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Horchata

The unexpected allure of lime peel and cinnamon—flowers and spice—brings an elegant finish to this chilled, creamy nondairy drink.
difficulty:
yield:

About 6 cups

time:

10 minutes to make and overnight to chill

To make Horchata Rum Punch, increase the sugar to ¾ cup, omit the milk, and add 1 cup of heavy cream and add 5 ounces of estate dark rum to the strained horchata in the pitcher. Ahhhhhh.

introduction

Sublimely light, icy, and frothy, horchata is the most refreshing summer cooler imaginable, concocted, improbably, from rice, almonds, sugar, and water. You’d never guess. You might also never guess that horchata is primordial, tracing its pedigree directly to the Persian tradition of crafting drinks from seeds and nutmeats. Horchata was originally made with ground gourd seeds and water—we’re guessing our version is a lot better. The rice and almonds used here—steeped, pulverized, and whipped into a frenzy—combine to create a texture unlike anything else: creamy yet fresh and clean-tasting. Beyond quaffable.

Cooking Remarks

Horchata is traditionally made with whole rice kernels pounded in a metate—a rectangular, contoured stone used in Mexico and other Mesoamerican cultures to grind seeds and grain by hand. In the modern world, whole rice kernels are hell on your grinder, blender, or food processor. By using freshly milled, fragrant rice flour, as we do here, that particular sticking point can be avoided.

As for the almonds, we made two batches of this drink, one with whole, new crop organic almonds (which we had to blanch and peel) and one with generic supermarket blanched, slivered almonds. As you might expect, the supermarket almonds didn’t make as elegant a brew, but they’re no deal breaker—and they do make the entire proposition easier to contemplate when you’re on the fly.

Traditionally, horchata is a dairyfree beverage. We like the fullness a single cup of milk provides, but the drink is superb without it. We exhort those of you who are making Horchata Rum Punch (at right), however, to add the dairy called for—in this case, heavy cream.

Another thing: Don’t skip the salt. The drink tastes flat without it.

equipment mise en place

For this recipe, you will need a sharp vegetable peeler; food processor; a large bowl; a whisk; a teakettle for boiling water; a medium ladle; a blender; a chinois (or, if you have no chinois, a large very fine-mesh strainer or other strainer lined with cheesecloth); a second large, deep bowl; and a chilled serving pitcher.

    • 6
      ounces (1½ cups) blanched almonds, whole or slivered
    • 2.5
    • 4
      ounces (9 tablespoons) sugar
    • ¼
      teaspoon fine sea salt
    • 6
      cups spring or filtered water
    • 3
      cinnamon sticks (it helps if they’re fresh and fragrant), plus additional cinnamon sticks for garnish (optional)
    • 2
      strips lime zest, removed with a sharp vegetable peeler, plus additional zest strips for garnish (optional)
    • 2 or 3
      drops almond extract (no more!)
    • 8
      ounces (1 cup) whole milk (optional)
    • Ice
  1.  

    Turn the almonds into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until fine, about twenty 1-second pulses. Transfer to a large bowl, then whisk in the rice flour, sugar, and salt. Set aside.

  2.  

    Bring 3 cups of the water to a boil in a teakettle. Pour the water over the dry ingredients and stir for a few minutes with the whisk or a wooden spoon. Add the cinnamon sticks, lime zest strips, and almond extract. Add the remaining 3 cups of cool water and stir to combine. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

  3.  

    Remove the bowl from the refrigerator and stir the liquid briefly to bring up particles that have settled on the bottom. Fish out and discard the cinnamon sticks and transfer half the liquid to a blender jar. Set up a chinois, large fine-mesh strainer, or cheesecloth-lined strainer over a large, deep bowl. In the blender, process the horchata on high speed until smooth and pour it through the chinois. Push down firmly on the sediment that collects in the strainer to extract all the liquid. Discard the dryish grounds. Repeat with the remaining horchata.

  4.  

    Add the milk, if using, and pour the horchata into a chilled pitcher. Serve over ice, garnished with a cinnamon stick or strip of lime zest, if desired.