Saturday, 20 April 2013

Atole blanco (plain atole)

Well, all my chile plants are dead, so I found a half-hour to get back into the kitchen. I decided to cook plain atole, or atole blanco, for three reasons:
  • It's quick
  • I'm running low on masa harina (can't get out to Lupe Pinto's until baby can stay quiet for more than ten minutes)
  • I wasn't that impressed by the chocolate-flavoured atole I made over Christmas, so I wanted to try the more basic version
First a recap: atole is a traditional Mexican hot drink made of white corn (surprise).

The name comes from Nahuatl atolli, which probably means "corn and water", the main ingredients. You can think of it as a drinkable corn porridge, and it's very comforting and delicious.

Originally prehispanic (it was described in the writings of the conquistadors), it has modernized considerably and evolved into many variations.

The most famous is probably champurrado, the chocolate version. When I say I wasn't impressed with it, it's because champurrado tastes like Mexican hot chocolate, which is easier to make than atole, since you don't have to add masa harina.

There are also any number of fruit-flavoured versions, and even some savoury, spicy ones. I'm particularly keen to try one with epazote and serrano chiles.

But this time I made a simple sweet atole lightly flavoured with star anise.

The most traditional recipes say you have to make atole from white corn slowly cooked in water until it gets soft.

This is as opposed to nixtamalized corn, which is corn soaked in slaked lime until the outer hulls come off.

On the other hand, some modern recipes and blogs suggest people are making atole with corn flour (cornstarch to North Americans) now.

I went in between and used a simple corn tortilla dough made from equal quantities masa harina and hand-hot water. It's a great thing to make when you haven't got quite enough masa harina left to make a batch of tortillas.
Atole blanco
600 ml hot water
70 g masa (70 g masa harina and 70 ml hot water)
A one-ounce cone of piloncillo (you can substitute dark brown sugar, molasses or treacle, or even plain white caster sugar)
A star anise
Put the hot water in a pot with the piloncillo and anise.
Simmer gently until the piloncillo has melted.
Add 70 g masa harina to 70 ml hot water and mix until just combined.
Then put the masa dough into a blender with a couple ladlefuls of the sweetened water and blend until smooth.
Add the masa mixture to the pot and stir it up.
Now just let it cook over the lowest possible heat for about five minutes until it thickens.
¡Y provecho!
A lot of flavoured atoles are made with milk. I used water for a more prehispanic touch, but milk would definitely work in this recipe.

I only used one cone of piloncillo because I just wanted a hint of sweetness, but you could up the sugar if you want to.

And if you're not keen on aniseed you can season your atole with anything you want (within reason). Cinnamon and/or vanilla are the classic choices.

Or just leave the beautiful white corn flavour to speak for itself.

Atole is the traditional accompaniment to tamales, but I could go a steaming hot cup of this on any cold morning (and we had a lot of those until recently).

I would also rather eat this than normal porridge or oatmeal any day of the week. But that's what makes me MexiGeek.

Now, I didn't take any photos of this atole, but I did make a video.

It's not quite the video I set out to make (the audio sucked so I had to reinvent it as a silent movie), but it's pretty good for something I edited mostly between 23.30 and 0.59 with a six-week-old baby in one arm.