Every culture has its recipe for using up stale, leftover bread, and bread pudding is probably as old as bread itself. In Tudor England, the dish was referred to as “poor knights” pudding signifying its humble status. Caballeros Pobres – as it is translated literally in Spanish – has by now become a quintessentially Yucatecan dessert. In Yucatán, Caballeros Pobres is typically served chilled or at room temperature, but serving it warm out of the oven and á la mode with a scoop of your favorite ice cream makes it more like caballeros ricos (‘rich knights’)!
- Milk 2 cups
- Sugar 3 Tbs
- Vanilla 2 tsp
- French Bread 4 small or 2 large stale loaves, sliced into 2 cm thick rounds
- Eggs 6, separated
- Vegetable Oil for frying
- Water 1 cup
- Sugar 1 cup
- Piloncillo 1 cone, chopped (or 1 cup Brown Sugar)
- Cloves 2 whole
- Canela (or Cinnamon) 2 x 8 cm sticks
- Almonds or Pecans 1/2 cup, whole or chopped
- Brandy 1/4 cup (you can also use aged rum, coffee liqueur or sweet sherry)
- Combine milk, sugar and vanilla; dip each slice of bread into the milk mixture, then put bread in a colander placed over a bowl to drain.
- Beat the whites until stiff but not dry. Beat three of the egg yolks well; fold carefully into the meringue, being careful not to deflate the whites.
- Heat 4 cm of oil in a heavy skillet until hot but not smoking. Dip each bread slice into the meringue to coat, then fry in the oil. When browned, flip rounds to cook the other side. Drain on paper towels.
- Meanwhile, place water, sugar, piloncillo and spices in a small saucepan. Simmer, stirring frequently, until sugar and piloncillo are completely dissolved. Allow to continue cooking until the syrup coats the back of a spoon. Strain into another small pan; retrieve canela sticks and place them on waxed paper to cool; discard cloves. Add liquor, along with nuts, and continue cooking another 5 minutes, or until syrup re-thickens.
- Preheat oven to 175˚C. Meanwhile, place fried bread rounds in one layer at the bottom of a deep baking dish, soufflé mold or in individual soufflé molds. Pour on a large spoonful of the syrup/almond mixture. Repeat with one more layer of bread. Finish by topping with the rest of the syrup and nuts. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until syrup begins to bubble and you see caramelization occurring on the top. Allow to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Use the reserved cinnamon sticks as a garnish.
In Yucatán, Caballeros Pobres often features raisins instead of nuts. Add them alone or with the nuts in Step 4. Serve warm and á la mode with your favorite ice cream. Rum raisin, chocolate, coffee or vanilla are excellent choices.
Caballeros Pobres can be assembled a day in advance and baked just before serving. Similarly, it can be baked and finished, then refrigerated. Either reheat 15-20 minutes in a moderate oven, or serve chilled or at room temperature as is the style in Yucatán.
© David Sterling 2013.