Spiced Pumpkin Seed Maple Horchata (with Calvados)

A silky smooth vegan horchata recipe made with almonds, pumpkin seeds, and Jasmine rice, gently spiced with cinnamon and fresh ginger. Add a shot of Calvados apple brandy for a grown-up holiday beverage that tastes like healthy eggnog.

Horchata is one of my favorite indulgences, but I can rarely justify ordering it at taquerias knowing that it’s full of sweetened condensed milk. Having a glass alongside a taco is akin to drinking dessert with one’s meal. The ecstasy of milky, cinnamony goodness is potent, yet short-lived, and I’m always left feeling slightly gross.

Luckily, I live not far from Gracias Madre, which dishes up fabulous organic vegan Mexican cuisine. Their horchata is made with almonds, rice, and natural sweeteners, but a glass runs around seven dollars and never lasts quite long enough.

For about the same price, a whole batch can be made at home. It’s actually quite easy if you have a blender and a strainer or, preferably, a nut milk bag.

I began making my own horchata earlier this year, emboldened by this fantastic tutorial from NoshOn.It. In fact, I went on a bit of a bender. As I tried different combinations of nuts, grains, and sweeteners (and booze!), I began to have aggrandized plans. I would do a whole horchata week on the blog. New ideas kept coming to me, which I scribbled down in a little notebook while shopping, driving, or at yoga class. It was getting to be a dangerous obsession. The refrigerator became a clutter of mason jars filled with varied hues of opaque liquid.

I had previously thought that horchata was something I could never get enough of. I was wrong. We went on a road trip and brought the horchata with us. Instead of being a treat, I felt obligated to drink it. It was a particularly thick, earthy version, and with no ice to cut it, it was a far cry from the refreshing beverage of its origins. We dubbed it “punishment horchata.”

I didn’t make any more horchata for a while after that.

With our prolonged Indian summer, I gave it another go, blending up this Fall version that stays closer to its roots. Pumpkin seeds and grade A maple syrup add a touch of earthiness, while almonds and Jasmine rice keep the drink tasting light and bright. I tried other pumpkin pie spices – nutmeg and allspice – but found the flavor muted and muddied, dangerously close to punishment horchata territory. Cinnamon and fresh ginger give the drink a spicy-floral kick while preserving the
classic horchata flavor, and they blend nicely with a splash of Calvados, apple brandy from the lower Normandy region. (I’m guessing it would be equally good with an aged, golden rum.)

One thing I learned from all of my horchata-making is that blanching the almonds and grinding the rice with cinnamon are essential steps in getting that classic flavor and texture.

Served over ice, this drink tastes a bit like a more refreshing version of eggnog. I suspect it will spice up any holiday party, and you can leave the booze off for the kiddos.

Best of all, it’s rather healthy, naturally sweetened and full of good fats and protein from the nuts and seeds. With a tipple of booze and a few ice cubes, this drink is anything but a punishment.

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Holiday Drinkles:

Nim Nam {Ginger-Vodka Cordial with Vanilla, Lemon, and Honey}
Pomegranate Margaritas
Bojon Eggnog

One year ago:
Kinda Raw Marbled Pumpkin Tart {Grain-Free+ Vegan}

Two years ago:
Leek and Gruyère Bread Pudding Baked in a Pumpkin
Warm Pumpkin Pudding Cakes with Crème Anglaise

Three years ago:
Pumpkin Ice Cream
Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Bars

Four years ago:
Pumpkin Flan
Buckwheat Crepes

Five years ago:
Huckleberry Fig Crumble Tart
Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares with Gingersnap Crust

Spiced Pumpkin Seed Maple Horchata (with Calvados)

If you don’t have blanched almonds on hand, do be sure to take the time to blanch your own as the almond peels will turn the horchata brown and muddy the flavor. It only takes a few minutes to blanch this small quantity: bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, add the almonds and simmer until the skins are loose, 1-2 minutes. Drain, rinse with cool water, and slip the almonds from their skins.

