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  • Writer's pictureCulinary Cam

Atole de Pinole y Vainilla for Día de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos is a holiday that is less about scary ghouls and more about friendly ghosts. And, despite the painted faces and ubiquitous skulls, this is a celebration of remembrance. It's believed that at midnight on October 31st, the souls of all deceased children come down from heaven and reunite with their loved ones on November 1st; it's November 2nd for the souls of deceased adults. The holiday is a joyful one, filled with the hope that they can connect with the loved ones they have lost.

According to the Aztec mythology, Mictlan, the world of the dead, is a beautiful place to be. The animated movie Coco depicted this holiday in a visually appealing way with bridges of marigold petals and vibrant colors. As in Coco, the Día de los Muertos festivities include a trip to the cemetery where families pack picnics and play music to celebrate the lives of those who are no longer on this Earth.

Atole (pronounced ah-TOH-leh) is a traditional Mexican drink - dating back to the time of the Aztecs and Mayans - made from masa harina, the type of corn flour used to make corn tortillas. This one is warm, spicy, and oh so tasty!


makes 4 servings

  • 3 to 4 ounces piloncillo (substitute brown sugar needed) - if using Pinole Azul, skip the piloncillo

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 3 cup milk (I use whole milk)

  • 1/2 cup masa harina (blue is preferred) or Pinole Azul, if you have it

  • 1 whole vanilla bean, sliced and scraped

  • 1 cinnamon stick + more for serving, if desired

  • pinch of ground cinnamon

  • pinch of ground cardamom

  • pinch of ground sweet paprika

  • pinch of black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, if you want a more pronounced vanilla flavor


In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine piloncillo and water. Warm slowing, stirring occasionally, until piloncillo is completely melted. Whisk in milk, masa harina, vanilla bean seeds, and spices until masa is dissolved and well-incorporated into the piloncillo mixture.

Stir in the split vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. If using, whisk in the vanilla extract at this point. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue stirring frequently for 20 minutes or so. The mixture will be thickened. You can strain it through a sieve, but I usually just whisk it really well.

Pour into serving mugs. I usually use espresso cups and offer multiple refills. If desired, add a cinnamon stick so diners can keep stirring the lumps out as they drink.

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