned a priceless lesson that day—I’m not going far on my looks.
Pelon Pelo Rico is a sticky, tamarind-flavored candy paste spiked with chili and salt. It’s the kind of messy, goopy, and shameless treat only a child can love, but I’ll always be hooked on the combo of spicy, sour, salty, and sweet. These popsicles are inspired by the flavors of Pelon Pelo Rico, but all grown up with real tamarind concentrate, nutty palm sugar, and a sharp hit of tang from malic acid.
As the malic acid may have signaled, these popsicles depend on a few specialty ingredients, but the shopping is the trickiest part. I start with palm sugar, an unrefined sugar that’s slightly bitter and savory, which I shatter into pieces with a rolling pin before placing into a small saucepan. I add water to the pot and begin dissolving the palm sugar over medium heat. While the sugar melts, I bloom powdered gelatin with cold water. I include a touch of gelatin in the popsicles to keep the ice crystals smaller for a more tender bite. (It’s the same trick Stella uses in her luxe fudgesicles and is the key to Max’s Mr. Softee-style soft serve recipe.)
Once the palm sugar has dissolved, I remove the solution from heat and stir in the bloomed gelatin along with a generous dose of tamarind concentrate. Tamarind can be purchased in many forms, from seedless pastes and extracts to whole dried pods. In this application I prefer the concentrate, which allows me to add a big punch of tamarind without yielding pulpy popsicles, but you can adapt the recipe to use whatever you have on hand, and by adding more or less tamarind to taste.
I finish up the popsicle base by adding ice, which dilutes and chills the mixture so it’s ready to pour into my molds. After the molds are filled up, I freeze them for an hour before inserting the sticks, so the mixture is stiff enough to hold the stick in place. If you have popsicle molds with the sticks attached to the base, you can skip this step and freeze it in one shot.
At this point, these are just refreshing tamarind popsicles. In order to become Pelon Pelo Rico popsicles I need to add salt and spice with a chili rim. I combine salt, sugar, malic acid, and cayenne powder together and dust the finished popsicles. I prefer malic acid, a natural acid found in fruits like apples, more than citric acid because malic acid is less harsh and reminds me of the gentle burn of sour candy.
The handheld nature of a popsicle feels like an appropriate way to pay homage to the push-pop style original—there’s still licking involved. And while I’ll never be the kind of person who gets what they want from a glance, that’s okay: I can just make it myself.