Makes about 6 cups

Day 1:

6 tablespoons (2.75 ounces / 75 grams) raw white rice (preferably Jasmine or Basmati)
1 fat 3″ long cinnamon stick (I used Ceylon)
1/2 cup (3 ounces / 85 grams) blanched almonds
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces / 70 grams) pumpkin seeds (raw or lightly toasted)
2 1/2 cups (20 ounces / 590 mL) boiling water

Day 2:
5-6 tablespoons maple syrup (I like grade A here)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh ginger
2 1/2 cups (20 ounces / 590 mL) cool water

For serving:
Calvados, brandy, or gold or dark rum (optional)

Day 1:
Place the rice and cinnamon stick in a clean coffee or spice grinder and grind finely. Place in a large mason jar or heatproof bowl and add the almonds, pumpkin seeds, and boiling water. Give it a stir, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight.

Day 2:
Pour the mixture into a blender and add the 5 tablespoons maple syrup and the chopped ginger. Blend until smooth, starting on low and gradually increasing the speed to high, adding the cool water slowly. (Note: if you have a high speed blender, be careful not to puree this to oblivion; you want to be able to filter out the solids.) Strain the mixture either through a nut milk bag or through a fine mesh strainer, pressing on the solids to extract all the good stuff. A small one may work best. Taste, adding the remaining tablespoon of maple syrup if you like it sweeter.

Chill the horchata until cold. It will keep, refrigerated airtight, for up to a few days. The mixture will separate as it sits; give it a good shake to bring it back together.

Serve the horchata over ice with a shot of Calvados, if you like.

37 thoughts on “Spiced Pumpkin Seed Maple Horchata (with Calvados)”

  1. Can't wait to try this out! I used to make homemade eggnog for my annual holiday extravaganza, but recently turned vegan. I've been hoping for *just* this kind of inspiration! Thank you, thank you! We love horchata and this sounds delicious. Since I'm currently obsessed with coconut milk, part of me wonders if some coconut milk or cream, for that matter, would make it more eggnog-y and rich? Maybe I'll experiment and get back to you. Thanks, as always, for sharing your food obsessions and gorgeous photography with the world!

    1. Oh, this is perfect for you then! I think coconut milk or cream would be delicious here; I'd definitely use a good dark rum to pair it with in that case. Keep me posted!

  2. Hahahah punishment horchata!!! Too funny. This looks like the exact opposite — sooooo good!! And oh my gosh, I never, EVER get tired of staring at your mindblowing action shots. So amazing, as always!

  3. Somehow I have lived in California for an entire fifteen years without ever having tasted horchata. How? Especially if there is any resemblance whatever to eggnog? Must try!

  4. As ever, I'm totally in awe of your amazing photography and blown away by how you manage to really capture so much life in your pictures. Plus this sounds totally intriguing – I've not really been of fan of horchata when I've tried it but this version sounds dreamy.

  5. How amazing is this? A healthy drink to which I can add Calvados if desired?

    And magically all the ingredients are at hand (except Calvados but that can be remedied). A lovely project for a snowy 15 degree day.

  6. Alanna, your pictures are SO gorgeous! i found you on pinterest, as that's my go to cooking inspiration. i noticed that no matter how good a recipe sounded, if the picture wasn't aesthetically pleasing i didn't want to pin it, and i'm just so happy i found your blog. everything looks stunning && delicious and i can't wait to try every single recipe. just wanted to pass along the good vibes. consider me an avid reader now. <3

    1. Hi Christine, Thank you so much for the kind note! I'm so glad you found your way here. Pinterest is the best, isn't it? I'm a fan! Good vibes back atcha. :)

  7. I'm like "Yeaaaaaah! Horchata for life!" Disclaimer: although I visited Spain recently (they make a version with tigernuts), I have never in my life had a glass of horchata. Yet I already know I'll love it. After reading this recipe I have no more reason to not make some. Horchata, here I come!

    1. Yeah, horchata for life! :) Hope you love this as much as we do, Sini – I'll be so honored if you give it a go. I'll have to look up tigernuts – I've never heard of those and now I'm so curious!

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