It’s crazy to think that I’ve hit the age where something happened fifteen years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. About that time I was getting on a plane to Mexico for a family emergency with my mom. Having never been to visit her side of the family, I had no idea what was waiting for me.
The trip was definitely not built of butterflies and rainbows, but there was something intensely magical about seeing (and, in some cases, meeting!) my extended family in their own home. My mom’s relatives live in a small town in Jalisco, a town with winding, cobbled streets and a huge church with a sprawling plaza. There were vendors everywhere: agua fresca, fresh fruit, cut sugarcane. Despite the circumstances, our visitor status meant we had to try as much of the local food as possible. We had delicious grilled chicken, fried potato tacos and (my favorite) a special kind of roll spread with thick cajeta.
Cajeta is the Mexican version of caramel, a dulce de leche made at least partially with goat’s milk for an extra special flavor. I’m going to call my insane levels of love for the stuff part of my heritage. It’s totally the right thing to do.
Making this version at home requires one simple ingredient (with no goat milk in sight): a can of sweetened condensed milk. Apart from that you’ll need: a saucepan, plenty of boiling water, a timer and lots of patience.
Start by peeling off the label. Using a can opener, poke two holes into the top of your can. This allows for air to escape and make the whole process much safer.
Set the can into the center of the saucepan and add water around the can until you’ve reached about an inch away from the top of the can. The intent is to boil as much of the contents as possible while not letting the water splash onto the top of the can.
Bring to a full boil and then lower heat to maintain a low, slow boil. Here comes the patience part:
The can will need to boil for 3-4 hours. The longer it boils, the creamier it will become. I usually shoot for at least 3.5 hours. You’ll need to boil additional water to refill the water in the saucepan as it starts to run low. I set a timer for every 20-30 minutes to refill water until the cooking is done. Just continue filling up to an inch below the rim. Repeat. It gets almost cathartic. It’s worth it. I believe in you.
(Note: I cannot stress how important adding water is! The result of forgetting to fill up water isn’t just a scorched saucepan- the can itself could burst! Please be really careful.)
Once your time is up, use some tongs to remove the can from the water and let it cool. Be very careful not to let any water in your top holes! You don’t want to dilute your dulce de leche.
Now that it’s cool, use a can opener to remove the top of the can. Inside will be a golden colored cream.
Don’t be discouraged, it’s totally supposed to look like that! Dump the contents into a bowl, scraping the thick mixture from the sides of the can. Blend together well with a spoon (or whisk!)- you decide how precise it needs to be.
Perfect! You did it! This dulce de leche is just right for anything you’d use caramel for… and more. Spread it on some bread. Drizzle it on some ice cream. Remember peanut butter fingers? How about dulce de leche fingers? Eat it with a spoon.
P.S. Check back tomorrow to see my NEW favorite use for dulce de leche. I can’t wait to show you.