Mexican Atole de Vainilla with Masa Harina
Warm, cozy, and comforting, my recipe for Mexican Atole de Vainilla is the simple, portable breakfast you need in your life. Made with just five ingredients – masa harina (the nixtamalized corn flour used for making tamale dough and corn tortillas), milk, piloncillo, vanilla, and cinnamon – this traditional beverage tastes like horchata and Cream of Wheat had a love child.
I’ll never forget a trip to Puerto Vallarta when I first saw atole de vainilla in a beautiful Mexican olla de barro (clay pot). To this day, I swear that a mug of atole can catapult me back to that beautiful vacation; even my son says that “atole tastes like Mexico!” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Take yourself on a mini staycation with this creamy and filling beverage recipe.
What is Atole?
Atole (pronounced “ah-TOE-lay”) is a traditional and ancient hot corn-based beverage that pre-dates the Spanish conquest of Central America. The name atole is derived from Nahuatl “atolli,” which means “diluted” or “watered down,” which makes sense when you consider that it is basically a thin, drinkable porridge.
Atole is a traditional Mexican beverage thickened with the cornflour known as masa harina and served warm. Warm atole is the quintessential cold-weather breakfast or post-dinner drink, best served with sweet tamales and chilly mornings. Atole is often associated with fall and winter holidays like Las Posadas, Dia de Muertos, and Navidad.
While the original, traditional recipes for atole were made with just water, over time people started adding milk to make this creamy beverage even dreamier. NOTE: If you are vegan, you can very easily make Mexican atole de vainilla with your favorite plant-based milk substitute.
There are all types of atoles that can be made with different grains, non-dairy milk, or different flavorings. This atole de vainilla (also sometimes referred to as atole blanco de leche) is one of the more popular versions, but you can skip down to the “Optional Variations” section for even more inspiration.
About This Recipe
This particular iteration of the lauded beverage has a flavor profile that is very similar to the creamy cinnamon-rice drink known as horchata, but with a consistency that is closer to a thin batch of oat bran or Cream of Wheat.
While the recipe technically takes just under an hour to complete, only about 15 minutes of that are active time. To get a jump on your morning, I suggest making the sweetened cinnamon tea the night before; if you do, this is easily a recipe you can pull off on any regular weekday.
Once you see how easy it is to make Mexican-style atole de maiz, I have a feeling you’ll start making this hearty beverage on the regular. Not only is it utterly delicious, but this drinkable porridge is also pretty darn healthy! With only about 155 calories per serving and with a decent amount of calcium, potassium, vitamin A, and magnesium, this is a breakfast you can feel good about.
You can also feel free to customize your atole to your liking. I have listed several ideas in the section titled “Optional Variations” to get your creative wheels turning.
This delicious atole recipe calls for just a handful of ingredients. Here’s everything you’ll need:
- Water – Since the water is an integral part of the recipe and not just for boiling, I suggest using filtered water for the best (and healthiest!) results.
- Piloncillo – Pronounced “peel-on-SEE-yo,” this is an unrefined whole cane sugar that is often sold in cones. You should have no problem finding it at your local international market or Mexican supermercado. You can also substitute dark brown sugar if you prefer.
- Masa Harina – At this point, nearly every grocery store I’ve visited has this integral Mexican ingredient. If you are allergic to corn, note that atole can also be made with other grains like oatmeal or rice.
- Whole Milk – I prefer the rich, creamy mouthfeel of whole milk, but you can use any percentage of dairy milk that you like or have on hand. If you are dairy-free or vegan, simply swap in your favorite plant-based milk substitute.
- Vanilla Beans – I encourage you to use real vanilla bean to make this drink. The pretty black specks let you know this is something extra special, and it makes a world of difference in flavor. I can honestly say it is worth the splurge! If you don’t have vanilla beans on hand, feel free to swap in 1-2 tablespoons of vanilla extract or vanilla paste.
- Cinnamon – I use a cinnamon stick (canela) to steep in the cooking water, which adds an extra dimension of spice. I also like to use ground cinnamon as a garnish. While you don’t have to double up on the spice, I definitely recommend that you do! If you don’t have cinnamon sticks on hand, try using a bag of herbal cinnamon tea.
How to Make
In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil with the cinnamon stick and piloncillo. Remove from the heat, cover, and let the cinnamon stick steep and sugar dissolve for about 30 minutes.
Make-Ahead Tip: This sweetened cinnamon tea can be made up to a week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.
Remove the cinnamon stick, return water to low heat, and slowly add the masa harina, whisking (or froth with a molinillo) until combined. Add milk and vanilla bean with seeds. Heat over medium until *just* boiling.
Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, whisking occasionally, for about 20 minutes.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve immediately.
Atoles actually come in many styles and flavors. While I love this traditional cinnamon-vanilla recipe, there are plenty of other options for you to customize this filling drink! Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Add chocolate to your atole to make it a champurrado.
- Use oatmeal instead of masa harina to make Atole de Avena.
- You can also use other grains like rice or amaranth to make atole.
- Flavor it with fruits like coconut, pineapple, strawberry, or guava.
- Add nuts like hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts to give more flavor and texture.
- Play with spices like cloves, nutmeg, or ginger to add even more flavor.
Did you come up with the best new atole recipe that ever was? Let me know in the comments below, or tag me in your Instagram posts so I can cheer you on!
Frequently Asked Questions
Sure! The mixture will continue to thicken as it cools and sits, so you may need to add a little water or milk while reheating it. The atole will keep in a covered container in the fridge for up to 2 days. Reheat in a saucepan or microwave until the desired temperature is reached.
Heck yeah, it is! If you happen to like sweetened corn-based breakfast cereals like Corn Pops, then it seems like a very small leap to get you to liking the corn-based drink known as atole. Think of it sort of like a thin pudding made out of cereal milk and served hot. YUM!
Absolutely! In fact, the original way of making atole didn’t call for any milk and only used water. We add milk nowadays because we can and it makes things super creamy, but there is no law that you have to. Feel free to swap in your favorite non-dairy milk, or simply opt to make it with water instead.
It sure is! Masa harina is made with corn, which is naturally gluten-free. The most widely available brand of masa harina known as Maseca is also certified gluten-free.
One note to keep in mind, though – oftentimes stores will keep regular wheat flour on the same shelf as masa and the paper bags aren’t great at holding either in entirely. Be careful about cross-contamination at the store if you are indeed a celiac, or opt for a brand that comes in a sealable plastic pouch such as King Arthur.
More Cozy Mexican Drink Recipes
If you made my recipe for Mexican Atole de Vainilla, please be sure to rate and review it below! For more yummy Mexican inspiration, be sure to follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook. You can also get all of my newest content delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for my email newsletter. Until next time, adios amigos!
Atole de Vainilla
- In a large saucepan bring water to a boil with the cinnamon stick and piloncillo. Remove from the heat, cover, and let the cinnamon stick steep and sugar dissolve for about 30 minutes.
- Remove the cinnamon stick, return water to low heat, and slowly add the masa harina, whisking until combined. Add milk and vanilla bean with seeds.
- Heat over medium heat just until boiling.
- Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, whisking occasionally, about 20 minutes.
- Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve immediately.