A Capirotada is a traditional Mexican food, quite similar to a bread pudding. It is usually eaten during the Lent period, and is one of the dishes served on Good Friday.
Though there exist multiple recipes, with slight variations even going from family to family, the basic recipe has toasted bolillo (something similar to a French baguette), soaked in mulled syrup which has been made from whole cane sugar (commonly called piloncillo), coves and cinnamon sticks. Other ingredients include nuts, seeds, dried and sometimes fresh foods like apples, dates, raisins, apricots, peanuts, pecans, almonds, pine nuts and walnuts. Aged cheese is also added, while some families also add in milk. Some capirotada recipes include meat while some don’t. The ingredients used in this recipe are mostly the same as those that were used to make breads and cakes in the 1640s. These ingredients and recipes have been recorded by the Holy Office of the Inquisition and saved to this day in the archives.
The basic ingredients of Capirotada carry a rich symbolism to the Passion of the Christ and the dish is considered by many Mexican and Mexican-American families as a reminder of the suffering of Christ on Good Friday. The bread represents the Body of Christ, the syrup is his blood, the cloves are the nails of the cross, the whole cinnamon sticks are the wood of the cross, the melted cheese stands for the Holy Shroud.
Like all breads puddings, the origins of the Capirotada are ancient, dating back to the 15th century Spain or even earlier perhaps. In its earliest incarnations, capirotada was a Moorish influenced sweet and savory dish. Bread pudding surely arose from kitchen economy, when bread going stale was rescued from ruin, but it originally wasn’t a dessert dish. Rather it was a sopa seca, a ‘dry soup’ or a savory dish served at the beginnings of a meal. Some versions of capirotada include tomato and onion, even today. This combination of what Westerners consider traditionally sweet spices – clove and cinnamon, with savory ingredients is commonplace in various cuisines, for instance Moroccan cuisine.
A quick recipe for making the Capirotada at home is –
4 bolillos, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices, or 1 large baguette, sliced similarly
6 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups water
2 large piloncillos, or 1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
4 cinnamon sticks
8 whole cloves
1 cup raisins, golden raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries or other dried fruit, optional
1 cup pine nuts, slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, chopped pecans or other nuts, optional
3 cups shredded mild cheese, such as Monterey jack, Colby, queso fresco or mild cheddar
1. Lay the sliced bread on rimmed baking sheets, and toast under the broiler until golden, 2 to 3 minutes, turning once. Brush slices on both sides with melted butter. Set the bread and any remaining butter aside while you make the syrup.
2. Place water in a large, heavy saucepan with a close-fitting lid. Add the piloncillos or brown sugar, cinnamon sticks and cloves. Over medium high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, 10 minutes. Remove from heat to cool slightly before straining out cinnamon sticks and cloves. Set the strained syrup aside.
3. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
4. Cover the bottom of the baking dish with buttered bread. Strew a third of the dried fruit, if using, and a third of the nuts, if using, atop the buttered bread. Scatter a cup of shredded cheese over all. Pour over 1/3 of the syrup; let stand, 15 minutes.
5. Repeat layers as needed to fill dish, allowing the syrup-drenched bread to stand for 15 minutes before adding another layer. If you have melted butter left over, pour it over the final, top layer before adding cheese. End with shredded cheese.
6. Heavily butter a piece of aluminum foil, and cover the filled baking dish. Bake, 30 minutes; uncover and bake until the cheese is browned and bubbly, 15 minutes.
7. Remove from oven; let stand 15 minutes before serving. Garnish each serving with crema, sour cream or heavy cream, if desired.