Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}

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. 

Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}

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.

Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}

Champurrado is genius.

Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}

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.

Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}

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).

Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}

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.

Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}

Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}

Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}

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.

Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}

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.

Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}

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.

Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}

Cups of this stuff are addictive: spicy, a little sweet, deep and rich, but light enough to drink any time of day.

Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}

Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}
Yields: 6 servings
 
With inspiration from The View From Great Island and Serious Eats, this thickened Mexican hot chocolate goes down easy. If you don't have access to masa harina, this works equally well with corn flour, such as Bob's Red Mill brand (not to be confused with cornstarch). The coconut cream is a must; it provides a cool, mild contrast and richness to the deep chocolate drink, so do be sure to chill your coconut cream for at least 2 hours (or full-fat coconut milk such as Thai Kitchen brand) for at least 12 hours before making. Extra champurrado can be chilled for up to several days and reheated with a little extra almond milk if needed to thin the drink. If dairy isn't an issue, this can be made with cow's milk and regular whipped cream. If you want to booze it up, add a splash of dark or spiced rum to the champurrado or coconut cream. To make the chocolate shavings, start with a bar of good chocolate. Scrape a side with a vegetable peeler (I like the T-shaped kind) to make tiny curls. Chill until needed.
Ingredients
  • 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
Whipped Coconut Cream
  • 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
Instructions
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Ladle the champurrado into cups, top with a dollop of cream, a sprinkle of chocolate shavings, and serve immediately.

 

Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}

28 thoughts on “Vegan Champurrado {Mexican Hot Chocolate Atole}”

  1. This looks incredible! The chocolate looks so rich.

    p.s. have you tried a champurrada? It’s a similarly spelled Guatemalan cookie that I bet would go great with your delicious champurrado. ;)

  2. I used to be given bowls of clay atole to keep me warm during Dios De Los Muertos celebrations in northern Mexico (google Dios…etc on my website search engine to read about it) and it is delicious.

    I wish I’d had the non milk option as a kid as I have a true lactose intolerance with serious gastric effects if I drink milk. This recipe would have come in handy. Our housekeeper used to grind masa by hand too, the smell is indescribably associated with love for me.

  3. Omg your champurrado looks amazing. What stunning photos. I made champurrado on my blog for dia de los muertos last month and it was so so good. Thicker and more complex than hot chocolate. Your vegan version sounds amazing. The nutty or coconut flavor would work perfectly. I love the photo with the steaming ladle. Yum!

  4. Luscious! I am from a family of chocolate lovers so this will be served over the holidays and apparently Day of the Dead next year. Will check back.

  5. Alanna I love reading about your pastry chef days! What a strange restaurant owner – he certainly missed out on your genius. This is an odd question I know, but do you think that another kind of flour or a starch could work for this? I have the most insane reaction to corn of all types but this looks like my favourite sort of thing and I’d love to try it.
    Beautiful recipe and photos! xo

  6. Please can you help me find the milky white speckled matte faceted cup?
    I am desperately trying to find this cup. It is on pinterest but can not trace it anywhere!

    Many thanks
    Sandra

  7. I absolutely love hot chocolate and it’s great to learn about different recipes from other cultures and cuisines. I’ve recently started only exclusively using almond milk for my hot chocolates because dairy is just a no-go for my stomach and I actually prefer it much better! It really brings out the chocolate flavor and I wish I had ditched milk sooner. I’m really looking forward to making this and I’m even MORE excited about your cookbook! I’m going to pre-order it now!

  8. I gazed deeply into your steamy photograph, Alanna, before I realized the time and I had to snap myself back to reality. Coming to my senses, it was like whiplash. Oh. My. Gawd. I’m quite taken my this recipe and am thrilled that I have masa harina on hand to whip this up sooner than later. I’ll take a spoon please and just hoard it all to my self, perhaps in a closet or something where I cannot be found. Thank you for bringing this to the light of day. Delicious my dear!

  9. I think I pinned just about every photo that you posted here! I just love the cozy mood that you’ve created with this set of photos. I’ve never tried a champurrado, but I know that I’ll love anything with chocolate in it. Your old boss didn’t know what he was missing out on! I will take this with an extra splash of rum, please! ;-)

  10. So incredibly beautiful – those steamy cups of hot chocolate look SO decadent and perfect for this time of year, I’m just wishing I had my hands around a big cup of one now! I LOVE that it is vegan as well – not because I am vegan personally, but it is wonderful to be able to drink something so chocolately without giving yourself a stomach-ache from all the cream. We tried spiced hot chocolate when we were in Peru last year, and those spices are something I haven’t had the chance to recreate – but now I will be for sure. Thank you for sharing your recipe! <3

  11. Is there another flour I could sub for the masa harina (not rice flour, unfortunately)?

    Thanks so much for the beautiful recipes!

    1. Hey! Some flours you might try are: mesquite, teff, chestnut, buckwheat, sorghum, or amaranth. You could try a smaller amount of a starch like arrowroot, or you can leave the thickener out and still have yummy hot chocolate. :)

  12. Hello, can I substitue corn flour to maize flour?
    If can’t using maize flour , what are the other flour I can use to thicken the hot chocolate?

    1. Yes, as long as the corn flour is finely ground, and not to be confused with cornstarch (In the UK cornstarch is called “corn flour”).

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