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Mexican Cooking Project #6

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Dulce de leche, known in Mexico as cajeta, is all over the place right now. Häagen Dazs makes dulce de leche ice cream, for pete sake. So cajeta is a new thing, right? Something just out?

 

Well, if you consider the second quarter of the 15th Century a recent date, then yes. The Spaniards brought cajeta--a sweet made of burned milk and sugar--to the Americas when they arrived. The name cajeta comes from 'cajete', the name of the small wooden box that cajeta has been packed in since time immemorial.

 

The Mexican capital of cajeta production is Celaya, Guanajuato, where it is produced in great abundance--a veritable river of sweet caramelized milk flows from local producers. Shortly after the the turn of the 20th century, a hydraulic tower was built in Celaya and the joke went around that the tower was filled with cajeta--turn the faucet and get all you want.

 

Cajeta was originally made entirely from goat's milk because goats were plentiful in the vicinity of Celaya. These days, a large percentage of commercially produced cajeta is made of cow's milk. Although home made cajeta is usually thought to be finer than commercial cajeta, the consumption and export of cajeta is such that no home producer could keep up with the enormous demand for it.

 

Cajeta originally was flavored only by caramelized milk and sugar. Commercial cajeta now contains corn syrups and stabilizers, and it also comes in a variety of flavors. Quemada (burnt) is my personal favorite, but other folks love the vainilla (vanilla), the envinada (wine-flavored) and the nuez (nut-flavored). I've heard of strawberry-flavored cajeta as well. In Celaya, you will find the traditional four-compartment cajete that contains a sampling of each of the four most traditional kinds of cajeta.

 

The typical cajeta you find in your supermarket--and yes, the bottled brands of Mexican cajeta have invaded many parts of the USA and Canada as well as other parts of the world--is not quite the same cajeta that you'd taste in Celaya. Even in Celaya it can be a project to find traditionally-made cajeta. Producers are few and their product is shipped primarily to other cities and states in Mexico. Commercial production has become the order of the day. My favorite brand of commercial cajeta is Coronado, but there are many others from which to choose.

 

Some people outside Mexico are making their own cajeta, starting with a can of sweetened condensed milk and a pressure cooker or a big pot of boiling water. I've never used this method, so someone else will have to post about it.

 

There are many ways to eat cajeta: heated (or not) and spooned over ice cream, spooned into crepes, as candies such as obleas, glorias, or natillas, or my favorite way: licked from a spoon as I read the latest news and gossip on Mouthfuls.

 

Jaymes is going to get us started with a few recipes for making cajeta desserts. Everybody jump right in, though. This is one sweet topic.

 

Right now I'm thinking of a dish of rich vanilla ice cream with a large dollop of cajeta on one side of the scoop and a large dollop of Nutella on the other side.

 

Heaven in a dish.

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cajeta is a very dirty word in argentina, thus the name dulce de leche.

 

i make this quite often, usually with goat's milk. my wife likes to dip marias in it.

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Cajeta is usually available at Mexican grocery stores. Or you can order it here:

Coronado Cajeta from MexGrocer

 

Six Recipes Using Cajeta (Two of the recipes call for boxed cake mixes; of course I know scratch is better, but this is how the recipes were given to me, and I haven't converted them yet. Perhaps one of you good bakers would be so kind as to make that conversion for me.)

 

 

Mexican Bananas Foster

 

10oz cajeta

¼ cup tequila

3 bananas

1 T butter

1 pint vanilla ice cream

¼ cup toasted pecan pieces

 

Warm cajeta in microwave oven or in a bowl set over boiling water. Stir in tequila. Slice bananas in half both lengthwise and crosswise making four quarters. Lightly sauté in the butter in a nonstick skillet, or heat in microwave. Put a scoop of ice cream into each bowl. Top each with three of the banana quarters. Spoon warm cajeta over all and dust with the pecan pieces. Serves four in individual bowls.

 

 

Flan Cake

 

1 box yellow cake mix

1 tsp. vanilla

3 eggs

Cajeta to taste

2 cans evaporated milk

chopped pecans

1 can sweetened condensed milk

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. You will need a bundt pan and a shallow casserole into which the bundt pan can fit. Fill the casserole ¾ full of water and set into oven to preheat. You will bake the cake in the bundt pan sitting in the water to ensure that the flan does not over-cook.

