Today is Ash Wednesday, and so begins Lent. Lent is the 40-day (excluding Sundays) season that precedes Easter. On Ash Wednesday and all Fridays throughout Lent, most people fast and abstain from eating meat.
The most popular food we eat during Lent is capirotada. Capirotada is a Mexican bread pudding made with cinnamon, piloncillo, cloves, raisins, bread, and cheese. I can smell and taste the sweet warm melted cheese as I type this. Yes, you read it right…cheese. The combination of these ingredients is sure to awaken your taste buds.
While working in our family’s neighborhood grocery store (Soza’s Grocery) friends and neighbors would share their capirotada dish. I remember some were quite interesting with the addition of peanuts, coconut, bananas, and sprinkles. I politely tried their recipe as they stood there waiting for my reaction. I couldn’t possibly tell them I didn’t like it, besides that, my mother would have killed me if I uttered an unkind word to one of our neighbors or customers. Instead I just stood there and thanked them. We are such creatures of habit, and any capirotada that didn’t taste like our recipe just didn’t cut it for me.
Both my mom and grandma used the most basic of ingredients to make this old world and traditional dish.
Many Mexican and Mexican-American families view this dish as a reminder of the suffering of Christ on the cross. The ingredients in this recipe carry a rich and symbolic representation. The bread is for the Body of Christ, the syrup is his blood, the cloves are the nails on the cross, the cinnamon sticks symbolize the wooden cross, and the melted cheese stands for the Holy Shroud.
This is our heavenly family recipe. Try very hard not to eat the entire dish of capirotada at one sitting. Sabroso!
Capirotada (Mexican Bread Pudding)
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
4 bolillo rolls or French rolls
4 1/2 cups water
12 ounces piloncillo or 1½ cups packed dark brown sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
3 cups cheese (Longhorn Cheddar or Colby), shredded
1 cup raisins
4 tablespoons butter or spay butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut rolls in ½ inch slices and butter both sides, 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, creating a syrup. Simmer syrup uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep, covered for 2 hours. Pour through a strainer and discard cinnamon sticks and cloves. Set syrup aside.
Spray 8 x 10 ½” baking dish with non-stick spray, layer ingredients in the following order: a third of the toasted bread, third of the raisins, third of the cheese, and 1 1/2 cups syrup evenly over cheese. Wait 15 minutes and layer another third of the bread, raisins, cheese, and 1 1/2 cups syrup evenly over cheese. Let soak for another 15 minutes, and again top with the remaining bread, raisins, cheese, and syrup evenly over bread. Before baking 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.
Photography by Jeanine Thurston