Thursday, March 26, 2009

CAPIROTADA: Mexican Bread Pudding for Lent


If it's Thursday it must be time for a recipe!

Capirotada is the Mexican version of bread pudding, but if you're expecting the custardy back-home version you're used to, you'll be surprised by this recipe. Many Mexican restaurants in Puerto Peñasco have this dish on their menus, especially during Lent and at Christmas time, and you really should try it some time-- even if you don't normally like bread pudding.

There are as many versions of Mexican bread pudding as there are families in Mexico that make it, but all recipes have a few things in common. The basic (and original) version is basically bread, sprinkled with raisins, cheese and peanuts, with a syrup made from water, piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar), cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, star anise (or aniseed), cloves, and peppercorns poured over it before it's baked.

According to Wikipedia, "These are identical ingredients to those used during the 1640s in New Spain to make breads and cakes. The ingredients and recipes have been recorded by the Holy Office of the Inquisition and saved to this day in the archives.

"The basic ingredients carry a rich symbolism to the Passion of Christ, and the dish is viewed by many Mexican and Mexican-American families as a reminder of the suffering of Christ on Good Friday. The bread is for the Body of Christ, the syrup is his blood, the cloves are the nails of the cross, and the whole cinnamon sticks are the wood of the cross. The melted cheese stands for the Holy Shroud."


But as recipes get handed down through time, interesting changes are made until the end result can be chock full of new flavors and greater sophistication.

This recipe, which adds apples to the mix, is slightly reminiscent in flavor to apple pie, and I've substituted almonds and pecans for the peanuts. (You might want to try bananas or berries instead of the apples for a different taste, and use whatever kind of nuts strikes your fancy.) Great when served warm with Crema, heavy cream or a big spoonful of rich Mexican-made vanilla ice cream, but I like it best when it's refrigerated overnight and served cold the next day.

The cheese lends a subtle, mysterious taste to the dish, not overpowering it in the least, so don't leave it out. (Don't use cheddar or other yellow cheese if you want to be authentic. Use Queso Añejo, Queso Chihuahua-- or Monterrey Jack, in a pinch.)

And here's the recipe, which serves 6:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 large, stale bolillo rolls (or 1 medium loaf of day-old French bread), torn into chunks (not too big)
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 3 small pilonchillo*, about 12 oz. total (or 1 1/2 Cups dark brown sugar)
  • 3 sticks of cinnamon
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 peppercorns
  • 3 star anise (or 1 teaspoon anise seeds)
  • 1 cup queso fresco, grated or crumbled
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1/4 cup slivered blanched almonds
  • 2/3 cup raisins, soaked in warm water to soften
  • 2 or 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
* Piloncillos are cone shaped pieces of raw cane sugar which can be found in any Mexican market. They come in a small size (about 4-ounces) and a large size (about 9 ounces).

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease (or butter) a medium-size casserole dish.

Place bread chunks on a baking sheet. Melt butter in a small pan and drizzle over bread chunks. Toast bread in oven until golden; remove and set aside to cool.

Bring water to a boil. Add piloncillo (or brown sugar), cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns and anise and boil gently until sugar is dissolved and a dark syrup has formed, about 15 minutes. Remove spices.

In the prepared baking dish, place a layer of bread chunks). Cover with a layer of the apple slices. Sprinkle some of the raisins, nuts, and grated cheese over the top. Repeat layers until all the ingredients (except the syrup) are used.

Pour the syrup over the top of the layers. Bake on center rack at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes; remove from oven. Sprinkle with a little more cheese if you like. NOTE: If you put a pan with some water in it on the rack beneath the pudding, the pudding will be very moist, but this is not really necessary.

Cool slightly, then spoon onto plates. Or refrigerate to serve the next day.

I would love to give proper credit for this recipe, but I've had it so long I've forgotten who gave it to me. And, of course, I've made my own little changes to it over the years to make it my own... ;)

Buen Provecho!

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