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Have a Caballero for Christmas

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Caballero Pobre as served at Manjar Blanco in Santa Ana.
Caballero Pobre as served at Manjar Blanco in Santa Ana.

In countless households, Christmas morning means the aroma of cinnamon French toast on the griddle.

To bring a taste of Yucatán to your Christmas morning, here is an equally festive dish, a traditional favorite being reintroduced to a new generation by one of Santa Ana’s top-rated restaurants.

Literally translated as “poor knight,” the “caballero pobre” is a year-round party food found in market stalls or restaurants that specialize in Yucatecan cuisine. But it’s something easily prepared at home, and appropriate for a special-occasion breakfast or brunch. And its bold use of cinnamon, raisins and syrup scream “Christmas.”

Doña Miriam Peraza Rivero, center, is using a family recipe for Manjar Blanco's Caballaro Pobre. Photo: Facebook
Doña Miriam Peraza Rivero, center, is using a family recipe for Manjar Blanco’s Caballaro Pobre. Photo: Facebook

, who owns the restaurant Manjar Blanco, recently told Notimex that the tradition of preparing the caballero pobre has probably been lost among the younger generation that confuses it with another dessert called “dulce de pan.”

This sweet dessert, served cold or room temperature, is often made with what Yucatecans call “pan de caja,” white bread sold in convenience stores, then allowed to go a bit stale to allow slices to stand up to the process. Here, the dish is elevated with French bread. The slices are given a syrup bath before being covered with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon and garnished with raisins.

Caballeros Pobres are “major stars” on Manjar Blanco’s dessert menu, following a recipe left by the owner’s grandmother.

Variations on the recipe abound, but here’s the basic idea:

Ingredients:

  • 2 loaves of French bread, slightly stale
  • 1/4 liter of milk
  • a can of condensed milk (optional)
  • vanilla to taste
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 50 grams of raisins
  • 1.2 kg of sugar
  • cinnamon powder, to taste
  • vegetable oil

Instructions:

  1. In a pot, boil water (3/4 liter), vanilla, sugar (1/2 kg), cinnamon and raisins, then simmer until thickened (about 20 minutes). Stir a little every five minutes.
  2. While the syrup boils, in a bowl, mix milk with as much water (1/4 liter), condensed milk (can substitute sugar if desired), a dash of vanilla and mix well.
  3. Beat egg whites until stiff like a merengue, then slowly add the yolks one by one.
  4. Slice the bread diagonally, soak one by one in the milk mixture, and then dredge with the egg mix.
  5. Finally, in a hot pan with oil, fry the slices, bathe with syrup, add raisins and allow to cool; raisins can be substituted for almonds or use both.

“I think the issue of the Caballeros Pobres is a good opportunity to reflect on the need to return to basics, turning to look again at grandmothers’ recipes and not miss this important legacy,” Mrs. Miriam concludes in the wire story.

In England, an alternate name for French Toast is “Poor Knights of Windsor,” and French toast is called “Poor Knights” throughout northern Europe, from Germany to Finland, Notimex notes.

Every culture has its own way to use leftover, stale bread, writes David Sterling in Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition (2014, University of Texas Press), calling it a “quintessentially Yucatecan dessert.”

Sterling adds an extra step, transforming Caballeros Pobres into a bread pudding “soufflé” served hot out of the oven.

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