Ice cube trays already serve an incredibly useful purpose, and if you only ever used them to freeze water, you’re doing just fine. However, there are countless other ways you can turn your ice tray into an even higher functioning kitchen item, many of which you might never have thought of before. A vessel for both sweet and savory delights, ice trays, whether plastic or silicone, are a time-saving prep tool and convenient portioning device. Here are 11 easy ways to use ice trays at home, beyond ice cubes.
As soon as you start drinking your iced coffee (either homemade or from your local coffee shop), the race against the clock begins: How many sips will you finish before the drink turns watery? Alleviate this worry by storing ice cubes made of coffee in your freezer. To make them, take a clean, empty ice tray and fill it with cold coffee. You can either brew hot coffee, wait until it cools (placing hot things in your freezer will bring its overall temperature down, so avoid this), or buy bottled cold brew. Either a plastic or silicon tray works, depending on what size you’d like for your cubes. This also goes for other iced drinks, including green tea, matcha, and chocolate milk.
Whether you have a backyard herb garden or prefer buying them, chances are you’ve wondered how to keep herbs fresh for longer; one easy solution involves an ice tray. Herbs like basil, parsley, rosemary, and oregano can be dried and kept in a cupboard, but freezing them in oil helps preserve their green goodness. Take your desired herbs and rinse them, patting them dry or using a salad spinner to get rid of excess moisture. (Though hardly a fun step, this is essential to ensure they don’t lose their oomph to spoilage.) Once the herbs are chopped and placed in a clean, empty ice tray, fill the tray with olive oil. A tray is a great way to keep an array of herbs separated, all while saving some precious freezer space since they can be stacked on top of each other.
Unsurprisingly, iced coffee cubes pair well with iced creamer cubes, and the latter are just as easy to make. Why use a tray for this when other containers are available? It’s all about portion and food safety: Using a tray ensures a longer shelf life in the freezer rather than keeping open bottles in the fridge, and you can simply pop a cube right into your coffee, knowing exactly how much you’re using for a consistent cup of coffee. Adding brown sugar and vanilla extract to customize each cube is one option, as is using cream or an alternative milk.
Why does it always feel like there’s always a container of cooking stock in the back of the fridge, waiting for its moment to shine? An ingredient often forgotten about after a couple uses, this too can be frozen for future consumption. An ice tray will neatly portion out stock into little cubes, about two tablespoons’ worth of stock each. It doesn’t matter if you’re making your own or purchasing some from the grocery store—portioning stock this way is a great way to ensure a longer shelf life and have it handy whenever you need it.
If you’re feeling creative, homemade ice cream might even sound appealing, until you realize how much effort and equipment it requires. An easy alternative? Frozen yogurt bites, made with nothing more than your ice cube tray. Choose a yogurt flavor you like and simply layer the bottom of the tray with a somewhat sturdy ingredient like granola, a seed mixture, or a crumbled biscuit. Add a scoop of yogurt, then add mix-ins to your heart’s content. This could mean berries, maple syrup, chocolate shavings, cubed peaches or bananas, pomegranate seeds, slivered almonds, cinnamon, or pumpkin pie spice. Either your standard plastic ice cube tray or a silicone tray will work. Since melting is a factor here, popping them out is a convenient way to serve this frozen treat without handling them too much.
Here’s a recipe that couldn’t exist without the magic of an ice cube tray: Michelada Ice Cubes, which turn any beer into an instant cocktail. They only require six common pantry ingredients, and when you add 2-4 cubes to a pint glass and pour some light beer on top, you’ll be tasting the summer vibes. By freezing the cubes in advance, you won’t have to become a mixologist every time you have guests over for a cookout.
The monster in all of our freezers: a big, spherical mound of cookie dough we intended to save for later, but which feels impossible to thaw and break apart. This is another scenario in which the ice tray saves the day. There’s no reshaping required once the frozen dough is slid out of the tray; it can be placed directly on a sheet pan and baked according to the recipe instructions. Covered in plastic wrap for freshness, this future treat can be stored in the freezer and boasts a shelf life of two months.
Cheesecake, a dessert just as delicious when served cold or at room temperature, could not be more of an ice-tray-friendly treat. A silicone tray is best for this, given the soft and delicate texture of cheesecake. If you’d like, a popsicle stick can be poked right into the mixture before freezing to make these treats holdable and utensil-free. Making this version of the classic dessert in smaller batches makes them faster to prep, and you can stick with the classic layer of graham cracker crumbles or opt for a chocolate coating—an ice tray is versatile enough for both options.
Got leftover wine in the bottle you know you won’t drink? Your ice tray is waiting to help you out. Freezing small portions of wine for future use can mean tossing them in recipes that require a wine reduction or boozy finish, or you can use them as wine cubes in a batch of sangria. Not only will the freezing prevent the wine from oxidizing and losing its flavor, but you’ll also be using high-quality drinking wine in your recipes instead of lower-shelf “cooking wine,” which can only be a good thing for the final dish’s flavor.
What could be better than butter? Butter with garlic, of course. Compound butters, or any butter made by blending in highly flavorful components, are incredibly easy to make at home, and are endlessly customizable depending on your tastes or the recipe at hand. Once you’ve made a batch of, say, delectable garlic butter, you can store it in an ice tray for ready-made individual portions. A frozen cube of butter will slide out easily from a tray and directly onto a hot pan, or you can let it reach room temp before topping a steak with it. The cubes will stay fresh for up to three months.
Mini puff pastries
Ice cube trays have a boxy, bite-sized shape that lends itself to baking projects. For example, you can use the tray as a mold to make mini puff pastry cakes by laying dough into the tray, pressing divots down into each cup. Use your filling of choice, whether sweet or savory, and top with another sheet of puff pastry and crimping shut, trimming off any excess dough draped along the sides. Freeze the whole tray until firm, flip your creation out of the tray, and slice along the grid lines formed by the ice tray, then bake. After the little pastries are baked, you have the option of freezing the final product for later, too.
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