I've been on the hunt of late for a tasty Mexican chocolate beverage to go with churros. BTW - be on the lookout for that particularly delicious recipe soon!
Anyway, in my search, I came across an interesting beverage combination of chocolate, a unique sugar called piloncillo (more on this in a moment), spices, and masa harina. Yes, masa harina. In other words, the cornmeal used to make tortillas.
Masa harina in a drink, huh? Hmmm...
More research began! It turns out that masa harina based beverages are called atole, and they come in a huge variety of flavors - from fruit to peanut butter, to chocolate. The chocolate variety is called champurrado. Masa harina serves to thicken the drink, and adds a delicious earthy, rustic, almost nutty flavor.
So then, do atole taste like tortillas? Well, in a way - kind of, yes - at least, kind of, sort of like really good, fresh tortillas. You can taste that corny goodness, but it comes off more like a nice depth of flavor and complexity - something I love!
Needless to say, I was intrigued! Sweet chocolate, thickened by corn. I had to give it a try - and I'm so glad I did! I've gotten in the habit of making a big batch and storing it in the fridge for iced champurrado. While champurrado is typically a hot drink, I found it to be especially delicious cold. Of course, it has been over 100° at my house for the last month!
And did champurrado turn out to be tasty with churros? Why, yes, indeed, it did! Look for my churro recipe soon to try it out for yourself!
What makes champurrado so unique
Champurrado is not your typical hot chocolate. It is rustic, earthy, and complex. This is the result of its unique ingredients - namely, masa harina, piloncillo, and Mexican chocolate. Here is a little overview of the three for your culinary reading pleasure!
As we discussed above, masa harina is a type of cornmeal preparation used for making tortillas. It is made from dried field corn that is treated with a lime solution. The lime - not lime juice, but calcium hydroxide - loosens the hull, softens the corn, and makes it more digestible.
Masa harina is easy to find in most grocery stores - just look in the Hispanic foods section. Or pick up a bag or two HERE from Amazon.
Note: many traditional preparations of champurrado use fresh masa dough, rather than dried masa harina. Unfortunately, fresh masa is pretty darn hard to find in the US, so, at least at my house, we have to settle for the dried.
Piloncillo is a type of sugar. It is minimally processed - just cane juice boiled down to a thick syrup and typically formed into cone shapes of various sizes. The flavor is dark and brooding, with hints of molasses, smoke, and maybe even rum. These dark flavors add to the earthy complexity of champurrado.
The cones of piloncillo can be quite hard, making them difficult to break or cut into chunks. To manage it, use a serrated knife to saw bits off, or a rasp grater to grate it. Or, if you are making a hot drink with it and you happen to have about the right size chunk, simply add the entire piece to the liquid while it heats and allow it to dissolve.
Piloncillo may be a bit tricky to find. Look for it in Mexican markets, or you can grab a few cones HERE. If you can't find it, substitute another dark, minimally processed sugar like muscovado sugar, raw sugar, or even dark brown sugar.
One more earthy and complex ingredient for our champurrado - Mexican chocolate, of course!
Mexican chocolate is typically made with roasted and ground cacao nibs, sugar, and spices like cinnamon, and shaped into disks or tablets. It is somewhat less refined than other chocolates, with a grainy, rustic texture. This texture can be off-putting to some, but true fans love the authentic feel.
There are several mass-produced Mexican chocolate brands available in most grocery stores that will work well enough for making champurrado, or any other hot chocolate for that matter. But if you want something with a little more character (and less weird additives), look for one of the small handful of artisan Mexican chocolates beginning to appear on the market. They can be quite pricey, but the difference in quality and flavor from the mass-produced varieties is apparent. Specialty food stores, and online merchants are your best bet. HERE is a good option from Amazon.
Ok, ok, I know - this isn't an ingredient. It's a utensil. But it is worth mentioning as part of the uniqueness of traditional champurrado. A molinillo is a wooden whisky, stir-y thing (very technical, I know!). It is used for combining and frothing both Mexican hot chocolate and champurrado.
In all honesty, I found a standard metal whisk easier and more effective to use, however, I may be lacking the proper technique. On the other hand, it's fun to try using a molinillo! So if you've got the notion, you can grab one HERE.Print