 

Add ingredients to cake mix as directed on box to prepare for baking and set aside. (Do not place in oven.)

 

Prepare flan: Combine thoroughly the eggs, milks and vanilla, trying to avoid creating too many air bubbles.

 

In bundt pan, spray with non-stick spray, and dust with flour. Cover the bottom and the sides liberally with the cajeta. Sprinkle bottom of pan with nuts. Add flan mixture. Pour in pre-prepared cake mixture. Set bundt pan into casserole and bake for 45-60 minutes, or until top is lightly browned. You can test by putting in a toothpick or straw, but do not insert it too far or it will have flan on it when you remove it to test for doneness.

 

 

Baked Apples Cajeta

 

Just prepare your favorite baked apple recipe and top with warmed cajeta. Serve alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

 

 

Fruit Shortcake Caramel

 

Pile favorite fruit (strawberries, peaches, blueberries, etc.) onto slices of pound cake and top with slightly warmed cajeta.

 

 

Chocolate Flan Cake

 

1 box chocolate cake mix

10.9-oz jar cajeta (pref Coronado brand, or other good, authentic, goat's milk brand)

 

Flan:

1 can sweetened condensed milk

½ C whole fresh milk

1 large can evap milk

8-oz cream cheese, room temp

1 tsp good-quality vanilla

5 eggs

¼ cup sugar

 

Preheat oven 350.

 

Combine ingredients for cake mix according to pkg directions.

 

Soften cajeta in microwave and pour into greased large bundt pan. Pour prepared cake batter into pan.

 

Prepare flan: Combine flan ingredients thoroughly but carefully, without creating a lot of air bubbles. Pour flan very slowly and evenly over cake batter. Cover pan tightly with foil. Set bundt pan into larger pan, set on oven rack and slide in. Carefully pour hot water into larger pan to depth of 2?. Bake about 2 hours. Remove cake from water and cool 15 minutes. Invert cake quickly onto LARGE platter, and slowly and carefully remove pan. Cajeta will drip down sides of cake.

 

 

Caramel Crepes

 

24 crepes

3 cups cajeta

3/4 cup whole milk

3 T unsalted butter

3 T Cognac or brandy

2 C pecans, toasted and chopped

 

Preheat oven to 350º. Combine cajeta, milk and butter in heavy saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until reduced to about 2 3/4 cups -- about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Cognac.

 

Place 1 crepe on work surface. Spread with 1 T of sauce and sprinkle with 1 T pecans. Fold crepe in half over filling, then in half again, forming a triangle. Repeat for all 24 crepes. Arrange crepes in two 13x9x2 glass dishes. Warm remaining sauce and pour over crepes. Bake until heated through -- about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining pecans. Plate 2 crepes with scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside and serve immediately.

 

Serves 12 at 2 crepes each.

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Some people outside Mexico are making their own cajeta, starting with a can of sweetened condensed milk and a pressure cooker or a big pot of boiling water. I've never used this method, so someone else will have to post about it.

I wasn't at all impressed with this method. I did an extensive test involving several methods and posted on that other site. See full report here.

 

I do find that the stuff I make starting with whole fresh milk ends up runnier than I'd like. An Argentinian friend reports that they always thickened theirs with a little corn starch. I have yet to try that. I also have yet to try her other trick, which is to put a handful of glass marbles in the pot while the milk cooks down – to prevent build up on the bottom and sides of the pot. Sounds plausible.

 

A nice simple way to use DdL (though a little more complicated than dipping it out of a jar with one's finger) is to stir a big glob into a mug of hot millk. A splash of good rum improves this treatment.

 

Somewhere, I have my freind's recipe for alfajores, if anyone's interested. Never made them myself.

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Somewhere, I have my friend's recipe for alfajores, if anyone's interested. Never made them myself.

Well, I'm interested.

 

:blink:

 

And just as an aside, I'd always heard that cajeta is made with goat's milk. Dulce de leche is made with cow's milk. Clearly that information may not have been correct, but that's what I'd always understood the difference to be.

