February Food for Thought: Spoon Up the Sauce




Dulce de Leche, cajeta, majar or milk jam - this sweet sauce made from caramelized milk is a treat in any language. Milk jam or milk candy just doesn't sound as fancy or intriguing as confiture de lait from the Normandy region in France or dulce de leche from Latin America or cajeta from Mexico or manjar from Chile. But whatever you call it, that's what it is, whole full-fat milk that's sweetened (cow's or goat's milk) and cooked slowly until caramelized and the proper consistency is achieved. This is a delicious home-made or purchased product that can be used as a spread, sauce, flavoring or used as a topping for ice cream or a filling for cakes and tarts or simply sandwiched between cookies. Try it on a warm baguette for breakfast or it's also pretty darn good just eaten straight from the jar. None of this is new - caramel dates back to the Arab world about 800 A.D. and is produced by heating sugar until it melts and the molecules break down into volatile compounds that create a distinctive caramel color and flavor. Regions all over the world boast of their own versions of caramel, adding water or milk or butter to this molten mass to create different forms and textures of many confections. Whether you call it milk jam or milk candy, dulce de leche is what we are most familiar with. Milk jam is even being used as a flavoring for coffee in upscale caf├ęs and even folded into ice creams, not just on top anymore. I've included a basic recipe below for milk jam I think you will find easy to make, although a little bit time consuming. Confiture de lait might have a little vanilla bean added for flavor while the Mexican cajeta might have cinnamon and use a combination of half cow's milk and half goat's milk. The shelf life of this product is about 30 days in the refrigerator, but you won't have to worry about that -there won't be any left. Valentine's day is a great time to share this special treat with the one you love. Serve it like fondue with sliced apples, cookies and strawberries or maybe just a couple of spoons. Dulce de Leche Yield 1 cup 1 quart whole milk 1 cup granulated sugar 1/2 vanilla bean (split & seeded) 1/2 teaspoon baking soda In a large 4-quart saucepan, add the milk, sugar and vanilla bean and seeds, and bring to the scalding point, just below boiling. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the baking soda and mix well. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for about 1 hour - stirring occasionally. You're looking for an amber to dark caramel color and the mixture should be reduced to about 1 cup. The total time will take about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Strain through a fine strainer and store in a covered container if you can wait for it to cool. When it cools, it should be a spreadable consistency. If it's too thick, thin with a little water; if it's too thin, cook longer next time. Steve James, certified Master Baker is managing partner of Popovers on the Square, Portsmouth.

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