A crisp fall morning needs a soothing, hot drink to warm you up.
Mexico, having by reputation a hot climate, actually has some quite cool dawns — and the thick, satisfying hot drinks you need on days like that.
Imagine waking up in a cinderblock house, or a little hut built with sticks, with no heat source on a chilly morning. Instead of driving to work in a warm car, you walk to the bus stop ... or walk all the way there in the frigid air.
That’s when a delicious mug of atole, avena or champurrado hits the spot. They basically are hot milk or water thickened with a grain, flavored and sweetened.
They are common morning drinks in homes. They also are sold by street vendors and near public transportation stations to drink while on the run.
In remote communities, where factory-made disposable products aren’t used, you still can buy atole or champurrado in disposable mugs. They are made from clay, unglazed, and may be thrown on the roadside when the drink is finished. They disintegrate easily.
An easy way to make Mexican-style avena (oatmeal) is to make oatmeal the way you normally do, but use double the liquid, or slightly more. Pulverize the oatmeal by running dry oatmeal through a blender, or rubbing it through a colander. The warm oatmeal drink may be flavored with chocolate and cinnamon and sweetened with sugar or piloncillo (brown sugar cane).
Another common thickener is masa (hominy flour, found in most area grocery stores in the hispanic section). It is used to make champurrado, a chocolate-based atole. Chocolate and cinnamon are mixed in. Sometimes anise seed or vanilla bean are added, and less commonly, ground nuts, orange zest and egg.
You may have noticed a wooden whisk at the store. That’s called a molinillo (blender). It is placed in the drink, then the stalk is rolled between the palms of the hands to make the drink aerated and frothy.
The recipe below is for atole champurrado. You could make other versions of the drink by cooking with milk or a mixture of milk and water, and using in place of the masa cream of wheat or ground (or whole) oats. Like many common American breakfast foods, there’s no hard and fast rule for preparing the hot traditional drink. People just use what they have on hand.