October 29, 2020
About 20 years ago, I spent Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Ocotepec, Mexico. This small town near Cuernavaca is renowned for its rich celebration of the holiday, with preparations beginning months ahead of time.
As we walked in the procession through the dark streets, people opened their homes or gardens to visitors to view their ofrendas -- altars to their deceased loved ones.
The ofrendas were the most elaborate I had ever seen, including effigies of the deceased dressed in their old clothes and candlelit paths strewn with marigolds. As we visited, residents offered us piping hot tamales and mugs of steaming coffee or champurrado, a drinking chocolate prepared with masa harina (corn flour) and cinnamon.
Thick and rich, with earthy notes of corn and an almost porridge-like texture, champurrado is a comforting accompaniment to a chilly evening.
Traditionally, champurrado is made with discs of Mexican chocolate. But the basic ingredients in these are chocolate, sugar and cinnamon, so you can use any chocolate you like.
Make sure you use masa harina para tortillas. Cornmeal will produce a too-gritty texture. I used the blue corn masa harina from Alma Semillera and it worked perfectly. (And didn't turn my champurrado blue!)
As far as the consistency of champurrado, it's traditionally very thick, but you can make it as thin as you like by adding more water.
1/2 cup masa harina para tortillas
2 oz piloncillo or 3 tablespoons brown sugar
3.5 oz dark chocolate (I used Tcho)
3 cups water, divided
1 Sri Lankan cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground Sri Lankan cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used Pacific Flake)
In a saucepan, combine 2 cups of water, the cinnamon stick and piloncillo or sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the piloncillo is dissolved. If using sugar, this will take less time.
Discard the cinnamon stick, add the chocolate and continue to simmer until the chocolate has melted.
In a separate bowl, add the masa harina and slowly whisk in the remaining 1 cup of water. Whisk until creamy. You don't want any lumps.
Slowly whisk the masa mixture into the chocolate. Add the ground cinnamon and salt and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer for 5-7 minutes, whisking constantly to prevent lumps.
The mixture will thicken considerably. At this point, carefully taste the champurrado (it will be very hot) and add more brown sugar or salt to taste. Add more water and reheat and whisk as needed until you get a drinkable consistency to your liking.
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