Champurrado – a creamy, dreamy Mexican chocolate drink
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Champurrado is a creamy chocolate drink from Mexico with a distinctly earthy and rich flavor. It gets this delicious depth of flavor from the addition of several very unique ingredients. Read on to learn more…
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 corn meal 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 atoles 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 corn-y 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 corn meal 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 a 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.
In a heavy-bottomed, large saucepan (I like using a 3 quart pan), slowly whisk the masa harina into 3 cups of water. Add the cinnamon stick, star anise, and a small pinch of salt to the pan, and place over medium heat. Whisk, using a standard whisk or a Mexican molinillo, very frequently until the mixture is thickened, and just barely starting to simmer.
Adjusting the heat as needed to keep at a bare simmer, add the piloncillo and chocolate to the pan. Whisk until the piloncillo is dissolved and the chocolate is melted. If your piloncillo isn’t dissolving, press it with a spoon or the flat bottom of your molinillo to break it up.
Carefully whisk in the milk. Continue cooking, stirring very frequently, until just simmering.
Remove from the heat. If desired, strain the champurrado to achieve a smoother texture. Serve hot, or cool to room temperature and enjoy iced.
If you are feeling adventurous, use a molinillo for your whisking. While I found that a regular whisk may be more effective and easier to control, the molinillo was more fun to use. 😉
This makes a thick, earthy, and rustic chocolate drink with a sometimes slightly grainy texture. If it seems a little lumpy or grainy for your taste, strain it through a wire mesh strainer before serving.
Some of the ingredients in champurrado might be a bit tricky to find - If you can't find piloncillo, try substituting another minimally processed dark sugar like muscovado, raw sugar, or simply use dark brown sugar. If you can't find Mexican chocolate, substitute any dark chocolate.
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