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Capirotada with Pistachios and Dried Fruits

This bread pudding typical of the old Southwest substitutes cheese for the more familiar milk and eggs in such recipes. Canela, a specific variety of cinnamon from Sri Lanka, is also known as Mexican or Ceylon Cinnamon. It tastes sweeter and more delicate and is softer and less costly than the more common Indian Cinnamon. Pistachios, which are cultivated in New Mexico, Arizona and west Texas, add a delightful crunch.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups cubed day-old Italian or French bread
      (3/4 to 1-inch cubes)
  • 1 cup gold tequila or sweet wine, such as Marsala
  • 1/3 cup dried currants
  • 1/2 cup dried sour cherries
  • 1/2 cup diced dried apricots
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1 canela or cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground allspice
  • 3/4 cup pistachios, piñon nuts or pecans,
      toasted
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup crema or crème fraîche

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Butter a 2-quart baking dish.

Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, turning to brown evenly, until lightly golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the tequila, currants and sour cherries. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in the apricots and set aside.

In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the sugar until it begins to melt around the edges of the pan. Then begin to mash it gently with a spoon but do not stir. Continue to cook the sugar until it starts to turn deep amber, making sure that all of it is melted and it is clear. Immediately add the water in a slow, steady stream, being careful, as it will splatter. The caramel will harden but then it will remelt as it heats through. When it is again liquid, add the butter, vanilla bean, canela, nutmeg and allspice and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 15 minutes. Pour the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a bowl.

Layer half of the bread cubes in the prepared baking dish. Sprinklewith half of the fruit mixture and any liquid left in the pan. Sprinkle with half of the nuts and half of the cheeses, then drizzle with half of the syrup. Repeat the layers. Bake until lightly browned and bubbly, about 25 minutes. Spoon into individual bowls and top with the crema. Serve immediately.
Serves 8.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma New American Cooking Series, The Southwest, by Kathi Long (Time-Life Books, 2001).