This weekend's chemistry homework: Combine unknown proportions of water, ethanol and edible organic matter in a solution that can be frozen.
But don't worry. When you solve this puzzler, the payoff will be a refreshing, slightly buzz-making ice pop that'll be just the thing to help you through a steamy Las Vegas summer.
Alcohol-based ice pops have been a staple at Las Vegas pool parties, nightclubs and restaurants for several summers now. And while professional mixologists might use complex mixtures of ingredients and such high-tech freezing aids as liquid nitrogen in creating them, home mixologists can put together some pretty impressive treats using a few fresh, probably already-on-hand ingredients and their home freezer.
Margarita and strawberry margarita pops are popular refreshments at Diego restaurant at the MGM Grand, says Lauren Stevens, Diego's general manager.
They "definitely work well in the heat, especially during the summer," she says. "And the restaurant is very close to the pool area and Wet Republic, so we have a lot of foot traffic going in and out."
Mariena Mercer, a mixologist at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and general manager of the resort's Chandelier Bar, suspects the alcoholic pops' popularity is related to foodies' adoption of "cocktails as everyday culture." Just as Americans' interest in food and wine has grown, so has Americans' interest in mixology. "It's not just going out to have a cocktail," Mercer explains. "People (integrate) them into everyday life, with backyard barbecues and things like that."
And as home mixologists rediscover beyond-the-basics cocktails, enter the ice pop, which combines the nostalgia of childhood summers with flavors suited to an adult's palate.
Professional mixologists can create anything from straightforward margarita pops to pops with complex flavor profiles. Mercer, for instance, has created "a couple of savory ones," including a banana-chocolate frozen pop flavored with a hint of bacon.
Professional mixologists also can use such aids as liquid nitrogen to freeze pops, solving what is, for home mixologists, the most vexing part of making alcoholic frozen treats.
"Alcohol doesn't freeze," notes Patricia Richards, a master mixologist for Wynn Resorts. "So you need to get (the pops) cold enough."
Lacking liquid nitrogen, home mixologists' best bet is to adjust the amounts of alcohol, juices, purees and other ingredients to create a mixture that will freeze. For a strawberry margarita pop, for example, "we use a combination of sour mix and strawberry puree" in addition to tequila, Stevens says.
Richards suggests starting with about 10 percent alcohol in your mix and then adjusting accordingly. Mercer, meanwhile, notes that adding pieces of fruit -- watermelon or pineapple, for example -- will help to promote freezing and give the pop multiple textures, too.
"Just have a balanced flavor profile using fresh juices in there as much as possible and fresh purees as much as possible," Richards says.
Also consider adding complementary flavorings -- mint or peppercorns, for example -- or liqueurs. "I would suggest if you're doing strawberry, you might add a little Ketel Citroen" for an acidic counterpoint, Richards says, and "puree up fresh strawberries with sugar and a little lemon or lime."
A homemade pop also might require a binding agent such as gelatin to "hold it together and give it a shape and actually let it form into frozen Popsicles," Stevens says.
Once the mix has been prepared, the rest is simple. Retailers sell pop-making kits with molds. Or, pop mixtures can simply be poured into ice cube trays or, Mercer says, even paper cups for freezing.
Home mixologists might begin their search for ice pop recipes by scanning recipes for their favorite drinks. Margaritas, mojitos and piña coladas are naturals for summertime, Mercer says.
However, Richards recommends keeping it "simple and starting with simple things. Don't go too frou-frou and buy hundreds of dollars of ingredients. Start with a few good recipes and make sure you get them down."
Be sure to measure, Mercer adds. "I know a lot of people ... want to throw things together, but it's all about the balance and exact ingredients."
Finally, don't be afraid to experiment. Here are a few recipes to start you off.
TEQUILA LIME MARGARITA POP
2 gelatin sheets
1½ cups sour mix
½ cup Tequila Gold
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup bottled water
¼ teaspoon lime juice
Warm gelatin sheets in water, then squeeze excess water out of sheets and set aside.
Heat water and dissolve gelatin sheets in the hot water. In a separate area, mix remaining ingredients. Add gelatin-water mixture, pour into molds and place in freezer for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove, insert sticks into the center of pops and return to freezer for about five hours.
Note: For a strawberry margarita pop, add 1 cup of strawberry puree to the recipe.
-- Recipe from Diego at MGM Grand
WATERMELON MARGARITA POPSICLE
1 cup simple syrup (made by heating equal parts sugar and water on a stove top on medium heat for 20 minutes)
½ cup lime juice
1 ounce orange juice
2 cups fresh watermelon juice
1 cup diced pineapple
1 teaspoon ground pink peppercorns (optional)
Pinch cayenne pepper
3 ounces Blanco Tequila
Kosher salt, for garnish
Watermelon Pop Rocks, for garnish
Mix all ingredients, reserving a half-ounce of the simple syrup, and fill freezing vessel (which can be as simple as a Dixie cup covered in tinfoil with a popsicle stick inserted inside). Place in freezer until frozen.
To garnish, mix kosher salt and watermelon Pop Rocks. Dip corner of the pop in simple syrup and coat with the Pop Rock salt.
-- Recipe from Mariena Mercer, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
2 cups Teavana Peach Roobios Tea
1 cup pureed peaches
1 cup ginger syrup (made by steeping 2 cups water, 2 cups brown sugar and 2 pounds of peeled chopped ginger for 20 minutes, then straining and chilling)
¼ cup lemon juice
4 ounces Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
Ground pie crust, for garnish
Mix all ingredients, reserving a half-ounce of the ginger syrup, and fill freezing vessel. Place in freezer until frozen.
To garnish, dip end of pop in the syrup and coat with ground pie crust.
-- Recipe from Mariena Mercer
3 B'S AND C (Banana, Bacon, Bourbon, and Chocolate)
6 cups milk
1 cup chocolate chips
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 cup Hershey's chocolate syrup
¼ cup perfectly crisped bacon bits, very finely chopped
2 ounces bourbon
Banana puree (recipe follows)
Combine all ingredients except bourbon and banana puree and melt on low heat on the stove top. Chill and add bourbon. Mix all ingredients and fill freezing vessel. Place in freezer until frozen.
Or, pay homage to the the bomb pops from our childhood by layering. Start with the chocolate 3 B's And C mixture and fill mold 1/3 full. Freeze, add the banana puree to the 2/3 mark, and freeze again. Then top off with the chocolate 3B's and C mixture and freeze for a final time.
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
2 cups of simple syrup (made by bringing equal parts sugar and water to medium heat on the stove top for 20 minutes)
½ ounce banana schnapps
Place all ingredients in blender.
-- Recipe from Mariena Mercer
1 cup thyme syrup (made by steeping 2 cups water, 2 cups brown sugar and ½ cup lavender for 20 minutes, then straining and chilling)
2 cups Teavana Lavender Dreams tea
1 cup fresh lemon juice
2 ounces St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1 ounce Hendricks gin
Mix all ingredients and fill freezing vessel. Place in freezer until frozen.
-- Recipe from Mariena Mercer
Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal. com or 702-383-0280.