Cooking Like A Mexican

Atole
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

January 6, is always special for Mexican kids.

Tradition tells of three wise men who made their way from the East, guided by the star of Bethlehem to visit the baby Jesus. But behind this tale  are many interesting facts that you probably want to know. Well, you’re going to read about them, because I think they are fascinating.

It is believed that the three wise men came from different continents, Africa, Asia and Europe, although it is likely that they were from Persia, now Iran. Another version says that the Magi represented the pagan religions of Asia, Africa and Europe, who come to Jesus in recognition of Christianity. But how could they do that when Jesus hadn’t begun Christianity yet?

There are stories that tell of four and twelve kings who visited Jesus, however, as determined by the most widespread version, there were three, because three gifts were presented in the manger: incense gold, and myrrh. All had great commercial value at the time. They were called magicians and sorcerers, and wise men of science. This is according to the gospel of Matthew which mentions the existence of wizards who searched the heavens for the star of Bethlehem, but does not specify how many wizards were searching those skies. Could explain why they were late, however. Traditionally it is said the Magi were guided by a star that appeared in the west, although other explanations claim that could have been Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky as seen from Earth, and even a comet.

The belief by Mexicans in the Magi emerged from San Francisco de Asis, who came over from Europe. It is now deeply rooted in Mexico. And here it was customary to mention the belt of Orion, made up of three stars, guiding the Magi on their way to their gift giving.

It is believed that Melchor, a white-bearded old man, Gaspar, a young blondie haired guy, and Baltasar, a middle aged guy, this one with dark skin, represent the three stages of man.

Legend or reality, the Kings have become part of Christmas traditions in various Spanish speaking countries, especially Mexico, where in addition to being seen as characters that reward children every Jan. 6 for good behavior during the year. We in México celebrate the day the three Magi brought presents to baby Jesus, as a day in which children get their Christmas presents. For a Mexican kid, the “Día de Reyes” (day of the kings), has much more importance than the Santa arrival on the night of December 24th. In México the children write their letters to the three Magi, asking for toys, and they tie them to a balloon and let it go to the sky. Also, they leave a shoe next to the Christmas tree filled with hay or grass for the Magi’s animals.

So the morning of January 6th the first thing they do is to run towards the tree to see if the Magi brought what they asked for. The tradition is that they open their presents first thing in the morning, and families get together in the evening to share a Rosca de Reyes, (king’s crown), a ring shaped sweet bread decorated with jewel like candied fruits. The ring of cake is supposed to look like a crown. Tiny figures of babies are hidden in the dough before baking. There is much excitement as each person cuts his or her own slice, for whoever gets a piece containing the baby is obliged to host another party on or before Candlemas, February 2nd,. This is when Mexico’s holiday season finally comes to an end. This tradition was brought to Mexico by the Spaniards and they got it from the Romans. Wherever the tradition comes from, the truth is that Mexican families really enjoy this, and most kids are more excited about this than they are about Santa.

To bake your own cake can be really fun, because you can share this activity with your children, I am sure that they would have lots of fun hiding the plastic babies into the raw dough and decorating it with the dry sweet fruit pieces. These decoration ingredients actually make them look like the jewels of a crown. Or a round fruit cake. If you feel too lazy for it, you can always buy yours, they will be available in every single bakery section at supermarkets, and even on some corners on the streets downtown. Usually it is served with hot chocolate (hot cocoa) but mainly with a nice cup of atole.

Atole is a traditional hot corn- and masa (corn dough)  based beverage of Mexican origin. The chocolate flavored atole is also known by Champurrado  It is typically accompanied with tamales, it is very common during breakfast and dinner time at any time of year. It is usually sold as street food and very popular during the Christmas holiday season and of course you cannot go without a hot glass of atole to go with your Rosca,

This drink typically includes the masa, water, coned brown unrefined cane  sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and optional chocolate or fruit. The mixture is blended and heated before serving. Atole is made by toasting masa on a  griddle, then adding water that was boiled with cinnamon sticks. The resulting blends vary in texture, ranging from a porridge to a very thin liquid consistency.

You do not have to do it the traditional way, because is kind of complicated, especially because of all the ingredients it takes, but I have for you  the easy, fast, and delicious way to make your atole.

Just go to the supermarket, or the closest corner store and ask for a little pack (sobre) of “maizena” it is cornstarch actually but it comes under that brand. They come is several flavors, they are all delicious, and one little pack is good for 4 cups.

The instructions are very easy:

Boil 3 cups of milk (if you use one pack, if you use 2  then use 6 liters of milk and so on), put a cinnamon stick that will give it a more pleasant taste, previously dissolve the cornstarch into a cup of cold milk and then add it to the boiling milk, for last ad the amount of sugar you will like. Do not stop moving it or it will sure as hell stick to your pot. If you think it is too thick you can add a little more milk or water.

The proper consistency is like melted ice cream (more or less).  ,