Nothing levels up a beverage like a colorful piece of fruit, veggie, herb, or flower frozen in a perfectly clear cube. Whether you want to make an extra special cocktail or just fancy up some lemonade, it’s like having a little work of art right there in your glass. But there’s more to making ice than you might think—Leslie Kirchhoff wrote a whole book about it: Disco Cube Cocktails: 100+ Innovative Recipes for Artful Ice and Drinks. Here are her clear cube tips and tricks, adapted from the book. You’re just one tray away from being a total ice queen. –Lisa Butterworth
Clear Ice 101
First things first: No amount of boiling or filtering will give you perfectly clear ice in everyday ice trays. The only way to get these truly translucent beauties is with an insulated ice mold. These freeze water in one direction, allowing the water molecules to form perfect bonds only with other water molecules, while pushing impurities (which cause clouding) and air bubbles out. It takes longer than traditional freezing (24-plus hours), but it’s worth it.
The Mold Type
Wintersmiths molds (wintersmiths.com) are the clear ice gold standard, but the setup is pricey—$120 and up for a base plus interchangeable cube, sphere, or long spear molds. Their molds are closed on top, which keeps buoyant objects submerged while freezing. My wallet-friendly pick is the Clear Ice Cube Tray by True Cubes ($45, truecubes.com), which makes four 2-inch cubes at a time, but its open-top design limits what you can freeze inside.
What to Freeze
This is a way to showcase ingredients at their finest. Freezing changes the texture of fruits and veggies though, so they’re only for admiring, not eating. You can freeze pieces of fruit, tiny veggies like peppers, sprigs of herbs, or even edible flowers. Try changing up each cube with a different placement or number of elements to keep things interesting.
For citrus wheels or peels, first place them into a small heatproof glass measuring cup. Add just enough warm water to cover. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes to release any liquid, wax, or oils. Strain and repeat one more time.
When freezing edible flowers, point them down so they’re facing the center of the cube, instead of freezing against an edge.
Gleaming the Cube
To smooth out lumpy tops or other imperfections on cubes, cut off any big extrusions with a knife. Then, holding the cube in your hand, run one side of it along a room-temperature sheet pan for 1 to 2 seconds; repeat for each side. For spheres, hold with a smooth microfiber cloth and remove the seam with a sharp paring knife, rotating as you go. Work quickly so they don’t melt! After perfecting a cube or sphere, wipe off any excess moisture with a microfiber cloth and immediately place it back in the freezer on a flat surface to “dry.” You can store them in resealable freezer bags for up to two months.
Before putting your clear ice in a drink, let it sit at room temperature for at least a few minutes, or until the surface begins to melt and no longer appears frosted or your carefully crafted cubes will crack.
Makes 4 cubes. The limes and cherries can be replaced with any edible element, the process remains the same.
4 small lime wheels
4 fresh cherries
2-inch clear cube mold
Place 1 cherry and 1 lime wheel in each compartment of the mold. Fill the mold with water and freeze until solid, about 30 hours. Remove the cubes from the mold, polish them, and keep frozen until ready to use.
Makes 1 cocktail
Place 1 Cherry Lime Cube into a double Old-Fashioned glass to temper for about 2 minutes. In a cocktail shaker filled with plain ice, combine ¾ oz. each gin, green Chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, and freshly squeezed lime juice. Cover, shake for 15 seconds, then double strain the drink into the glass.
Photos: Leslie Kirchhoff; Stylist: Shelby Kay
This article originally appeared in BUST's Summer 2021 print edition. Subscribe today!
Lisa Butterworth is BUST’s West Coast editor, soaking up the eternal sunshine in Los Angeles. She’s probably eating a taco right now.