Tex-Mex Capirotada

Pudding
12 slices stale bread, preferably French or whole wheat
8 to 10 ounces grated Monterey jack or cubed cream cheese
3/4 cup pitted prunes, plumped in hot water and diced
3/4 cup seedless white raisins or dates, diced
2 large bananas, sliced, or coarsely chopped apples
1 cup sliced almonds

Syrup
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Egg Mixture and Topping
2 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs, separated
4 tablespoons flour

Meringue
Reserved egg whites
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Presentation
Sweetened whipped cream or ice cream

Toast the bread and allow to cool. Using a well-buttered baking dish, 12 x 9 x 2 inches, make a layer of bread, using about half the bread. Top with half the cheese and fruits and all the bananas or apples. Add another bread layer, then the remaining cheese, fruits, and the nuts. Set aside.

In a medium-size saucepan, boil the water, sugar, and cinnamon together for 5 minutes. Pour over the pudding mixture.

In the same saucepan, boil the water and sugar for 5 minutes. Remove 1 cup and beat with egg yolks and flour, then add this egg mixture to the remaining syrup and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until thick. Pour custard over the bread and fruits. Cover and let stand several hours at room temperature, or refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake the pudding, beat the egg whites until very stiff, beating in the sugar at the last. Spread atop the pudding and then bake at 350 degrees F for about 40 minutes, or until the meringue is well browned and the pudding is set.

Serve small portions with a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream.

Storage, Freezing, and Advance Preparation: The basic dessert, excluding the topping, may be prepared 24 hours in advance or overnight. Because of the sweet syrups, the bananas will not turn brown any faster than they would during ordinary baking. The topping should be added just prior to baking. The pudding may be served either hot or cold; it will reheat easily without changing consistency, either in a microwave oven or in a hot 400 degree F oven, covered with foil.

Yield: 12 to 14 servings

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