It seems that most cultures have a form of bread pudding. They’re delicious, they’re fairly simple, and they use up extra ingredients in the kitchen that may go bad soon. Mexican cuisine is no exception, and capirotada is its answer to bread pudding. Well-known and well-loved by Mexicans and Mexican Americans, capirotada is one of those Latin treats that seem to fly under the radar, but that deserve a wider audience.
If you’ve spent time with a Mexican family during Lent, you’ve surely tasted Mexican capirotada. This aromatic dessert is a Lenten staple, when it is eaten on Holy Days and on Fridays.
Ingredients and Recipe of Mexican Capirotada
When it comes to recipes for Mexican capirotada, there seem to be as many as there are families. The basics include old or toasted bread, cut and stacked with chunks of fruits and nuts, covered with a cinnamon- infused piloncillo (brown sugar), syrup and baked with cheese on top.
But each ingredient can vary: depending on the recipe, the bread might be a baguette or a bolillo, and the cheese fresh or aged.
Fruits can include raisins, bananas, guavas, apricots, apples, coconuts, pineapple, and dates, and nuts range from peanuts and pecans to almonds and pine nuts. Some recipes even include meat, tomatoes, and onions.
Beyond family variations, every region has its variations on the basic capirotada recipe, like many other kinds of Latin foods. For example, Jalisco doesn’t use fruit, Nuevo León uses queso chihuahua or manchego cheese, and in Central Mexico, aged cheese is used, but no fruit or nuts.
Capirotada is a Mexican bread pudding made with cinnamon, piloncillo, cloves, raisins, bread, and cheese.
This video shares simple tips such as resting in between layers so bread soaks up the syrup like a sponge and you end up with a soft sweet dish. You will also learn the rich religious symbolism and history of the dish.
History of Capirotada
Not surprisingly for a dish with so many variations, capirotada has a long, rich history. Formally known as capirotada de vigilia, the dish itself is some 500 years old.
It has gone through a number of changes in 500 years. Originally a savory dish in the Middle East and North Africa, in pre-colonial Spain it was associated with the Moors and the Jewish community.
After Ferdinand and Isabel’s edict banishing Jews from Spain, the dish was included in a book during the Inquisition called the Regimento de Inquisitor General as a way to tell if Hispanic Jews had really converted to Christianity or if they were “fake converts” (crypto-Jews). The dish made its way to the New World, where it eventually became a dessert.
Capirotada’s association with Lent probably relates to its being a good way to use up leftovers before fasting. The word capirotada is derived from caperuza, or hood, likely due to the cheese forming a “cap” on the dessert. Given its Lenten history, this cap was seen as a friar’s cowl or hood.
Many Mexican families associate the dessert’s ingredients with the Passion of Christ: the bread represents the Body of Christ, while the syrup represents His blood; the cinnamon sticks, the cross; the raisins or cloves, the nails; and the cheese, the Holy Shroud (el Santo Sudario).
So if you haven’t gotten a chance to try capirotada, make sure to look for it this Lenten season.