Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New Mexican Style Bread Pudding

This recipe is more complex than we usually like to present, but you’ll find it more than worth the extra effort. Here it is, Common Tables style Capirotada (Mexican style bread pudding):

New Mexican Style Bread Pudding

Common Tables Caution: This recipe uses Madeira wine. It may not be suitable for those Tables with members who have alcohol prohibitions.

In place of the bread pudding standbys of milk and eggs, our version uses a homemade caramel sauce, lots of cheese, and sweet Madeira wine to create an elegant blend of flavors which raise this New Mexican Style Bread Pudding far above its more conventional relatives. Traditionally served during Lent, you will find variations commonly presented under the old Mexican name for this dish: Capirotada.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

8 ounces French style bread (about 1/2 of a normal sized loaf)
1 cup sugar
1½ cups water
1 teaspoon cinnamon (use Ceylon Cinnamon if possible)
4 Tablespoons butter
1 cup Madeira
¾ cup pinon nuts, lightly toasted
¾ cup raisins
4 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8” x 8” (2 quart) casserole dish.

Tear the bread into ragged one inch chunks, place on an ungreased baking sheet and toast in the oven, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned – about 10 minutes.

Cook the sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat – without stirring – until it begins to melt around the edges of the pan. Turn the heat down to low and start stirring with a metal spoon. As the sugar continues to melt, it will first turn a golden-yellow color. Stir continuously until all of the sugar has melted and is the color of dark honey. (This step isn’t as tricky as it sounds, but you’ll need to pay attention to avoid burning the sugar.)

Remove the pan from the heat and slowly add the water (a teaspoonful at a time to start). The sugar will boil, foam and generally create a lot of excitement, but just keep stirring and adding the water very slowly. When all of the water has been added, you will have a thin caramel syrup. NOTE: If you find you have some lumps of hard caramel remaining in the syrup mixture, simply return the pan to medium heat and boil until all lumps have dissolved.

While the caramel syrup is still hot, stir in the cinnamon and butter.

Spread the toasted bread in an even layer in the buttered casserole dish. Gently spoon the Madeira over each piece of bread. Sprinkle with the nuts and raisins; top with an even coating of the shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Then, taking care that the sauce reaches all of the bread, pour on the caramel sauce.

Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. NOTE: Traditionally the pan is covered with foil during the entire baking time – which results in a bread pudding with a soft, custard-like texture. We prefer to leave the pan covered until the cheese has melted into the general texture of the pudding – about 20 minutes – and to then uncover for the last 10 minutes or so of baking time to allow the pudding to lightly brown.

While the pudding can be served either warm or cold, we like it best warm and garnished with vanilla whipped cream (or vanilla flavored Cool Whip) and lightly dusted with cinnamon. It seems to us that the cinnamon/whipped cream combination mellows the intense sweetness of the Capirotada.

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