How to Make Thick and Creamy Champurrado, the Chocolate-Based Atole
You can customize it with cinnamon, orange peels, and as much masa harina as you want.
People love to compare champurrado to hot chocolate. It’s true that they’re both steamy, chocolaty beverages that are perfect during the colder months of the year. But champurrado is so much more than milk, water, and chocolate heated together. As an atole, it’s full of thickening and nutritious masa harina—the same ground corn that make up tortillas.
“It’s not just a hot drink. It’s like a meal in itself,” Mely Martinez, author of the food blog and subsequent cookbook, Mexico In My Kitchen, explained to me over a video call. “It’s very traditional around Christmas time. We have a lot of celebrations before Christmas time that we call posadas [that] start on the 16th of December. One of the things you eat is tamales and pozole and you drink champurrado.”
Martinez compares the prevalence of champurrado in town fairs in Mexico to that of funnel cakes in the United States. No matter which fair you go to, you’re sure to find someone spooning out the hot chocolate beverage to attendees. Ricardo Cervantes, CEO and founder of Los Angeles-based La Monarca Bakery, shared this sentiment. “I remember having champurrado for the first time during a trip to Michoacan, Mexico for Day of the Dead. It was a very cold night and a local street vendor was pouring mugs of champurrado. It was delicious and uniquely hearty."
But if you’re not venturing to a town fair complete with champurrado vendors anytime soon, there’s a couple ways to get your hands on champurrado at home. For starters, you can buy premade champurrado mix, where all you’re required to do is add milk and whisk vigorously. La Monarca has a version available that ships nationwide, as does masa harina retailer Masienda (whose founder also has tips for using his masa harina to make tortillas).
If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, Martinez has an easy recipe for making champurrado at home. “The benefit of making it at home is that you can adjust thickness. Some people like it really thick and rich, almost like grits. Some people like it with texture,” Martinez said. For those who have never had champurrado, the texture Martinez aims for is one that is similar to a “light gravy.” That being said, it’s completely customizable.
By making it from scratch, you can also add unique flavors. “Maybe you would like to add the peel of an orange or star anise,” she suggested. “One of the things I like to add, besides cinnamon, is a splash of Mexican vanilla extract. It makes quite a huge difference when you mix the cinnamon with the vanilla.”
At La Monarca, it’s common to add a shot of espresso for a champurrado latte. “For a cold champurrado in the summer you can make it as an ice blended smoothie by adding ice and milk with it in a blender,” Cervantes said.
And if you’re looking to feel extra spirited this holiday season, Martinez doesn’t discourage a splash of something stronger. “It’s not very common, but it’s something that’s becoming trendy. Brandy, rum, whisky,” she listed off. “Everyone wants to feel cheery and happy to celebrate the end of 2020.”
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
- 8 cups (2 quarts/1.9 L) water, divided
- 5 ounces (140 g) piloncillo or ½ cup (100 g) dark brown sugar
- 1 Mexican cinnamon stick
- 2 Mexican chocolate tablets (about 6.3 ounces/175 g)
- ¾ cup (95 g) masa harina
1. Place 6 cups (11/2 quarts/1.4 L) of the water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat with the piloncillo and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and let simmer for about 10 minutes, until the piloncillo has melted. If you’re using dark brown sugar, this step will take less time because the sugar will dissolve in about 4 to 5 minutes.
2. Add the chocolate tablets and continue simmering for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they dissolve.
3. Meanwhile, pour the remaining 2 cups (480 ml) water into a medium bowl and add the masa harina. Mix well with an egg beater (if possible) to avoid forming any lumps. It should have a creamy texture.
4. When the chocolate has completely dissolved, slowly pour the masa harina mixture into the saucepan while stirring, to make sure there are no lumps. If you want to be safe, use a strainer to pour in the mixture.
5. Increase the heat to medium-high until the champurrado starts boiling, then reduce the heat to low and gently simmer, stirring constantly. After 6 to 8 minutes, the mixture will begin to thicken. Allow it to cook for 5 more minutes, then remove from the heat.
6. Serve in mugs. Be careful before drinking, as its thick consistency keeps the drink very hot.
- You can also use milk instead of water, or half water and half milk.
- For an even thicker consistency, use the amounts in the recipe and then add 2 to 4 more tablespoons (10 to 20 g) of masa harina mixed with ½ cup (120 ml) water (make sure the corn flour is completely dissolved).