Angie Gomez Lippiatt
Special to the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol
The melange of cinnamon, cloves and piloncillo, simmering in a saucepan, is the fragrance of Cuaresma/Lent, and it fills the house and fogs up the kitchen windows. It’s capirotada season! That delicious conglomeration of the most confusing of bread puddings.
Toasted bread doused with the piloncillo syrup, nuts, raisins, bananas and jack cheese! That’s right, my family used jack cheese and topped the pudding with colorful dragees. It sounds like a mess, and looks like a mess, but it is amazing!
When I was a kid, my mama would send me, with two dollars in hand, to the Foix Bakery on Cypress Avenue, it was across the street from my house. I had been instructed to go to the back of the building and ask for Lazaro.
Lazaro and his family went to the same church we did. I had been told he was a hard working man, getting to the bakery way before dawn to begin baking bread, in particular, the bolillos my mama was requesting.
He was a big tough looking man with a giant bushy moustache, a red nose and a huge smile. At church he, with his wife and kids, always sat near us, or if they were in church before us, we’d try to sit near them. And he was quite the singer, always in tune. In my opinion, he could’ve given Pavarotti a run for his money; that’s how good a singer he was.
“¡Buenas Angelita! ¿Qué hondas?” He was the only person that ever called me that. I was always “Angela” or “Angie”, so being called what translates to “little angel” was special, and quite suddenly I became shy; I could feel my face grow warm. I may have blushed, but I don’t know; I’ve never seen what I look like when I blush.
I held out the two dollars and Lazaro immediately knew what was needed. He winked and went to a metal shelf that was laden with many kinds of breads. He returned with two paper sacks, filled to the brim with beautiful, golden bolillos. He also gave me back a dollar and told me to buy myself some “ken-dee”. I thanked him and turned to walk back home; inhaling the fragrance of fresh baked bread all the way.
My old neighborhood is so different now; the bakery no longer exists, and I have no idea what happened to Lazaro or his family. In retrospect, I felt safer back then than I do now. It was such a different time, I know. We were everyone’s kids and everyone’s parents were our parents; always watching out for us as well as reprimanding us when they’d catch us doing wrong. The whole “it takes a village” was really true back then.
When I got home, my mama knew Lazaro had given us two bags with a bakers dozen. Being an honest kid, I gave my mama the extra dollar (I feared God and his retribution, if I hadn’t given it back!). My mama smiled and took the dollar, putting it in her apron pocket, and gave me a bolillo and a glass of milk. I was happy enough with that! I understood we weren’t poor, but we weren’t so well off either.
My mama would then slice the bolillos into rounds, place them on a cookie sheet and pop them in the oven to toast them up! That was the way to do it back then. These days you can buy them toasted in large plastic bags, at your nearby Superior market or El Super. I prefer the traditional way, as an homage to my mama and all the homemakers that did the same. And now I’m in the mood for some capirotada and a cafecito de olla!
Angie’s Cuaresma Capirotada
WARNING! I DO NOT MEASURE ANYTHING. Everything is done to taste! ¡Pruebas de sabor! Also…everything depends on what size casserole or loaf pan/dish you’re using (I used a loaf pan)
Toasted bread (any type, I love using bolillos)
2-3 cups of water
Two cones of piloncillo (you can add as many to your liking)
5-6 whole cloves
2-3 cinnamon sticks
2-3 whole star anise
About a cup of walnut pieces (or peanuts…me, I don’t like it with peanuts)
Raisins maybe a cup full
2-3 bananas (I prefer slightly over ripe ones for sweetness)
And shredded jack cheese (I guess you can use cheddar too. If you do, please let me know how it turns out, TYIA)
*Multicolored dragees aka sprinkles to top when it’s done.
Preheat oven to 350°. In a saucepan, boil the piloncillo, cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise in water, until the syrup is dark and to your taste. Strain the aromatics out of the syrup and set the syrup aside.
You’ll be layering the rest this way:
Pour a little syrup in the bottom of your dish and add a few slices of toast, then banana slices, raisins, nuts and cheese. After each layer, spoon on some syrup and continue this way until you near the top of the dish. Pour in the remaining syrup and sprinkle cheese and dragees on top. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and syrup is bubbling.
It’s great while still warm. Store covered in fridge.