What you will need:
- A loaf of French bread, sliced about ¾ to 1 inch thick, toasted. (You can use any kind of bread, really, but I think it tasted better with French)
- One cone of piloncillo, cut into small pieces. Piloncillo is a raw form of pure cane sugar. It usually comes in the shape of a cone and you can probably find them wherever Mexican goods are stocked in your supermarket. At my HEB they are with the dried chiles and corn husks (for tamales) in the produce center. You can always order it online. Don’t buy GOYA. If you can’t find piloncillo, use brown sugar.
- Raisins. I’d say anywhere between three-quarters of a cup to a cup.
- Chopped pecans, about three quarters of a cup. More if you are crazy for pecans. (Some people use peanuts, others use walnuts; I’ve only made it with pecans.
- Three or four sticks of Mexican cinnamon.
- One-half to one whole stick of butter, salted or unsalted.
- About a cup of grated cheese. I mostly use cheddar of Monterey Jack, but I’ve tried it with Gruyere and other cheeses. I think the sharper the cheese the better.
- About a quarter cup of sliced almonds (optional)
- Also optional: about 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder.
- About a quart of water, maybe a bit more.
- Some ground cinnamon and white granular sugar, and a tiny bit of salt, for sprinkling on top before putting in the oven.
There are probably as many recipes for this Mexican dessert as there are Mexicans. In our household, it was considered a Lenten dish, especially for Holy Week, but I like it year-round. I prepare it the way my mother used to make it, with a few notable exceptions. She made hers (and my sister still does), very, very mushy. So much so that I never touched the stuff in my finicky youth). Mine is still mushy, but not as much. More soggy than mushy. And, because I place it in the oven, it comes out with a nice crunch crust.
How to do it:
- In a deep pot, heat the water with the cinnamon sticks and the piloncillo pieces. Stir until the piloncillo has dissolved. Allow to come to a boil for a few minutes then turn off the heat and add the butter and the cocoa, if using, stir until all the butter is melted and the cocoa has dissolved.
- In a wide pie pan (I like to use a heavy glass pie pan) or a bread pan, place a layer of the toasted bread at the bottom. Cut up pieces of bread to fill in any spaces between the slices.
- Spread some cheese and raisins and pecans over the layer of bread.
- With a dipper or ladle, carefully pour some of the piloncillo water over the layer until the bread is lightly soaked. You shouldn’t soak it completely because as you build up layers, the water will seep down and thoroughly soak the bread.
- Repeat steps 1, 2 and three until you’re reached the top or you’ve run out of bread. Over the top layer of bread, place and extra helping of the raisins, pecans and cheese. Top with almond slices, if you’re using.
- Sprinkle cinnamon powder and sugar all over the top, and then sprinkle a tiny, tiny amount of salt over that (salt is optional).
- Place in the oven at about 350 degrees and allow it to bake for about 15-20 minutes. Watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn. When the top forms a beautiful shiny golden brown crust, it is time to take it out of the oven.
You can serve it warm right out of the oven, cold, or reheated. Goes great with vanilla ice cream.