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I made my abuela's champurrado recipe, and it's 10 times better than hot chocolate

Melissa Wells   

I made my abuela's champurrado recipe, and it's 10 times better than hot chocolate
Melissa's abuela (left) and Melissa (right) sipping champurrado.Melissa Wells/Business Insider
  • When the weather begins to chill, my Mexican abuela whips out her famous champurrado recipe.
  • This treasured recipe has been in our family for as long as I can remember.

You may know it as "sweater weather," but for my Mexican family, it's "cobija" or "blanket" weather, and when we're looking to warm up, we turn to our favorite sweet dessert beverage: champurrado.

Growing up, it was my abuela's tonic for cold weather and the better alternative to hot chocolate. Whether for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or just a chilly fall day, I knew champurrado was brewing the minute I stepped into the house and smelled cinnamon, clove, and piloncillo wafting through the air.

Since then, I have learned her tips and tricks for making the drink I now associate with our Mexican culture and my fondest memories with my abuelos.

I've kept some of our secret tips to myself, but here's the recipe for you to try and — trust me — once you make it, it will be too difficult to return to making your run-of-the-mill hot chocolate.

Here's what you need and how to make it.

Don't let the number of ingredients intimidate you.

Don
Ingredients to make champurrado.      Melissa Wells/Business Insider

For the recipe, you'll need:

  • 6-8 cups of 2% milk or water

  • 1 8-ounce piloncillo cone

  • 2 cinnamon sticks are preferred, but if not, use 2 teaspoons of cinnamon powder

  • 1 tablespoon of crushed cloves

  • 2 Nestle Abuelita Authentic Mexican Hot Chocolate Drink Tablets

  • ¾ cup of flour or corn masa

  • A splash of Mexican vanilla blend or vanilla extract equivalent

First, pour water or milk into a pot on the stove. Either works, but my abuela prefers milk for a thicker mixture.

First, pour water or milk into a pot on the stove. Either works, but my abuela prefers milk for a thicker mixture.
Melissa pours milk into a pot.      Melissa Wells/Business Insider

You'll need 6 to 8 cups of milk or water based on your preference. Pour those into a medium-sized pot.

Then you add a piloncillo cone. It provides a delicious caramelized flavor, making it a secret Mexican ingredient worth finding.

Then you add a piloncillo cone. It provides a delicious caramelized flavor, making it a secret Mexican ingredient worth finding.
Melissa puts in piloncillo, or a Mexican brown sugar cone.      Melissa Wells/Business Insider

For this recipe, you'll use an entire 8-ounce piloncillo cone. This ingredient is typically used as either a sweetener or a spice. Aside from traditional Mexican desserts like champurrado, it is used in flan, capirotada, and atole.

Piloncillo, often called Mexican brown sugar, is unrefined white sugar with molasses. It is made by boiling cane-sugar juice that is then poured into cone molds, before it cools and hardens.

Piloncillo isn't the easiest ingredient to track down, but it can be found at specialty Mexican grocery stores. In larger chain stores, there is a chance that piloncillo may be in the Mexican or international sections, or it can be bought online.

Then add a couple of cinnamon sticks — or a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon powder if you're in a pinch.

Then add a couple of cinnamon sticks — or a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon powder if you
Melissa drops cinnamon sticks into the milk mixture.      Melissa Wells/Business Insider

We typically use cinnamon sticks.

Although my abuela will usually eyeball how many cloves she adds, I would recommend about a tablespoon.

Although my abuela will usually eyeball how many cloves she adds, I would recommend about a tablespoon.
Melissa pours in cloves into the milk mixture.      Melissa Wells/Business Insider

In my experience, crushed cloves tend to work better. They can be added straight to the pot of milk or water.

Then, heat the ingredients over medium heat until the liquid comes to a boil.

Once the mixture has come to a boil, it's time to put in the chocolate tablets — and this Nestle Abuelita brand is key.

