Happy iced coffee season! (Throws confetti in the air.) It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Brew a big batch and stock up your fridge stat, stat, stat. If the coffee’s hot, I opt for black. But if it’s cold, I want something milky and creamy to smooth things out, lighten things up. The obvious choice is, well, milk. Or a non-dairy milk, like soy or almond. But this season, I’ll be turning to another favorite:
Horchata. This milky drink is popular in Mexico and throughout Latin America, as well as Spain. The specifics vary by the location, but the Mexican variety is often made with rice and cinnamon. It can be made with a slew of other ingredients, too, from oats to coconut. Sometimes nuts get involved. In any case, it’s rich and sweet and refreshing, all at the same time. We love it simply over ice. But especially stirred into iced coffee for the happiest mornings.
I started with the recipe from Paletas by Fany Gerson and built from there. Instead of using white rice, I used brown, which adds nuttiness and a lil’ something-something I really love. Also, instead of using white sugar, I used brown, for its rich color and malty-toffee flavor. Gerson’s recipe calls for “1 cup sugar, or more if needed.” I halved that amount and found it plenty sweet. But it’s worth noting, I prefer things less sweet. Start with 1/2 cup, taste, and go from there. I also added some salt because always.
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Here’s how to do it: Basically, you grind up rice in a blender until it’s practically flour. Some recipes skip this step, but it really comes in handy later on. This rice gets soaked in water—with a cinnamon stick—for several hours. Then that whole mixture gets blended together. Finally, you add some sugar and another liquid to round things out. But what kind of liquid is the real question.
Gerson writes: “Some are made with water, while others use whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, or evaporated milk, or even a combination of milks in addition to the water or in place of it.” She prefers whole milk for the “thicker and creamier mouthfeel.”
I’m all about that—especially if I’m making horchata with iced coffee in mind—but I also liked the idea of keeping this dairy-free. In that spirit, our options are: soy milk, nut milk (like almond, cashew, or hazelnut), or even rice milk (so meta, right?). When I was developing this recipe, I also just happened to be writing about cashew milk—heck of a lot easier than I thought it would be!—so I figured, why not try cashew? And it turned out to be my favorite—with a cereal milk vibe, just like Cinnamon Toast Crunch. You could do the same or swap in store-bought. Or whatever strikes your fancy. It’ll still be horchata. And it’ll still be great.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing stories about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now, she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter.