Atole (ah-TOH-leh) is a thick, hearty, maize-based hot drink native to Mexico and Central America, where it is consumed as a breakfast drink or sipped as a comforting warm-up food during cold weather occasions such as the late-night festivities of Day of the Dead, the December holidays, and at funeral wakes. Atole is often given to children or the elderly as a vital, easy-to-eat nutritional supplement.
In its original, pre-Spanish Conquest form, this maize beverage was prepared with water, but nowadays it's prepared with water, milk or a combination of both, and it's still made and served in the traditional way. Atole is very frequently paired with tamales to make a filling, spirit-lifting breakfast, snack, or late dinner.
Although it has traditionally been made only with ground maize, nowadays it is sometimes prepared with rice or wheat flour, and sweetened with piloncillo (but sugar or honey can also be used). The drink is often seasoned with aromatic elements such as cinnamon, vanilla, anise, cacao, or chocolate, or mixed with a fruit puree to make atole de sabor (flavored atole).
- 3 cups water (or whole milk)
1 cone piloncillo, or 5 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/3 cup masa harina
- 1/4 cup warm water
ground cinnamon, or 1 cinnamon stick
Mexican vanilla extract, or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
Gather the ingredients.
Heat water or milk in a medium-sized saucepan and add the piloncillo or sugar; cook and stir until sweetener is dissolved. If using piloncillo, keep the heat on low to medium because this cane sugar-based sweetener tends to burn fast, giving your atole a burnt taste. If using milk, use low heat to avoid a quick boil and spillage.
Create the masa harina slurry by blending the masa harina with the 1/4 cup warm water. Stir vigorously to avoid clumps of cornflour.
Add the masa harina slurry, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt to the pot. Stir for 1 minute.
Bring to a simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for 20 to 25 minutes until thickened to the preferred consistency. Atole should be thick, creamy, and velvety, without lumps.
Remove cinnamon stick and vanilla bean, if using.
Pour into rustic clay mugs if you have them, or use thick ceramic glasses.
Cool Down Before Sipping
- Although you can sip atole from a mug, some people serve it in a bowl with a spoon, as it tends to stay very hot when not stirred. Either way, sip it carefully, stirring often with a spoon.
- Make sure children’s portions have been poured 20 minutes before serving them to the kids and are cooled down to a comfortable warm temperature.
- To make fruit-flavored atole, stir 1/2 cup of pureed fruit into the mixture while cooking. Fruits commonly used for this purpose in Mexico include strawberries, guava, pineapple, blackberries, plums, and mangoes.
- The drink is sometimes made with cacao. This Mexican chocolate-flavored atole is known as champurrado.
- Cooks in some areas of central and southern Mexico prepare savory atole known as chileatole. Instead of piloncillo and fruit, it contains hot peppers, spices or herbs such as epazote, and corn kernels, and it is more a soup than a beverage.