In this dairy-free version of champurrado, almond milk forms the base for spiced hot chocolate thickened with masa harina, all decked out in coconut whipped cream and hella chocolate.
Champurrado is a chocolate-flavored version of atole, a warm, drinkable pudding of sorts made from sweetened milk and corn flour. Atole and champurrado date back to the Mayans, who famously spiked their hot chocolate with sweet spices and chile. The masa harina adds a surprisingly pleasant thickness to the drink while maintaining little nubs of texture, making this taste a bit like chocolate pudding that you’ve just made and are surreptitiously spooning, warm out of the pan, straight into your mouth, while hoping no one is looking. This is hot chocolate pudding that you’re allowed to drink without looking like a pig. In fact, you’re even supposed to drink it for breakfast WITH CHURROS.
Champurrado is genius.
I first became champurrado curious during a stint as a pastry chef at a Peruvian restaurant, when I tried a version from Dulce: Desserts in the Latin-American Tradition, the book that served as my bible during that time. I tweaked the champurrado to my liking, and shared it among my co-workers who went wild for the spiced, warm chocolate drink. (I may or may not have spiked it with rum…) The champurrado never saw the light of day, however, due to an owner who disliked a) chocolate and b) printing new menus, thus we were forced to hoard it all to ourselves.
I wasn’t sad to leave that job, especially since doing so left me more time to focus on this space which has led to many wonderful things, including writing and photographing a cookbook all about desserts made from alternative grains. I was, however, devastated when I realized that I’d left my champurrado recipe tucked into the restaurant’s copy of Dulce, probably to be found by my successor (who I pray had better luck implementing interesting recipes than I did).
So when I got a hankering for the drink the other day, I cobbled together a recipe based on my memory and a few online sources. Many champurrado recipes start with disks of Mexican chocolate, but I always find these to be overly sweet and lacking in chocolate flavor. I prefer to use good bittersweet chocolate, deep, dark muscovado sugar, cinnamon sticks and chile powder for a little kick, and cocoa powder for extra chocolatey richness.
Best of all, champurrado is easily made vegan; in fact, I like this version better than the original. Almond milk creates a light base that allows the flavors of chocolate and spice to come through cleanly, and a plume of coconut cream adds its subtly tropical flavor.
To start, throw your canned coconut cream in the fridge for several hours so it’ll whip up nice and thick. Then, throw your ingredients in a pot and stand over the warm stove slowly stirring the simmering drink until it thickens to your liking. Serve mugs of champurrado topped with whipped coconut cream and chocolate shavings. Try not to drink the whole pot all by yourself. Leftovers reheat beautifully.
What I love most about this drink is that its thickness comes from the starches in the corn flour rather than cream, making this drink taste surprisingly light. That’s where the coconut cream comes in; it adds a cool, rich counterpoint to the champurrado with a topnote of floral vanilla.
Cups of this stuff are addictive: spicy, a little sweet, deep and rich, but light enough to drink any time of day.
- ¼ cup (30 g) masa harina (or corn flour [NOT cornstarch])
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons (60 g) packed muscovado sugar (or grated pilconcillo or dark brown sugar)
- 2 tablespoons (10 g) cocoa powder (I like natural)
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne or dried chipotle powder (more to taste)
- ⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 cups (475 ml) water
- 2 cups (475 ml) almond milk
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I like 65-72% cacao mass), roughly chopped
- 4 (3”) cinnamon sticks
- 2 small cans (5.4 ounces each / 160 ml) unsweetened coconut cream (such as Native Forest Organic brand), chilled at least 2 hours and up to 1 day
- 2 tablespoons (12 g) powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- chocolate shavings, for garnish
- In a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom, whisk together the masa harina, muscovado sugar, cocoa powder, chili powder and salt. Whisk in the water until fairly smooth, then add the almond milk, cinnamon sticks and chocolate.
- Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue simmering and stirring until the mixture is smooth and thickened to your liking, 10-15 more minutes. Taste, adding more spice if you like. Serve immediately, or remove from the heat and let stand until ready to serve; the champurrado will continue to thicken as it stands and the flavor of the cinnamon will deepen. Thin with almond milk or water if needed.
- Meanwhile, make the whipped coconut cream. Without tipping or shaking the cans, remove the coconut cream from the refrigerator, open the cans, and scrape the thick cream from the top of the cans. Place in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer with the powdered sugar and vanilla. Whip until soft peaks form, 2-3 minutes on medium-high. Taste, adding more sugar or vanilla if you like.
- Ladle the champurrado into cups, top with a dollop of cream, a sprinkle of chocolate shavings, and serve immediately.