When I think about all the things I’ve been able to cook in my short life, the food I remember the most are the dishes and recipes that come from home. While it’s true that one can never “go home again,” I like to think that for a brief moment, when the smells and tastes of an old family recipe waft through one’s kitchen, that sensation and memory is as close to home as one may ever get.
Growing up in the Midwest, where the trees change colors in the Fall and the snow and wind blow sharp and wicked in the Winter, I still remember a certain warm, sweet haziness that emanated from our kitchen every February when my mother would prepare a traditional Mexican bread pudding called capirotada during the Catholic Lenten season. The care she took in building this holy casserole of layered, thick toasted French bread with raisins, dabs of soft butter, grated orange cheese and a syrup turned fragrant by the fresh cilantro leaves that floated to the top of the pot, came only once a year when the house seemed more quiet and solemn as we waited for a resurgence and renewal to take place in the Spring. I often helped, my tiny hands pressing down each layer of soft and mushy bread as my mother slowly and gently poured the warm syrup on each layer. Often, in her haste or distraction, she would lose track of the toaster and end up having to scrape the dark edges off the slices of bread before adding them to the pan. Every time I hear that scraping sound now, it takes me back to our kitchen where my mother made magic out of simple ingredients like these.
Unlike bread puddings that often use eggs, milk or cream to add volume to this dessert, capirotada defies all that, mysteriously enough, and rises to a billowy softness just from the use of piloncillo cane sugar syrup and airy slices of French bread. I’m defying tradition a bit, by making this dessert out of season and adding sauteed cinnamon apples and walnuts. After tasting the final product, I doubt I’ll get struck down from the heavens anytime soon for toying with this recipe just a little.
This is a sweet and savory bread pudding that does not use milk or eggs. A traditional version of this, without the apples and walnuts, is served during the Catholic Lenten season when households refrain from eating meat on Fridays.
- 5 cups water
- 2 large piloncillo cane sugar
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 4 large apples (about 7 cups), cored and sliced about 1/2" thick-(pick your favorites, choose sweeter varieties such as honeycrisp, jonagold, gravenstein, golden delicious)
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 4 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1-12" loaf of french bread
- 8 oz colby cheese, grated
- 1 1/2 cups walnut pieces
- 1 cup raisins
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large pot, over medium high heat, make a syrup with the water, piloncillos and cilantro. Stir occasionally until piloncillos are completely dissolved, then turn to low and keep warm.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter then add apples and cinnamon through brown sugar. Cook about 5 minutes or until apples soften slightly and a syrup forms from the sugar. Turn off and remove from heat.
- Slice french bread into 1" pieces and toast. (You should end up with around 14 slices). Place in a large bowl and cover with piloncillo syrup. Allow the bread to soak up most of the liquid.
- To assemble, line a deep baking dish (should be at least 3" deep) with half of the apples, raisins and walnuts. Top with half of the syrup-soaked bread, then sprinkle half of the grated cheese. Repeat this layer with the remaining ingredients.
- Bake capirotada for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until bread has risen and feels firm to the touch in the center. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.
Sharp cheddar may also be used in place of Colby. If you can't source piloncillo, you can substitute dark brown sugar in this recipe, about 1 cup per piloncillo. This recipe was baked in a springform pan that was lined with parchment paper. If you choose to do this, you should line a baking sheet with foil and place the pan on the baking sheet in the event a little of the filling seeps out of the pan. You can also bake this in any other oven safe pan as long as it is at least 3 inches deep as this bread pudding will rise a bit once in the oven.