My grandmother Petra was a very simple cook. She raised 9 children in the East Bay on a very modest farm workers budget. I recall most meals consisting mainly of grain and vegetables with meat occasionally making a surprise appearance. At eight years old, I got to watch her slaughter and butcher a chicken – which left my other cousins screaming and in tears. I on the other hand, was ready to pluck the feathers off it the second she showed me how. I was amazed to see that single chicken feed 20 people. There were things about my grandmothers kitchen that I still recall to this day – the linens that were made from old cotton flour sacks, the layers of sheer and floral curtains on the windows and the jar of pickled jalapeños always on the table. There were also some rules at my grandparents house that I found odd as a kid because we didn’t practice them at home. Mainly that the men all sat down to eat a meal before the women. And that included all of us snotty little grandsons. The women cooked, cleaned and served – making fresh tortillas to order and replenishing plates and beverages as requested.
I remember sitting at the table watching my grandmother open the oven door – slowly lifting the foil to check on the bread pudding. I could see the dots of little black swollen raisins popping out of the golden brown bread as she poked it with a fork to check for doneness. That was when I fell in love with capirotada.
This Mexican bread pudding is addicting. There are many variations of this dish. But it is typically composed of toasted or stale bolillo (which is a very soft French style bread) and soaked in a mulled syrup made of the following: piloncillo and spices. In addition – nuts, dried fruit and cheese is added, which might explain why some many bread pudding recipes call for milk.
12 oz. pilonchillo, chopped or light brown sugar
2 1/4 cups water
1 cinnamon stick (4-inch)
½ pound stale bolillos or French bread, torn into bite-sized pieces
¾ cup raisins
¾ cup salted peanuts
½ pound queso Oaxaca or mozzarella cheese, grated
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 stick of unsalted butter, cold and cubed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 2-quart baking dish.
Bring the pilonchillo, cinnamon and water to a boil over medium-high heat until reduced to about 1 cup – about 30 minutes. It should be caramel in color and have a syrupy consistency. Discard the cinnamon and cool. Whisk the eggs and vanilla into the sugar mixture.
Add the bread to a mixing bowl along with the 3/4 of the cheese, raisins and peanuts – toss to combine. Pour the sugar / egg mixture over it and mix evenly. Transfer to a buttered baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and dot with the cold butter. Cover with foil.
Bake until the pudding is bubbling and the cheese is melted, about 1 hour. Remove the foil and continue to bake until it is slightly brown about 10-15 more minutes.
Serve while still warm with vanilla ice cream.
Special thanks to Cole for helping me edit this old recipe.