Keep warm and cozy with a thick and creamy mug of Mexican Atole! This traditional drink is made with masa harina, piloncillo, cinnamon, and vanilla is perfect to enjoy during the winter and around the holidays.
There’s nothing better than a sip of warm atole while eating a concha (Mexican sweet bread). Yum! Full of comforting flavors like vanilla and cinnamon, this thick and creamy Mexican drink made with masa harina will warm you right up and prepare you for the day.
This family-friendly Mexican drink is perfect for both kids and adults. Pour a big batch of atole in a thermos, and head out for a chilly winter walk. It’ll keep you warm and full throughout the day or night!
What is atole?
Atole (pronounced ah-toh-leh) is a traditional Mexican drink that’s thickened with masa harina (the same corn flour that’s used to make corn tortillas) and sweetened with piloncillo, cinnamon, and vanilla. It’s often enjoyed in chilly weather because it’s thick and creamy enough to warm you up on those cold nights.
It’s traditionally served during Mexican celebrations like Day of the Dead, Las Posadas, Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), Navidad (Christmas), New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day!
This drink was historically made with just water, but over time, the recipe was switched to include both water and milk to make it even creamier.
Pair your atole with some sweet tamales for a filling dessert or late night snack!
What’s the difference between atole and champurrado?
Just think of champurrado as the chocolate version of atole. Made with almost all of the same ingredients as atole, champurrado has the addition of melted chocolate! Try champurrado when you’re craving something sweet or as an alternative to regular hot chocolate.
- Milk – Using whole milk is best since it provides a thicker and creamier texture and flavor, but you can use 2% if you prefer.
- Piloncillo – This caramel-like and sweet cone of unrefined sugar is used in tons of Mexican baking recipes. If you’ve never used piloncillo before, read all about it here.
- Cinnamon stick – Try to use Mexican cinnamon for the best and most authentic flavor. It can be found in large bunches in Hispanic grocery stores. If you can’t find any near you, look for ceylon cinnamon sticks in the regular spice aisle.
- Masa harina – This Mexican staple and necessary ingredient when making corn tortillas is made from dried maize corn that’s soaked in a special lime mixture. You can usually find masa harina in large grocery stores (I typically buy the Maseca brand), but if not, head to your local Hispanic specialty store.
- Water – Mixing masa harina with warm water creates the atole’s signature thick texture.
- Flavor – Vanilla extract and salt will bring out all of the delicious flavors in this cozy drink.
How to make atole
First, heat the milk, piloncillo, and cinnamon stick over low-medium heat in a saucepan on the stove until the piloncillo melts. Make sure to frequently stir the mixture to make sure the piloncillo and milk don’t burn or stick to the bottom of the pot.
Second, discard the cinnamon stick. If it has broken up into pieces, pour the milk mixture through a strainer to remove any pieces. Mexican cinnamon (and Ceylon cinnamon) are more fragile than cassia cinnamon so it’s normal for the pieces to break.
Third, whisk the masa harina and water in a small bowl until it’s smooth. This is the mixture that will help thicken the atole and give it it’s signature yet subtle sweet corn flavor.
Fourth, add the masa harina mixture along with vanilla extract and salt to the saucepan with the milk mixture. Whisk to combine.
Last but not least, bring the mixture up to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Whisk it frequently while it cooks for around 30 minutes.
You’ll know the atole is ready when the mixture is creamy, smooth and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon without too much pouring off. If the atole still isn’t smooth, keep whisking!
Serve in a mug with an extra hit of cinnamon and enjoy!
Tips, Tricks, and Substitutions
- Low heat. Heat the milk mixture over low-medium heat to keep it from burning.
- Keep on whisking. Whisking the atole often while it’s cooking will create a smooth and velvety texture. Give the mixture a taste – if it’s a little grainy, continue whisking until it becomes smooth.
- Make it vegan! Replace the milk with the creamiest dairy-free plant milk, like almond, pea, or oat milk.
- Can’t find piloncillo? You can use 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar instead.
Storing and Reheating
To store, keep the finished and cooled atole in the fridge for up to 2 days. The longer it sits, the thicker it will become.
To reheat, add a splash of milk or water to the atole first. Give it a good stir, then heat it up in the microwave or on the stovetop. Add more liquid until the thickness is to your liking.
More Mexican drink recipes
- Add milk, piloncillo, and cinnamon stick to a medium saucepan or pot. Heat over low-medium heat until the piloncillo has completely dissolved. Stir frequently to make sure the milk and piloncillo don’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan.
- Remove and discard the cinnamon stick, using a strainer if it has broken into pieces.
- In a small bowl, add warm water and masa harina. Whisk together until smooth.
- Add the masa harina mixture, vanilla extract, and salt to the saucepan. Whisk to combine.
- Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for 25-30 minutes until thick, creamy, velvety, and smooth. The atole should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Serve and garnish with a touch of ground cinnamon or a cinnamon stick.
- Don’t have piloncillo? You can use 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar instead.
- Milk: Using whole milk is best since it provides a thicker and creamier texture and flavor, but you can use 2% as well if you prefer. You can also use almond milk to make this drink dairy-free.
- Temperature: Make sure to heat the milk mixture over low-medium heat to ensure that the milk doesn’t burn.
- Don’t forget to whisk! Make sure to whisk vigorously throughout the whole process to help get the drink as smooth and velvety smooth as possible. The atole should not be grainy. If it’s still a little grainy, continue whisking for a few minutes until it becomes smooth.