Monday, March 24, 2008

Mexican Lenten Bread Pudding

In a plaza in Uruapan that was set up with tables and women cooking on charcoal fires, this lady was selling this interesting dish. When she saw me photographing it, she offered me a sample. It was delicious....a kind of sweet bread pudding sprinkled with just a bit of cheese. With my bad Spanish I could not understand all that she said but I understood her to tell me that is was made with a special bread from the Easter season.

For lack of a better term, I was calling it a bread pudding. I was thinking that the sweetening was made from a syrup of honey and fruits and spices and that the bread was soaked in the liquid. So I went looking for a recipe. What I found were variations on Lenten recipes called Capirotada. The Capirotada recipes all called for a syrup made from the Mexican piloncillo which is a dark brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, anise and rum.

In an article titled Lenten Foods: From Fasting to Fabulous Inez Caldwell writes:

Although most Mexican dishes differ from household to household, capirotada is the most diverse of all. One recipe calls for dipping toasted bolillo or French bread slices in an egg batter and frying until golden brown. The bread is drenched with syrup made from piloncillo (dark brown sugar), cinnamon sticks, clove anise and rum. Then this combination is covered with raisins, peanuts and almonds and sprinkled with grated cheese.

Another recipe for this Lenten bread pudding starts with toasted bread torn into a small pieces and layered in a baking dish. On top of the bread layer are spread peanuts, raisins and grated cheddar cheese. Additional layers are added depending on the number of portion desired. The final layer is a bread layer topped with more grated cheese and colored sugar balls (grajea) for decoration.

A syrup of piloncillo and water, plus cinnamon, cloves and anise to taste, is boiled until thickened and then poured over the entire dish to flavor and soak the bread. The capirotada is then baked in a medium oven with an additional dish of water placed on the rack beneath so that the pudding will steam. Once cooked it is moist and sweet with a surprising variety of flavorful surprises.

Although the recipe may vary from household to household, Wikipedia states that the ingredients are identical to those used in the 1640's in New Spain and that the recipes have been recorded by the Holy Office of the Inquisition and saved to this day in the archives.

The basic ingredients carry a rich symbolism to the Passion of Christ, and the dish is viewed by many Mexican and Mexican-American families as a reminder of the suffering of Christ on Good Friday. The bread is for the Body of Christ, the syrup is his blood, the cloves are the nails of the cross, and the whole cinnamon sticks are the wood of the cross. The melted cheese stands for the Holy Shroud.

The Capirotada I tasted from this vendor was delicious and I'm on a hunt for the perfect recipe so if you are a guest at my house don't be surprised to find yourself trying out my latest attempt to find the perfect Capirotada recipe.


Brenda said...

I agree, it is delicious. Our landlady has brought it up to us a couple of times. Yummy.

Donna said...

Hi Billie,
Posting this late, but I just came across this post.

Yes, Capirotada is different everywhere you try it but always delicious. If your readers would like to try a good recipe, I've posted one at

Don't know how I missed this post since I check your blog most days. And I'm glad you're still blogging after all these years.:)


Billie said...

Donna, Thanks for the recipe. Now I have a couple of recipes to try. Someone at the Fine Cooking forum came through with one as well. And thanks for being a regular reader.