Once the mixture has come to a boil, it
Melissa shows the two Abuelita chocolate tabs she will put in the pot.      Melissa Wells/Business Insider

You'll need two Nestle Abuelita Authentic Mexican Hot Chocolate Drink Tablets for the recipe. Stir until the piloncillo and the tablets have melted into the milk mixture.

These round tablets of rich, thick chocolate feature hints of cinnamon and vanilla. Thankfully, they have become much more mainstream, so you will likely find them in large chain grocery stores, either in the hot-chocolate or Mexican aisles.

The next step is to add flour or corn masa to thicken the mixture, but toasting it first is what brings out the flavor.

The next step is to add flour or corn masa to thicken the mixture, but toasting it first is what brings out the flavor.
Melissa toasts 3/4 cup of flour in a separate pan.      Melissa Wells/Business Insider

Now it's time to toast your flour. Measure ¾ cup of flour into a medium-size pan on high heat and stir the flour around until it browns a little. This can take up to 15 minutes.

I would actually recommend using corn masa instead of flour if you have it, as it gives a sweeter, nutty depth of flavor.

This becomes a two-person job, as we must continue stirring the champurrado while mixing the flour on high heat.

This becomes a two-person job, as we must continue stirring the champurrado while mixing the flour on high heat.
As Melissa stirs the champurrado mixture, Melissa's abuela toasts the flour in the pan.      Melissa Wells/Business Insider

I stirred the milk mixture, while my abuela toasted the flour in a pan next to me.

Next, take a mug with 1 cup of cold water and ¼ of flour at a time and mix it with a spoon until smooth.

Next, take a mug with 1 cup of cold water and ¼ of flour at a time and mix it with a spoon until smooth.
The toasted flour goes into a cup of cold water.      Melissa Wells/Business Insider

You can't just add all the flour straight into the champurrado.

Instead, you need to mix the flour with cold water. This is very important: If the water is hot, or even lukewarm, you'll get clumps.

Then slowly scoop that mixture in spoonfuls into the champurrado. Repeat until you've used all of the flour.

Spoon the flour mixture in slowly as you mix the champurrado.

Spoon the flour mixture in slowly as you mix the champurrado.
Melissa's abuela spoons in the flour mix while Melissa stirs.      Melissa Wells/Business Insider

You should end up with a creamy, clump-free texture.

Lastly, add a splash of Mexican vanilla for flavor.

Lastly, add a splash of Mexican vanilla for flavor.
Melissa shows the Mexican vanilla blend she will put in the champurrado.      Melissa Wells/Business Insider

The last step is to add just a splash of Mexican vanilla or, in a pinch, vanilla extract.

If the mixture is too thick or too sweet for your liking, just add hot water.

If the mixture is too thick or too sweet for your liking, just add hot water.
Melissa pours hot water into the champurrado.      Melissa Wells/Business Insider

You should stir intermittently until it comes to a simmer.

Serve while hot, or store in the fridge and reheat in the microwave or over the stove.

Serve while hot, or store in the fridge and reheat in the microwave or over the stove.
Champurrado in a mug.      Melissa Wells/Business Insider

The collective experience of making the champurrado (as it is never a one-person job), pouring it into my favorite mug, and sipping it on a cold day is almost indescribable. It's like a warm hug.

Much like any special dish, it carries memories for me: memories of running in after school on a chilly day to see the big Mexican pot on the stove; memories of my cousins and I gathered around my abuela, sipping champurrado as she retold the stories of her childhood in el pueblo; and even now, making memories of learning how to toast the flour on my own … only to realize I forgot to turn on the stove and for my mom, abuela, and I to descend in a fit of laughter.

Champurrado is more than just the taste of thick chocolate and the aftertaste of vanilla, or the aroma of clove and cinnamon.

To me, it's what brings family together during my favorite time of the year. And, if you try it, it will surely have you wishing for cold weather every day.


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