With late winter storms postponing spring indefinitely, the allure of the common cup of cocoa is certain to wear thin. So now is the perfect time to try and make something new, like a cup of the traditional Mexican hot chocolate drink, champurrado.
Champurrado is a rich and decadent hot chocolate drink, spiced with cinnamon and anise. It also distinguishes itself from its American counterparts by being thickened with masa, then whipped, into a frothy, fluffy cup of goodness. When prepared properly, champurrado is not unlike a traditional cup of cappuccino—espresso and hot milk topped with stiff foam. But instead of coffee, this drink is a pleasing combination of semi-sweet chocolate, a fortified body of soothing warm milk, and a light, frothy head.
Contrary to its labor-intensive history, preparing champurrado nowadays is relatively simple. Formerly, the white corn dough required to thicken champurrado, called masa, demanded hours of soaking, simmering, washing and grinding prior to use. Today, however, fresh masa is readily available at many Latino markets nationwide. And for those regions that do not have Mexican grocers, dry, instant masa may be purchased from a number of national chain grocery stores. Traditionally, a grooved, wooden dowel called a molinillo was spun between the hands to create the frothy head on champurrado. Modernly, however, you may use a hand blender, a standing blender, or even a quality whisk to achieve the same results. Widely available ingredients and modern cooking tools eliminate much of the former prep time without diminished quality, making this Mexican drink more accessible than ever.
The recipe that follows attempts to balance quality with convenience. With this recipe, great flavor is obtained by selecting a distinctive dark chocolate, using fresh spices, and even personalizing thickness and sweetness levels. And to save time and energy, this recipe relies on the more widely available instant masa, as well as a modern blender to complete the dish. While instant cocoa may be the most convenient hot drink, prepared in mere seconds, it will not compare to this fresh, rich, decadent cup of Mexican champurrado.
1.5 oz. quality dark or semi-sweet chocolate (appx. 1/4 cup chips or chopped)
2 tablespoons dry instant masa (white corn variety)
2-3 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cinnamon stick (appx. 4 inches long)
1 star anise pod (whole)
2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
Sauce pan (1-2 quarts)
Double boiler or a second small sauce pan and mixing bowl
Small prep bowl
Hand or standing blender
STEP 1: SIMMER SPICES.
In a small sauce pan, bring 2 cups of water, anise pod, and cinnamon stick to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer for twenty minutes.
STEP 2: REMOVE SPICES AND RESERVE TEA.
After simmering your water for twenty minutes, you will now have 1 to 1 ½ cups of flavorful cinnamon tea. Remove the cinnamon stick and anise pod with a spoon and discard. You should expect to see some fine spice particles remaining in the liquid. However, if there are larger pieces that are difficult to remove, simply pass your tea through a strainer into a clean bowl and then return it to the sauce pan. Keep the tea warm over low heat while you prepare the chocolate and masa.
STEP 3: PLACE CHOCOLATE IN DOUBLE BOILER.
The following 2 steps are instructions for the stove-top method of melting chocolate, but feel free to melt your chocolate using any method you prefer. Fill a second, small sauce pan with 2 inches of water and place over medium-high heat. Place chocolate into a small mixing bowl and set over the water in the sauce pan. Be sure that the bowl does not touch the water underneath.
STEP 4: MELT AND STIR.
The simmering water evenly heats the chocolate. As it melts, the surface of the chocolate becomes bright and reflective. When most or all of the chocolate is visibly shiny, usually between 5 and 10 minutes, gently stir it until smooth with a spatula.
STEP 5: PREPARE MASA.
To make champurrado, you may use fresh or dry masa to thicken your champurrado. In this recipe, we will use dry masa. In a small cup or prep bowl, mix your dry masa with a 1/4 cup of your prepared tea to make a smooth paste. Add more tea if needed.
STEP 6: PREPARE TEA.
To prepare your tea for final mixing, return your tea to medium-high heat. Whisk in the salt, 2 teaspoons sugar, and the masa paste.
STEP 7: THICKEN TEA.
Continue to whisk the tea until the masa is fully incorporated and mixture just begins to boil. Lower heat to medium-low to prevent boil over.
STEP 8: WHISK IN CHOCOLATE.
Whisk in the chocolate until fully incorporated, maintaining a medium-low heat.
STEP 9: WHISK IN MILK AND SEASON TO YOUR LIKING.
Start by whisking only 1 1/4 cup of milk into the mixture, then taste. Depending on the quality of chocolate you used, you should only have a semi-sweet drink. If you enjoy a sweeter flavor, whisk in another 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of sugar at this time. Also note the thickness of the champurrado. With only 1 1/4 cups of milk added to the mixture, you will already have a smooth and rich drink that will froth nicely. But if you prefer a thinner drink, whisk in more milk to your liking.
STEP 10: FROTH.
Using a hand blender, or a standing blender if not available, blend the champurrado for ten to fifteen seconds. If neither style of blender is available, simply whisk vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes in a separate mixing bowl large enough to prevent splattering. Blending or whisking vigorously creates champurrado’s signature froth, as well as lightens its body. This recipe makes 2-4 servings, so pour into mugs accordingly and serve immediately.
Traditionally, champurrado is served with churros or other Mexican pastries. As pictured below, this cup was garnished with chocolate, cinnamon sticks and anise. However, there is no need to garnish your mugs in the least.
Champurrado is a special treat for so many reasons. It goes well with pastries, but is decadent enough to serve alone. It is similar to the cold weather drinks that you may be accustomed to, and yet completely different. True, it brings warmth to your body as you sip it during late winter storms, but more importantly, it brings a certain warmth to your home as well. As you progress through this recipe, your home will fill with the comforting aromas of cinnamon tea, then chocolate. And while the drink itself may be new to you, the scents and flavors and textures will seem like old friends. So while the weather remains cold and dreary, try a cup of this new but familiar drink, and enjoy the comfort that champurrado will bring you.