It's hard to complain about the 70-degree Phoenix winters, especially while a good portion of the country digs out from piles of snow and exposes their flesh to frostbite. But you know what? I'm going to. I used to be a hot chocolate-loving member of society, guzzling cup after cup of steaming Abuelita chocolate, greedily dunking cookies into its milky embrace. I blame the weather for the break in my addiction.
Thinking about the hot cocoa of days gone by reminds me that it might just be possible -- with windows wide open on a relatively cool Phoenix night, heat turned off, and a wooly pair of socks on -- to feel cold enough to turn on the stove and whip up a batch of thick champurro.
A water-based cocoa drink thickened with a toasted flour slurry, fragrantly spiced and served warm, champurro is the wheat-based northern cousin of champurrado, a pre-Columbian beverage thickened with corn dough. If there is one running theme in northern Mexican food versus southern Mexican food, it is this: We can do everything you can do with corn, but with wheat, and we can, ahem, do it better.
5 cups + 1 ½ cups water ½ cup unbleached all purpose flour ½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder 3 piloncillo cones 2-piece piece of Mexican cinnamon, broken into pieces 1 star anise ½ teaspoon of salt 2 cloves
Bring the 5 cups of water to a boil with the piloncillo and spaces. Simmer until the sugar cones are completely dissolved. In the meantime, toast the flour until lightly golden over medium heat on a dry skillet, moving constantly so it does not burn. Allow the flower to cool completely, then whisk into 1.5 cups of cold water. Once the flour is fully incorporated, add the cocoa powder and salt. My personal preference is for Valrhona cocoa powder, but use any fragrant, intensely dark unsweetened cocoa powder of your choosing.
With the sweetened water simmering lightly, slowly pour in the flour/chocolate mixture, whisking continuously. Cook until the the liquid has thickened, and strain into serving cups.
For some variations on this recipe, infuse the sweetened water with a few strips of orange zest, or flavor with a teaspoon of vanilla extract, added in with the flour/chocolate mixture. Champurro is best consumed freshly made, as it acquires a pudding like consistency when cold, but does reheat nicely with gentle heat.
Minerva Orduño Rincón dreams of a day when Mexican cuisine begins to get the respect it rightfully deserves, a goal she trying to help along with Muñeca Mexicana handcrafted food. Until then, you can find her at a kitchen near you.
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