Why It Works
- Using masa harina para tortillas (finely ground masa) allows for the smoothest atole.
- You have control of the thickness and sweetness of the atole by adjusting the amount of water and sugar.
- Large strips of orange zest infuse the atole quickly.
Mexican atoles, hot drinks thickened with corn, are a luxurious (and ancient) tradition, and an interesting alternative to hot cocoa. Sometimes spelled atol, they are made by cooking ground field corn (not the sweet corn we eat on the cob) in water to form a thick, hot beverage. This recipe uses finely ground masa harina, because it instantly rehydrates in water.
Different versions of atole can be found all over Mexico, including fruit flavors like blackberry and pineapple. Champurrado, the chocolate-flavored one, was my gateway atole. This peanut-flavored version is heavenly too.
Here, orange zest is added to infuse the atole with a bright citrus scent.
The process is essentially the same as for other atoles, with the orange zest acting as the flavoring. (I include a lot of extra details in my champurrado recipe on how to put atoles together.) If you have it, a little star anise adds more depth and warm-spice flavor, but this is also good with just plain orange.
It doesn't take long for the orange flavor to infuse into the atole. I thin this one a little more than the champurrado and peanut flavors—there's just something about the lightness of the orange flavor that made me want it to be a little less dense and creamy.
Once you've mastered these flavors, feel free to experiment. The method is basically the same—what flavor do you want to sip while gazing through a window at the snow falling outside?
- 1/2 cup masa harina para tortillas
- 3 cups water, plus more as needed, divided (see note)
- 1 cup milk
- 3 (1-inch) strips orange zest from 1 large orange
- 2 star anise pods (optional)
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar (see note)
- Kosher salt
- Finely grated orange zest, for garnish
In a large saucepan, add masa and set over medium heat. Immediately add water in a slow, thin stream while whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Bring to a simmer and whisk in milk, orange zest strips, star anise (if using), brown sugar, and a generous pinch of salt.
Return to a simmer and lower heat to low. Continue to simmer gently, whisking constantly, until drink is infused with the orange aroma, about 5 minutes. Discard orange zest strips and star anise pods. Thin with additional water, as needed, to create a thick-yet-drinkable hot beverage (the exact consistency is a matter of personal taste, see note), reheating as necessary. Taste, adding more sugar or salt if desired. Froth with a whisk or immersion blender, then ladle into mugs, garnish with grated orange zest and serve.
Exactly how much water and sugar you add will determine the final consistency and sweetness of the drink. This recipe produces a fairly thick, rich drink that is mildly sweet. You can add more water and sugar if you want a thinner, sweeter version.