Since I started researching my cookbook, I’ve been almost entirely dependent on the kindness and generosity of friends of friends and near strangers. Whether it’s recipes, or advice, or just a great story, I’m amazed at what people are willing to share when their sharing food. I think it was wanting to bring some of that back into my site that sent me looking for empadinhas at my friend Claudia’s and prompted me to hit up my family for a recipe for capirotada, a Mexican lenten bread pudding.
I’d been seeing capirotada recipes pop up around Easter for years so I was a little surprised when I asked a few of my cousins who live in Mexico City and it didn’t ring any bells. For a moment, I thought I’d gotten it all wrong and, like Mexican wedding cookies that are actually polvorones, something had been lost in translation. I finally found a reference to it in Fany Gerson as originating in Jalisco so it made sense when my Tio Raul, who’s from Guadalajara, remembered his mother made it from day old French bread or bolillos when he was growing up.
I’d about given up on finding a recipe this year when I asked Estella who works at the Borough Hall’s farmer’s market about it. For a couple of years, she’s helped me translate ingredients – explaining what kind of pumpkin to buy for empanaditas de calabaza and how to choose corn to make humitas. Also from Guadalajara as it turns out, she offered to share her family’s recipe – which included tomatoes simmered in piloncillo to make a syrup then poured over fried bread and layered with raisins, almonds, walnuts and cheese. I came close to leaving out the tomatoes and couldn’t imagine how those flavors would blend. I might not have tried it but, coming from a friend, I took it on faith.
This recipe come from Estella Sarabea. There are many, many variations on this dessert which can be made with a crusty French bread or sweet bread like challah. The bread should be at least a day old and dried out so that it doesn’t take to much oil when fried. The tortillas should line the pan like parchments paper. The cheese can vary from a salty cotija to creamier Monterrey Jack to the Oaxaca I used. The tomatoes enrich the piloncillo without overpowering the sweetness.
8 ounces piloncillo, roughly chopped*
4 plum tomatoes, quartered
4 cups water
1 pound French bread (about 1 1/2 baguettes), day old, cut in 1/2″ slices
2 tablespoons sunflower oil, plus more as needed
6 corn tortillas
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
8 ounces Oaxaca or Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Combine water and piloncillo in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer and stir until piloncillo has completely dissolved. Add tomatoes and simmer over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender and process until smooth. Strain, discarding solids, and set aside to cool.
Warm a large skillet over medium heat and add enough oil to coat. Working in batches, add a single layer of sliced bread and lightly brown, about 1 minute on each side. Drain fried bread on paper towels and repeat with remaining slices. Replenish oil as needed.
Pre-heat oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 9″ x 13″ glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray and line the dish with corn tortillas.
Arrange bread slices in a single layer, overlapping slightly. Spoon prepared syrup over bread, about 1 cup. Lightly drizzle with sweetened condensed milk. Scatter one third of the almonds, raisins, and walnuts. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover with additional layer of bread and repeat with remaining syrup, condensed milk and toppings, creating 2-3 layers and ending with syrup.Cover with aluminum foil and baked until the cheese is completely melted and the top is browned, 30-40 minutes.
Allow to rest about 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
*Whole cane sugar, sold in rounds or cones, also known as panela and available in Latin American markets.