Tacos may very well be the perfect food, but let's face it, the standard Meximerican fare can get a bit stale after a while. Taco the Town is here to highlight some of the more unusual Mexican finds in the Valley. This week: Capirotada, or Mexican bread pudding.
¿Como se dice?: Mardi Gras has come and gone, and King Cake season is at an end, but the Mexican Catholics out there are just starting to kick off Lent with a sweet treat all their own: Capirotada.
Capirotada is a bread pudding packed with dried fruits, nuts, and cheese. Yep. You heard it right. Queso. Which isn't entirely foreign when you consider the fact that some all-American folk like a slice of cheddah with their apple pie, or that mascarpone and goat cheese can be incorporated into just about anything sweet.
Other odd ingredients include piloncillo (cane sugar cones), tomatoes, and onions. It may sound strange at first, but trust us, capirotada is so much better than the offbeat ingredients would suggest.
(sink your teeth into all the spicy details after the jump)
La Comida: Capirotada is a dish unique to the person making it, and every good cook will have a variation on the classic recipe. The basics boil down to stale bread, sugar syrup, fruits, nuts and cheese.
With the bread, some keep it classic with bolillos, while others substitute a stale loaf of French bread. The sugar syrup is equally as good without the tomatoes and onions, or with brown sugar substituted in place of piloncillo, and the spices can always be adjusted to taste, with more cloves, cinnamon, or even star anise and bay leaf added. The only limits to the dried fruit are your imagination, and the same goes for the nuts. But the cheese is best if you keep it to a type that is shred-able and fairly melt-able, like ranchero o manchego, but Monterey jack can substituted in a pinch with just a slightly different flavor.
El Sabor: Word on the internets is that capriotada developed as a way to get a little extra dietary protein during Lent, but we aren't buying it. We fall firmly in the "cheese is delicious" category of reasoning. The overall flavor of the dessert is sweet brown sugar with tangy bits of dried fruit and nuts peppered throughout. The cinnamon, cloves and orange lend it a nice harvest-time flavor profile, but it's the tomatoes and onion that really distinguish this dish. The tomatoes and onion add a savory depth to the pudding and keep it from becoming cloying in its sweetness. You can omit them, but we wouldn't recommend it.
Bring a bit of México to your kitchen: The great thing about capirotada is that there's no right way to make it. All you need is stale bread, brown sugar syrup, dried fruit, and cheese. The rest is up to your own ingenuity, so feel free to clean out what's in your cabinets. And since Lent is traditional capirotada time, Food City has all the ingredients on display right in the front of their stores, making it plenty easy for you to whip up your own.
If you're looking for a place to start, here's how we make ours:
Stale bread (You need six bolillos or a bag of pre-toasted bread chunks works too)
½ cup salted butter, melted
4 cups water
4 cones of piloncillo (or 1 ½ cups lightly packed brown sugar)
2 sticks of canela (Mexican cinnamon)
4 whole cloves
½ medium onion, sliced thin
½ large tomato, roughly chopped
Juice and zest of ½ orange
Zest from ¼ lemon
1 cup dried and chopped fruit bits (raisins, cranberries, pears, apricots, peaches, prunes, nectarines, apples, whatever you have on hand)
1 cup raw peanuts or other nut
10 oz wheel of Mexican cheese (we used ranchero style cheese, labeled as queso fresco)
For the bread:
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9 x 13" pan.
1. Tear up the bread into small pieces and toast in the oven at 350 until crispy and brown. (Skip this step if using pre-toasted pieces.)
2. Toss toasty bread cubes with melted butter.
For the syrup:
1. Heat water, piloncillo, canela, clove, onion, tomato, orange and lemon ingredients in a sauce pan over medium high heat.
2. Stir until piloncillo cones are completely dissolved and boil ingredients for 10 minutes until a dark syrup forms.
4. Allow to cool, and then strain to discard the solids while retaining the syrup.
1. Arrange the ingredient categories (bread, fruit, cheese, peanuts, and syrup) so that they are easily accessible.
2. Place a single layer of bread at bottom of pan. Top with 1/3 of the fruit bits, 1/3 of the peanuts, and 1/3 of the cheese. Drizzle everything with about 1/3 of the syrup mixture.
3. Repeat this process twice, and then allow the assembled capirotada to bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
4. Enjoy warm out of the oven, then refrigerate and serve cold for Lent festivities, or just for the heck of it.
Know of any Mexican gems in the Valley? Reveal your family secrets in the comment section.