Warm Up with a Cup of Champurrado, or Hot Chocolate Atole
This masa-based chocolate drink feels like a warm, cozy hug.
While Michelle Obama and two puppets might not be your first thoughts for culinary inspiration, they have certainly built an empire. The Netflix children’s show, Waffles + Mochi, stars the former first lady and follows two puppet friends as they embark on a global journey to discover new ingredients and the joys of cooking. This month, a cookbook based on the show was released and it’s just as colorful and vibrant as you’d expect.
There is a foreword from Obama herself, but the book was written by renowned NYT Cooking columnist Yewande Komolafe, who is a skilled recipe developer. Though she had never taken on a children’s project before this, she has a two-year old daughter of her own and was more than ready for the task. Her main objective was to create something that would inspire both children and adults to have a little fun while cooking.
“The kitchen is a space where you can play and experiment, and also if you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. You can try again,” Komolafe says. “I tried to inject fun into both the language and the methods because—using my daughter as an example—she gets engaged in something for, like, one minute and then she’s over it. So, I knew the recipes had to be quick, easy, and approachable for little people, but also had to be appealing enough so that the whole family could eat it as dinner.”
The book is also meant to help people, both young and old, feel more agency when it comes to cooking. The recipes in the book aren’t meant to be strict rules that one should never deviate from. Instead, it’s about learning how to understand the structure of a specific recipe and then having fun and experimenting with it. “Like if you’re making pancake batter you can’t add as much water as you do dry ingredients because it will be too loose,” she explains. “But if you wanted to substitute some of the liquid with milk, or orange juice, or whatever you want, you can substitute but the ratios have to stay the same.”
Much like the show, the book covers recipes from around the globe, representing a vast array of cultures and cuisines, including Japan, Peru, and India. Komolafe—who was raised in Lagos, Nigeria and currently lives in Brooklyn—strives for inclusivity and diversity in all of her work, which can make accuracy a challenge.
“I wanted to make sure that the information that I was giving was correct,” she says. “There was this stew from Peru made from potatoes and cheese, and I really had to work with the chef to make sure I was doing it in the way that she did it on the show. Even though I’m translating the recipe for a home cook, you want to get as close as possible to what she had.”
The recipes are split into sections by ingredients—there’s a section on tomatoes, one on rice, and one on an ingredient that Komolafe is especially fond of: corn. One of the most intriguing recipes in the corn section is champurrado, which is a warm, masa-based chocolate drink originally from Mexico, the birthplace of both corn and chocolate. Champurrado is a type of atole, which is a hot drink thickened with masa, that incorporates spices like cinnamon and cayenne for an extra kick.
“Champurrado is something that I encountered while I was in San Francisco working on the La Cocina book,” Komolafe says. “I knew corn was one of the ingredients that we were focusing on, so I thought that would be such a perfect drink for this book because it really just feels like a warm, cozy hug.”
While some recipes opt for a strictly water-based champurrado, Komolafe’s version of the thick, chocolate beverage includes a bit of milk, as well. “In my recipes, I love the feeling of full fat,” she says laughing. “I don’t know another way to describe it other than exactly that. I feel like water can be great, but milk just added to the coziness of the recipe.”
As far as when would be the ideal time for enjoying a cup of champurrado, Komolafe is clear that the time is already here. “It’s chilly, it’s a little damp out, the sun’s not beating down for 10 hours a day,” she says. “The season is definitely now.”
• ¾ cup masa harina
• 4 ounces Mexican chocolate or dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
• ½ cup chopped piloncillo or ¼ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal or ¼ teaspoon Morton kosher salt
• Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
• 1 cup milk, heavy cream, or nut milk of choice
• Chocolate shavings (for serving; optional)
1. Place masa in a large saucepan. Gradually stream in 6 cups of water, whisking constantly. Set pan over medium heat and bring mixture to a gentle simmer. Cook, whisking often, until thickened, 13-17 minutes.
2. Reduce heat to low and add chocolate, piloncillo, cinnamon, salt, and cayenne (if using) to the masa mixture. Cook, whisking, until chocolate is melted and sugar is dissolved. Stir milk into champurrado and ladle into mugs. Top with chocolate shavings if desired.