There’s very little that brings people together like a luscious, show-stopping dessert and if there’s one thing that American and Latino cultures share, says chef Sandra Gutierrez, it’s their love of sweets. And during Thanksgiving – a holiday which brings together families and friends across culinary traditions – there’s no better dessert with which to nourish this connection than with a creamy bread pudding made with rich, sweet cajeta.
“Bread pudding is the ultimate Southern dessert, comforting and warm, but I give mine a decadent, Latin twist with the use of cajeta,” says Gutierrez, whose annual Thanksgiving dinner always includes classic sweet potato casserole (a favorite of her two daughters), bread stuffing flavored with curry (“in Guatemala, where I grew up, we love curry,” she explains) and a creamed potato dish (made extra indulgent with Mexican crema) that always leave guests asking for seconds.
For Gutierrez, who says she found her “inner Southern belle” when she moved to North Carolina with her husband nearly two decades ago, cajeta – a Mexican caramel sauce made with goat’s milk cooked down with sugar until sticky sweet – is an easy way to transform a mainstay dessert into something marvelous, especially with the addition of canela and crunchy pecans. Cajeta is available by the can at most Latin mercados, but if you’re unable to find it, dulce de leche (a cow’s milk caramel that’s easy to make from scratch) makes a great substitute, says Gutierrez.
And making this dessert couldn’t be any easier, assures “The New Southern-Latino Table” cookbook author, and it tastes even better when prepared at least one day in advance with crusty, day-old bread.
A culinary crossover that’s easy, simple and delicious? That makes this bread pudding the ultimate Thanksgiving dessert and the perfect dish with which to create a new culinary tradition of your own. Serve it room temperature with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or as Gutierrez does, drizzle a bit of extra cajeta on top for a deliciously sweet ending.
Cajeta Bread Pudding
1 day-old French baguette, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 7 cups)
4 eggs, at room temperature
3 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
⅓ cup cajeta quemada or cajeta vainilla (see note)
¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon ground Mexican cinnamon (canela)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup cajeta (for topping)
1 ½ cups toasted pecan halves
Powdered sugar (for garnish)
Place the cubed bread in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, cajeta, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Pour the custard over the bread and press the bread down with a spatula so that all of it’s coated. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 ½ to 2 hours, or until all of the liquid has been absorbed by the bread.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 13 × 9 × 2-inch baking dish. Pour the bread into the prepared baking dish; dot with butter. Bake for 45–50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the pudding comes out clean. Remove it from the oven and immediately drizzle with the remaining cajeta and top with the pecans. Cool for 15 minutes before cutting into squares. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.