Mexican classic with a wine country twist
For the Nevada Appeal
Planning anything for New Year’s Day? I remember the spreads my mom used to put out when we were kids. With 12 hours of non-stop college football games and a steady stream of friends coming and going, she would exercise her formidable cooking skills with an array of dishes ranging from pizza and sticky buns to corned beef hash and eggs with a little barbecued ribs and German chocolate cake thrown in for excess. It wasn’t just the quantity of food, but the variety that made it all so indulgent.
We called it putting on the feed bag. Years later it would become known as brunch.
Ironically, as I progressed as a restaurant cook, the idea of brunch begin to lose the comfy, nostalgic glow. In fact, the mere mention of the word to most cooks evokes dread. Not just because you have to get up at dawn after cooking on a busy Saturday night, but there is a stigma attached to the shift. It’s not called “cooking brunch.” It’s “doing brunch”- like doing hard time. If you had ticked off the chef, you were doing brunch. It was kitchen Siberia.
But that has all changed for me. I no longer mind getting up at dawn, and I am no longer consumed by a paralyzing fear of flipping over easy eggs. I like doing brunch where sweet meets savory and anything goes.
So with New Year’s Day just around the corner, this Mexican bread pudding known as Capirotada covers a lot of ground in one dish, the hallmark of a good brunch item. The combining of cheese and bread with the nutrition of fruit and nuts along with a healthy dose of sugar makes it almost curative for what might ail you after a night of reveling.
Traditionally, Capirotada is served for Lent with the grocery list of seemingly disparate ingredients intended to nourish those coming off the Easter fast. However, I have it on good authority from some of my Latin friends that it is just as likely to show up on any holiday table.
Similarly, there is a lot of latitude as to the ingredients. Raisins, apples, pineapple and bananas all show up in “authentic” versions of the dish as well as all varieties of cheeses and nuts. Some versions use more of a custard for binding while some authorities claim that the real deal uses only the syrup.
Served hot or cold, it’s really up to you.
For our version we decided to throw in some dates, pine nuts and Laura Chenel goat cheese – kind of a wine country influence. And as such we took to calling it “Naparotada.” If you don’t like goat cheese, sub grated Monterey Jack or cheddar. If you don’t have dates or pinenuts, use raisins or pecans. The important elements are the bread should be toasted and the syrup warm when slowly drizzled over the bread. Beyond that, anything goes.
Speaking of going, we will be gone for our winter break, reopening Jan. 20. Happy New Year from all of us to all of you.
Serves about 8
For the bread and syrup:
8 to 10 slices of French bread
about 1⁄2 inch thick
1⁄2 cup melted butter
3 cups apple juice
2 cups dark brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1⁄2 tsp ground allspice
1 tbs whole anise seed
Zest from 1 orange
2 oz brandy
1⁄3 cup milk
3 whole eggs
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup pitted and chopped dates
1⁄2 cup chopped pecans
1⁄2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 apple, peeled, cored and sliced thin
8 oz goat cheese
2 oz cold butter
1⁄2 tsp kosher salt
Prepare the bread and syrup:
Combine the brown sugar, apple juice, cinnamon, allspice, anise and orange zest in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat a little and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes-you want it to be like pancake syrup. Remove from heat, add the brandy and strain. Keep the syrup warm.
Brush both sides of the bread with the melted butter and toast to a light golden brown. Reserve. You can perform these two steps a day ahead if you like. Just reheat the syrup when you are ready to assemble the dish.
Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9 x 9 inch Pyrex or ceramic baking dish. Beat the eggs with the milk and cinnamon until combined. Dip half of the bread in the milk mixture and place in the prepared dish making a single layer. Top with half of the sliced apples, nuts, dates and cheese. Dot with half of the butter. Dip the remaining slices of toast in the milk mixture and make another single layer. Pour any remaining milk over the bread. Top with remaining apples, nuts, dates and cheese. Dot with the remaining butter then sprinkle with the salt. Spoon about two thirds of the warm syrup over the bread slowly. You want to give the syrup a chance to soak in. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until top is slightly browned – about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and spoon the remaining syrup evenly over the top. Allow to rest for 10 minutes or so before serving, or chill for another day.