Hot chocolate sweetened with Mexican piloncillo sugar and infused with Ceylon cinnamon. This recipe was created to evoke the flavors of the Mexican chocolate atole called champurrado. See the Notes section at the bottom for details on the ingredients, and possible substitutions.
Makes 1 quart
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch process)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt (or half this amount if using table salt)
1.5 ounces piloncillo (see notes)
1 quart whole milk
1/2 ounce good-quality Ceylon cinnamon sticks (see notes)
Optional substitution: Use 1/4 cup Mexican Sweet Blend in place of the piloncillo and Ceylon cinnamon sticks (see notes)
1. Whisk the cocoa powder, white sugar and salt together in a medium saucepan. Grate or chop the piloncillo and whisk it into the pan with the other ingredients. Add 1/4 cup of cold water and whisk to blend everything together. Turn heat to medium, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 1 minute stirring constantly.
2. Whisk the milk into the chocolate mixture and raise the heat to medium high. Add the cinnamon and whisk occasionally until the hot chocolate is piping hot and the piloncillo has fully melted into the chocolate, about 10-15 minutes. Don’t let it boil. Keep the pan partially covered whenever you’re not stirring, to prevent a skin from forming.
3. When the chocolate is piping hot (you see lots of steam and you have to blow on it when you taste it), remove from heat and serve.
I created this recipe for Christmas 2018. We debuted it at our town’s Christmas Tree Lighting event, which was taking place just across the street from our holiday pop-up shop. We wheeled a cart outside with this hot chocolate and some mulled apple cider for sale during the event. Everyone LOVED it, and we sold out immediately. And the next day, people came into the shop pleading with us to sell them the spices we used to make it.
The drink is sweetened with a combination of Mexican piloncillo and white sugar. Piloncillo is unrefined cane juice that’s been poured into a cone-shaped mold to harden. Because it’s unrefined, it’s got a more complex flavor than white sugar. The flavor is vaguely rum-like, slightly fruity with a hint of something like smokiness.
Unlike the standard American brown sugar (which is just white sugar doctored up with molasses), piloncillo comes by its brown color honestly. It’s simply made from the rough cane juice derived directly from the sugar cane plant.
A cone of piloncillo can be about as hard as a rock. To cook with it, you either grate the desired amount with a cheese grater, or whack off a chunk with a meat cleaver.
The cinnamon I used for this is Ceylon cinnamon (shown in the picture). It’s different from the cassia cinnamon we all grew up with in the US. It’s papery, and breaks easily in your hands, and has a hint of spiciness to it. If you’re familiar with the candy Red Hots or Hot Tamales, the “hot” part is Ceylon cinnamon.
I called this recipe “Champurrado-style” because the combination of piloncillo and Ceylon cinnamon in a chocolate drink evoke notions champurrado, a chocolate atole in Mexico.
This is one of those recipes where distinctive ingredients really give it its flavor, so if you can get your hands on actual piloncillo and Ceylon cinnamon, you’ll be glad you did (see links below). If you don’t have them, you can substitute turbinado sugar and cassia cinnamon sticks, though the flavor will of course be different.
We sprinkled Mexican Sweet Blend on top of the whipped cream - which is a combination of piloncillo and Ceylon cinnamon that we sell in a spoonable mixture at the shop. If you don’t have the blend, you can make your own by combining a pinch of good Ceylon cinnamon with a couple tablespoons of grated and pressed-down piloncillo.
And if, on the other hand, you happen to have a jar of Sweet Blend on hand but not the piloncillo and cinnamon by themselves, you can stir about 1/4 cup of Mexican Sweet Blend into the milk in Step 2 and go from there.
A sweet blend of Mexican flavors: piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar) and canela (Mexican cinnamon). Bake with it, sprinkle it over fruit, stir it into coffee or hot chocolate, or combine it with savory spices for a barbecue rub.