BOOK EXCERPT

Mexican Vanilla Recipes

We recently told you about how some of the world's best vanilla is harvested in Veracruz, Mexico.

Here are three recipes for putting Mexican vanilla to use. Excerpted and adapted from Susana Trilling's Seasons of My Heart, A Culinary Journey Through Oaxaca, Mexico.

Layered Mango Pudding, or "Charlotte" (Ante de Mango)

There are many variations of antes, using different dry breads or cakes layered with seasonal fruits and pastry cream. This version was shared by my friend Luz Elena, the mother of my son Kaelin's classmate Pedro, during mango season. Although it seemed too easy to be true, it's delicious. You can use any fruit you have on hand and any type of dry, airy bread or cake. You should make this dessert at least a day or two in advance for all the flavors and textures to combine. It's great after a big dinner, because it's so light and fruity.

INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup raisins
2/3 cup sweet sherry
7 cups pan de yema, or challah, or other egg bread, fresh or a few days old; or dry anise sponge cookies, biscotti, or ladyfingers
3 large ripe mangoes, peeled and pitted, cubed (5½ to 7 cups)
1 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure Mexican vanilla extract
1 cup whipping cream, whipped until stiff

METHOD

In a small saucepan, plump the raisins in the sherry for 15 minutes over low heat, covered. If you are using fresh bread, dry the bread in the oven for 10 minutes. (If using dry bread, anise sponge cookies, biscotti, or ladyfingers, omit this step.)

Place half of the mango and all the evaporated milk in a blender. Puree until smooth. Empty this mixture into a bowl and repeat with the remaining mango, condensed milk, and vanilla. Add to the first mixture and mix well. Fold in the whipped cream one third at a time.

Strain the raisins and reserve the sherry and raisins.

In a clear serving bowl with straight sides, make a layer of half the bread cubes. Sprinkle half of the reserved sherry over the bread, followed by half of the raisins. Add half of the mango mixture. Add another layer of bread, sherry, and use the raisins, saving about 5 raisins for the top. Add the remaining mango mixture and the raisins to decorate the top. Cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Note: You can make this in the morning and serve at night, but it really is better if you leave it a day or two. Serve in wineglasses with a dollop of whipped cream, if you wish.

Oaxacan Chocolate Pudding (Budin de Chocolate Oaxaqueño)

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup mescal, or coffee-flavored cream de mescal
2 bolillos (3 1/2 cups) or dense French bread, crusts trimmed off, bread cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 pound Oaxacan chocolate, broken into pieces
1/2 cup strong coffee
3 large eggs
1 cup Mexican crema or créme fraîche
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure Mexican vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground Mexican cinnamon

For la salsa de tuna:

1 3/4 cup red fruit of the Nopal cactus puree (other fruit such as mango, raspberry or strawberry can be substituted)
8 ounces mandarin orange juice
2 tablespoon sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons Cointreau

For the topping and assembly:

1 cup whipping cream or créme fraîche
1/2 teaspoon Mexican vanilla
1 to 2 ounce bar of Mexican chocolate

METHOD

For the budin:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Put the raisins in a small mixing bowl and add the mescal. Leave the raisins to soak for 1 hour, or simmer them covered on a low heat for 10 minutes, until plump.

Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake them in the oven until lightly toasted (15 minutes). Set aside. Turn off the oven.

Put the chocolate and coffee in a double boiler over medium heat until the chocolate is melted.

Put the eggs, cream, sour cream, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon in a medium-size bowl and stir with a whisk until blended. Stirring the egg mixture continuously, pour in the melted chocolate and continue stirring until thoroughly blended.

Add the raisins, mescal, and toasted bread cubes to the bowl and stir well. Set aside at room temperature until the bread completely soaks up the mixture, about 2 hours. (This can be made a day ahead).

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

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