Atole is perhaps best known as a traditional Mexican beverage made from masa (cornmeal), water, brown sugar, sweet spices and sometimes chocolate or fruit. In New Mexico however, atole more commonly refers to a finely ground cornmeal made from blue corn or the porridge derived from it. Blue corn chips are pretty common these days, but since blue corn is native to the region, it finds its way into many traditional New Mexican dishes. Enchiladas made with blue corn tortillas are about as authentically New Mexican as you can get. Unlike regular cornmeal, blue corn atole is ground so fine that it resembles flour. In that respect, it can be used in place of flour in virtually any kind of bread or baked good except, ironically, for blue corn tortillas; for that coarser ground blue cornmeal is used (although, I suppose you could get creative and mix a little blue corn atole with some flour and make blue corn-flour tortillas!)
In New Mexico, blue corn atole is mixed with hot water to make a very austere beverage that is traditionally consumed by the elderly (for energy) and the sick (for its reputed healing qualities.) It is often served for breakfast much like cream of wheat. A plain, grayish porridge made from just water and atole doesn’t exactly sound like the most appetizing food in the world. In fact, Huntley Dent, author of The Feast of Santa Fe found it to be so awful that, although he writes about it for the sake of providing a comprehensive look at New Mexican cuisine, he makes a specific point of not providing a recipe. However, neither Robert nor his mom seems to think that this beverage is particularly bad. Perhaps it is a taste acquired only by those born in New Mexico. Perhaps the sentimental memory of being home sick on a cold day improves the taste. Or, maybe Robert and his mom are just pulling my leg. I’m dubious but curious. Next time I am sick, I’m going to try it (I’ll just keep a bottle of honey or cocoa powder nearby in case it needs a little something.)
For my first experiment with blue corn atole, I decided to go with a much less risky choice: pancakes! Inspired the blue corn atole & piñon pancakes that I had at Tecolote Café in Santa Fe, I set out to make my own version. Using a basic buttermilk pancake recipe as my base, I simply replaced half of the flour with blue corn atole and then threw in a handful of toasted pine nuts. I used plain yogurt thinned with a little milk in place of the buttermilk because that’s what I had on hand. Also, because I prefer my pancakes thin and crispy as opposed to fluffy and cakey, I added more liquid than the recipe called for. They were super easy and delicious! The pine nuts added a special texture and richness while the subtle earthy flavor of the blue corn atole proved to be the perfect foil for plenty of warm maple syrup. The atole also gave these pancakes a pretty lavender hue. What a fun twist on pancakes!
Blue Corn Atole-Piñon Pancakes
1 cup blue corn atole
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter, plus more for greasing the skillet
1/2 cup toasted piñon (pine nuts)
Combine the atole, flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter. Stir until just combined, taking care not to over mix (it is fine if the batter has some lumps.) Gently stir in the pine nuts.
Heat a skillet, pan, or griddle to medium-hot and brush with a bit of butter. Pour about 1/3 of a cup of batter into the skillet and quickly spread with the back of spoon into a 4- to 5-inch round. When the pancake is deep golden on the bottom, flip with a spatula and cook the other side until golden and cooked through. Place on a baking sheet in a 200-degree oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter.
Serve with butter and plenty of warm maple syrup.