Tangy cheese, sweet piloncillo and warm spices make this comforting Mexican bread pudding - capirotada - a must on the holiday table.

Tangy cheese, sweet piloncillo and warm spices make this comforting Mexican bread pudding – capirotada – a must on the holiday table. (Photo/Courtesy Jeanine Thurston)

Holiday Recipes: Mexican bread pudding

Mexican bread pudding – better known as capirotada – is a bread pudding that’s anything unlike any other, made with crusty bread layered with rich cheese before being drenched in a sweet syrup and baked. And while the Easter holiday wouldn’t be the same without a large pan of capirotada served as dessert, it has become a welcome addition to the traditional Mexican Christmas menu, comforting and completely addictive with its salty-sweet appeal.

Piloncillo - unrefined brown sugar - is a tradtional ingredient in capirotada. You can find it in most Latin markets, but if not, dark brown sugar is a great substitute.

Piloncillo – unrefined brown sugar – is a traditional ingredient in capirotada. You can find it in most Latin markets, but if not, dark brown sugar is a great substitute. (Photo/Courtesy Jeanine Thurston)

And just as there are countless variations on the recipe – some cooks add ingredients like nuts, candy sprinkles or fresh bananas – there are a variety of legends as to its Spanish origins. Some say the substantial casserole was first prepared as a meat-free meal during the Catholic observance of Lent, while others argue that during the Spanish Inquisition of the 16th century, Jews in hiding created capirotada as a way to disguise the consumption of unleavened bread and brought the dish with them as early colonizers in Mexico.

“My sister and I both moved away from our hometown of El Paso, Texas but our traditions are still very close to our heart and in our own homes,” says Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack, whose family recipes are the subject of her new cookbook, “Muy Bueno: Three Generations of Authentic Mexican Flavor.” “Both our mom and grandma used the most basic of ingredients to make this old world, traditional dish and so do we.”

Even so, their version of capirotada reflects the evolution of their family history. Marquez-Sharpnack’s grandmother moved from Chihuahua, Mexico to El Paso in 1916 and her capirotada recipe shared here relies on the use of rich Longhorn or Colby cheese rather than a sprinkle of queso fresco, which is considered more traditional. It’s a very special nod to the family’s Texan roots – because after all, family is the ultimate reason why the holidays are so extraordinary.

 

Capirotada (Mexican Bread Pudding)

8 to 10 Servings

4 bolillo rolls or French rolls

4 tablespoons butter or spray butter

4½ cups water

12 ounces piloncillo or 1½ cups packed dark brown sugar

4 cinnamon sticks

6 whole cloves

1 cup raisins

3 cups shredded Longhorn Cheddar or Colby cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut rolls into ½-inch slices and butter both sides of each slice. Layer on a baking sheet and bake for 3 minutes on each side, until lightly toasted and dry. Remove and cool.

Combine water, piloncillo, cinnamon sticks, and cloves in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, creating a syrup. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 2 hours. Pour through a strainer and discard cinnamon sticks and cloves. Set syrup aside.

Spray an 8-inch x 10½-inch baking dish with non-stick spray. Layer the ingredients in the following order: a third of the toasted bread, a third of the raisins, a third of the cheese, and then pour 1½ cups syrup evenly over cheese. Wait 15 minutes and then layer another third of the bread, raisins, and cheese, and pour another 1½ cups syrup evenly over cheese.

Let soak for another 15 minutes. Top with the remaining bread, raisins, and cheese, and pour remaining syrup evenly over bread. Let set for another 15 minutes.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil that has been sprayed with nonstick spray and bake 40 minutes. Uncover and bake until cheese is golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes more. Serve warm.

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