We are currently in the midst of a heat wave in Brussels. Temperatures have been hovering around 30 degrees for so long I am slowly running out of work-appropriate clothes to wear in this weather. Not that I am complaining. While I may not be cut out for the months and months of 30(+) degree weather I suffered (and sweated) through when I lived in Rome, a bit of sunshine and heat is much preferable to the more common Brussels summer weather of 19 degrees paired with a light drizzle. Also, the current temperatures are perfect for iced coffee, which makes this iced coffee lover particularly happy.
Iced coffee is actually how I got into drinking coffee in the first place (I still remember the first coffee I actually liked and it was an iced latte from a Costa Coffee in Covent Garden when I was 16 and took a one day trip to London with my sister when we were both in boarding school in Brighton). And come spring each year, I gladly replace my morning cup of hot coffee with a glass of iced coffee.
Close to my old office in London there used to be a small Mexican lunch place and one of the things they had on their menu was “café con hielo y horchata” – iced coffee with horchata. And once I tried this, I was hooked – creamy horchata, subtly sweetened and with a nice kick from the cinnamon is brilliant with iced coffee. Since making horchata is as simple as making any kind of nut or grain milk, I soon started to make my own horchata at home. And while I mainly make it to have in iced coffee it is also a brilliant thirst quencher if you are having some spicy Mexican food.
When I was in San Francisco last year I made it my mission to have horchata whenever I spotted it on a menu somewhere. I was curious to see how it might differ from the horchata you get in Spain or Mexican restaurants in Europe. Unsurprisingly I guess, the different horchatas I tried were all similar yet also subtly different – with some the cinnamon was barely noticeable, others, like the one I had at Gracias Madre, were so sweet I could barely finish them and a few, like the one at Nopalito, were subtly sweet and brilliantly refreshing and brilliant for washing down all the spicey Mexican food I was enjoying.
Leafing through the Sqirl cookbook last year, I noticed a recipe for horchata that sounded just a little different from other recipes I had seen before. And while my basic formula for making horchata has stayed the same (125g each of brown rice and almonds to 1L of water), there are two tricks I picked up from her book that have been added to my horchata routine. The first one is to toast a cinnamon stick in a dry pan until fragrant which makes the cinnamon flavour really pop and adds a subtle smokey note. The second one is to sweeten the horchata with dates rather than sugar which somehow gives a more mellow sweetness. Both are brilliant tips for making horchata that is just that tiny bit more delicious, for barely any additional work.
Toasted Cinnamon and Date-Sweetened Brown Rice Horchata
Inspired by Jessica Koslow’s All I Want To Eat
Notes: This makes approx. 1 liter that will keep for about 4-5 days if stored in the fridge. The horchata will likely separate once set aside but you can remix it by shaking the bottle a few times. You can make this as sweet as you want – Jessica Koslow uses 6 dates for a similar quantity of horchata. To me that is as tooth-achingly sweet as Moroccan mint tea so I just use 2 dates. But if you like things very sweet, simply use more dates. The one piece of kitchen equipment you need for this recipe is a nut milk bag. They are made of much finer mesh than even a fine strainer, so a perfect for straining out all the solids when making horchata or other nut or grain milks. They are inexpensive (they should cost less than EUR 5), last ages and can easily be ordered online. Also, you can use them not just for making things like horchata or other nut or grain milks, I also use mine for straining labneh and you could also use them for straining when making fruit jellies.
Makes 1 liter
1 cinnamon stick
2 dates, pitted
125g brown rice
Pinch of salt
In a dry pan toast the cinnamon stick over medium heat until fragrant, making sure to turn it frequently so it does not burn.
Add the cinnamon stick to a large bowl together with the pitted dates, almonds, rice and salt. Pour over the water and leave to soak overnight. In the morning, add everything to the bowl of a food processor or pitcher of a blender and process until all the solids are finely ground (you are looking for a sandy consistency). Strain using a nutmilk bag and make sure you really wring out the nutmilk bag to get every single drop of horchata. Store in the fridge.
And for the best most delicious iced coffee, simply add a handful of ice cubes to a jar, pour a shot of espresso over the ice cubes and fill the glass up with horchata.