Jibarra's wonder of a Mexican dessert

July 24, 2011 

My friend and I recently ate at Jibarra. We were celebrating her birthday and splurged on dessert. The pan de natas was one of the best desserts I have ever had. Could you persuade the chef to share the recipe? - Amy Weaver, Raleigh

Jibarra opened in 2005 in North Raleigh and relocated in 2009 to the historic Depot building in the up-and-coming Warehouse District downtown. An ambitious mix of traditional and contemporary fare ranging from cochinita pibil (slow-cooked pork) to duck tacos has earned Jibarra a reputation as one of the area's premier Mexican restaurants.

It's more than a little surprising, then, to see Wonder Bread listed as an ingredient for pan de natas, one of the restaurant's perennially popular desserts. Hector Ibarra, one of the owners of the family-run restaurant, explains that although the dessert takes a few liberties with a Mexican classic, it's rooted in tradition.

In its purest form, pan de natas belongs in the family of Mexican pan dulce ( "sweet bread"), a rainbow assortment of which can be found locally in Mexican bakeries called panaderias. Similar to Italian panettone, pan de natas is typically baked with dried fruit; and, like panettone, it's a Christmastime tradition.

But in some parts of Mexico, according to Ibarra, pan de natas is more like a bread pudding, with a sweet custard binding layers of bread. And in others, like the little town in Jalisco where the Ibarra family hails from, it's a sweet compromise, somewhere between pan dulce and bread pudding. Baked into the top are dried fruit and orange marmalade, the inspiration for the orange glaze in Jibarra's version.

Mariana Olivera, who was Jibarra's pastry chef in the early days, created that version - no doubt with considerable input from the Ibarra family - for a special prix-fixe dinner served a few months after the restaurant opened in its original location. She paired it with homemade Mexican ice cream, a nod to the traditional pairing of pan de natas and Mexican hot chocolate. The dessert was such a hit that it earned its way onto the regular menu and is now made by executive chef Oscar Diaz.

Specialty of the House gets recipes for local restaurant dishes. Send requests, including your name and city, to Specialty of the House, c/o The News & Observer or e-mail ggcox@bellsouth.net.

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