Capirotada. CA-PIRO-TA-DA.

by Matt on December 16, 2006

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The holidays mean tradition. And where I grew up that meant tamales, buñuelos, and my favorite– Capirotada. And since I don’t have a small army to assemble homemade tamales I usually opt for easier endeavors that are just as delicious.

Capirotada is a dish with a rich legacy. Also known as Mexican bread pudding, Capirotada is a dessert with as many variations as you can imagine. There is no one definitive recipe, it’s open to many broad interpretations. Perhaps this is why I enjoy it so much; it’s always different no matter where you go. But no matter where eat it, you can be assured that you’ll find the one ingredient that makes it Capirotada through and through: cheese.

Yes, cheese.

Capirotada is traditionally served during Lent. My grandmother would make it a few times a year or whenever she found herself with a surplus of stale bread, and without fail it would disappear in seconds. There’s something about that savory bite of cheese hidden within the flavors of cinnamon, cloves and raisins. It’s a natural pairing, even if I did think it was strange as a child. Ah, how tastes change, no?

The history of the Capirotada is long and complex. As with many Mexican dishes, Capirotada traces its roots back to the old world, where various centuries-old Spanish cookbooks mention its predecessor. Even further back we see a distant relative mentioned by the Romans entitled Sala Cattaba, a mixture of bread, liquid (more on this later), savories such as vegetables, fowl, meat and fat, and a dressing that made of mint, pepper, celery, pennyroyal, pine nuts, vinegar, honey, water and cheese. Throughout history, this potted bread pudding has changed over time, but it has always managed to keep its sweet & savory element intact.

Fast-forward a couple of hundred years. It’s not clear exactly when the Capirotada made its official crossover into the world of sweets, but legend has it that meat was omitted sometime during the 19th century, mostly for religious observances. It’s this version that you’ll find throughout Mexico–if you’re lucky, that is. José Luis Juárez López, a food writer from Mexico, says that Capirotada is in danger of extinction and isn’t a part of too many food celebrations today. Certainly disheartening.

Present-day recipes of Capirotada can often leave you confused. You’d be hard pressed to find matching recipes no matter where you looked, as ingredients, quantities and preparation methods can vary from cook to cook. There is a general consensus, however, which states that Capirotada includes bread, a liquid, some solids in the form of raisins and nuts, and of course cheese (hallelujah Matt screams!)

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Bread forms the basis of this dish. It’s the foundation. As I mentioned earlier, my grandmother always used stale bread as it seems to hold up better. If you’re using fresh bread you’ll want to toast it before using it. Capirotada is usually made with Bolillos, small round loaves of bread found in Mexican markets. Once stale they make the perfect texture for bread pudding.

Brokenbread

A sauce must be made to pour over the chunks of bread. This liquid is basically made of water, brown sugar, cloves and cinnamon sticks, reduced to a syrup and strained. Variations include the addition of anise tea or a piloncillo, The piloncillo, a small cone of dried unrefined brown sugar, is the Mexican secret incredient and can be found in Latin markets. To me it’s what makes my Capirotada. You may also notice that Capirotada uses a sugar syrup and not cream and eggs like other bread puddings. But fear not, it’s still delicious.

The beauty of this dish is its personalized nature. I am content with the sole inclusion of raisins, but feel free to add currants, pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, even fresh or dried fruit.

Then there’s the cheese. Yes, cheese. A nice cheddar freshly shredded tastes delicious and is more subtle in this dish than you might imagine. Similar to apple pie with a slice of cheddar on top, cheese in this bread pudding really shines and adds dimension. Besides, it’s not Capirotada without it! Other recipes call for Queso Añejo, Seco or Ranchero, but I find a simple cheddar works just fine.

Black pepper, chopped tomatoes, onions and bay leaves can be added. No, your browser hasn’t accidentally taken you to another recipe. We’re still talking Capirotada here, folks. Personally this is a tad bit different for me and not at all the way I grew up eating it. But experiment and try it, you might just like it!

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Mexican desserts aren’t known for their over-the-top sweetness. If you prefer your bread pudding on the sweeter side simply adjust the sugar level in the liquid.

Ingredients
3 cups of water
3 large cinnamon sticks
3 to 4 Pilloncillos (if not available you can substitute 1 1/2 cups brown sugar)
3 to 4 oz raisins
4 bolillo rolls (found in Mexican markets) or 1 loaf  french bread, cut into pieces
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Method
In a saucepan, bring water, sugar and cinnamon sticks to a boil then reduce and simmer for 10 minutes. Break bread into small 2 inch pieces (if using fresh bread you’ll need to toast it beforehand) and place in a baking dish and sprinkle with raisins and half of the shredded cheese. Strain the syrup liquid, removing the cinnamon sticks, and pour the syrup over the bread until well absorbed. Top with remaining cheese and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until syrup is absorbed. This dish may be served warm or cold and topped with fresh whipped cream or ice cream. Enjoy!

This post first appeared in May 2006, but it’s the holidays and so delicious it’s worth repeating!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Danielle December 16, 2006 at 5:59 am

Ooh. I’ve never heard of this before, and it looks fantastic.

nika December 16, 2006 at 10:21 am

Very nice.

I will be making Colombian Tamales and some natilla (tho I dont like it much.. want to expose the kids to their OTHER heritage).

When I saw your first pic I thought of agua de panela (sighs).

We will be making bunuelos (xmas and new years) too tho I wonder how different yours would be from mine (Colombian). When I lived in SAT I dont remember mexican bunuelos (might be because we had Colombian xmases.. wish I had more exposure to the real mexican customs then)

AmyinMotown December 17, 2006 at 12:19 pm

I remember when you posted this, because I’d just had a blast exploring a bakery and grocery store on our local Mexicantown and seen piloncillos for the first time. I had no idea what they were so I didn’t buy them, but thank to the
internet I found out and wished I had! Then I read this and really wished i had!

Yvo December 18, 2006 at 1:02 pm

Mmm, another food blog I read just made tamales…. http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com – looks delicious. As I sadly told her, I’ve never had… this looks interesting as well :)

Jennifer Jeffrey December 18, 2006 at 6:27 pm

Love the history lesson – this dish has quite a past! Mmm, cheese.

Joy January 12, 2007 at 10:50 am

I just wanted to let you know that I made this for my book club today and it got rave reviews. Thank you so much for sharing!

Martha March 28, 2009 at 11:40 am

Reading this recipe brought so many memories when my Mom and my sisters would make this same Capirotada recipe in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

sara April 9, 2009 at 6:28 am

Thank you, you just saved my Easter, I’ve been trying to find a recipe that an uber gringa like me can follow, my husband is Mexican and we’re having a bunch of people over for dinner, I wanted to serve some foods he might be familiar with, but I’m not a super cook. This should be easy enough for me, and make him happy.

Lorena April 10, 2009 at 3:37 pm

My Mom makes capirotads every “pascua” down in Puerto Vallarta. And I been making it for my son for the last few years, he enjoys it. Your recipe is very similar to my mom’s, but I have to say “queso seco is where is at!” Felices pascuas.

karen April 6, 2010 at 9:40 am

Excellent! i love you so much

karen April 6, 2010 at 9:42 am

You are so wonderful, Matt!

Matt April 6, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Gracias, Karen!

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