Grandmother Petra's love is baked into this Mexican bread pudding recipe
All Things We're Cooking is a series featuring family recipes from you, our readers and listeners, and the special stories behind them. We'll continue to share more of your kitchen gems throughout the holidays.
Throughout her 30 years as a drag queen in San Francisco, Juanita MORE! has become a mom to many, and as matriarch of their chosen family, she cooks for them like mothers often do.
Capirotada, a Mexican bread pudding, is one of the treats MORE! makes. It comes from her Grandmother Petra, who would make dessert for her family on special occasions, which always included Christmas.
The family grew up in the East Bay, where Grandmother Petra raised her nine children on a farm worker's budget, MORE! said.
"I recall most meals consisting mainly of grains and fresh vegetables and salsas, with meat occasionally making a surprise appearance," she said.
MORE! was fascinated by food as a child. When her cousins would go outside and play, she would stay inside and watch her grandmother cook and prepare meals for the large family. This is where she fell in love with capirotada.
"I would watch her open the oven and pull it out and lift the foil. And I could see the raisins popping out and I would get so excited," MORE! said, adding that it brought her so much joy. "It still does to this day, when the raisins pop out of the bread pudding, and I get so happy."
While MORE! can easily whip up capirotada when she wants it today, that was not the case when she got a craving and tried to make the pudding on her own decades ago. Her Grandmother Petra never wrote down the recipe, so MORE! had to work from those childhood kitchen memories.
Using skills she picked up from watching her grandmother and experience gained while working in San Francisco and New York restaurants, MORE! re-created the pudding recipe and wrote it down for safekeeping. With the recipe memorialized on paper, MORE! has shared it with a few of her family members and will make it when her friends request it as a way of showing them she cares, just like her grandmother did for her.
"Food for me, just throughout my whole life, has been a way of expressing love," she said. "That's what I saw my grandmother doing when she was preparing those meals and preparing this dish."
Recipe submitted by Juanita MORE!
San Francisco, Calif.
- 12 ounces of piloncillo, chopped (or light brown sugar)
- 2 1/4 cups water
- 1 cinnamon stick (4-inch)
- 1/2 pound stale bolillos or French bread torn into bite-sized pieces
- 3 eggs
- 3/4 cup raisins
- 3/4 cup salted peanuts
- 1/2 pound queso Oaxaca, torn into small pieces (or mozzarella cheese, grated)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 stick of unsalted butter, cold and cubed
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 2-quart baking dish.
Bring the piloncillo, cinnamon and water to a boil over medium-high heat until reduced to about 1 cup — approximately 30 minutes. It should be caramel in color and have a syrupy consistency. Discard the cinnamon and cool. Whisk the eggs and vanilla into the sugar mixture.
Add the bread to a mixing bowl along with 3/4 of the cheese, the raisins and the peanuts; toss to combine. Pour the sugar and egg mixture over it and mix evenly. Transfer to a buttered baking dish, sprinkle the rest of the cheese, and dot with the cold butter. Cover with foil.
Bake for about 1 hour or until the pudding is bubbling and the cheese is melted. Then, remove the foil and bake until it is slightly brown — about 10 to 15 more minutes.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Serves eight.