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I'm sure there's a lot of myth and lore about the origins of cajeta. Ortiz says that it was originally made with half goat and half cow milk. Doesn't really make sense to me. I would think you'd generally have one source of milk or another. I guess if you wanted to get the flavor of one, but cut it with the other it would make some sense, but not as an original dish, but as a bastardization. She says the name came from the little boxes in which people would bring leche quemada, called cajetas de leche quemada, back to their homes. Eventually it was shortened to cajeta. Where is Sharon when we need her to bring out some obscure Spanish food history book with the authoritative answer? More on this at the end. (PS: Argentinians aren't the only ones to use "box" as a naughty word.) Here's Ortiz's recipe:

 

2 qts milk

3 C sugar

1/4 t soda

Small piece of cinnamon

 

Combine half milk and all sugar in saucepan and cook over low until golden. Combine other ingredients in separate saucepan and bring to a boil. Discard cinnamon. Add hot milk mixture to caramel a little at a time. When incorporated, place over low heat until very thick. She gives variations for cajeta envinada (with wine) and cajeta de almendra envinada (with wine and almonds).

 

Haven't tried that one. I can attest to Bayless's recipe in One Plate at a Time however:

 

2 qts goat milk

2 C sugar

Cinnamon stick

1/2 t baking soda dissolved in 1 T water

 

Combine everthing but baking soda in a dutch oven or cazo and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and add the baking soda. When bubbles subside, return to heat and keep at a brisk simmer stirring often until it reaches a golden color and thickens to the consistency of maple syrup. Strain.

 

I also had this at Topolobampo and it was one of the couple things that I thought was truly excellent.

 

Interestingly, at the intro to the recipe he talks about several Mexican cookbooks from the 19th century with dozens of cajeta recipes, which are all described as merely thick sweets that can be spooned into boxes. (He notes that even today the phrase "punto de cajeta" is used to described a sufficiently thickened item.) They have ingredients like guava, jicama, fava bean, pineapple, chayote, etc, but few have milk. He doesn't really have any reason as to how cajeta has come to be just the Guanajuato specialty of, essentially, dulce de leche. I imagine it's kind of like Kleenex being used to refer to all tissues. It was probably the most popular and the most widely popular and just became the term. My question, then, is what happened to all these other cajetas? Most of the thickish dulces in dulcerias that I'm used to are far beyond a syrupy/goopy consistency.

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Here's what the Mexican government specifies about the production of dulce de leche vs the production of cajeta. You can find the full article here.

 

1. Verificación de las características de la leche. El dulce de leche debe contener un 26 % de sólidos de leche, por lo que se debe calcular la cantidad de leche que será necesaría para tener el porcentaje de sólidos necesarios. Para la elaboración de la cajeta se usa leche de vaca o de cabra o una mezcla de las dos. También es necesario verificar la acidez de la leche (expresada en ácido láctico).

 

Translation:

 

Verification of the characteristics of the milk. Dulce de leche must contain 26% milk solids, for which the quantity of milk necessary to have the needed percent of milk must be calculated. For the manufacture of cajeta, cow's milk or goat's milk or a combination of the two are used. It's also necessary to verify the acidity of the milk (expressed as lactic acid).

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Interesting. (And I realize we're getting off the cooking part of the thread, sorry.) So does that mean that the requirements for cajeta are more stringent? ie, cajeta is a more specific determination of the same stuff? Do "solidos de leche" mean that dulce de leche can be called such if made from a variety of souces, such as milk, evaporated milk, condensed milk, etc? Of course, this is also a government marketing requirement and might not accurately reflect a) the common usage or b) the historical usage. Like people calling all sparkling wine Champagne or all tissue Kleenex etc.

 

PS: While I certainly use dulce de leche and/or cajeta for topping ice cream, crepes, etc, most often the bulk of it ends up being drizzled or spooned down my throat in a fit of Homeresque binging. Mmmm, binging.

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I've also gotten a lot of mileage out of the Bayless recipe. Note, however, that the actual recipe he gives differs from a recommendation elsewhere in the chapter, in which he says that using half cow's milk and half goat's milk leads to better results than using all one or the other. The all goat's milk version is a little bit tangier, but not obnoxiously so. Combining the two milks still gives you the tanginess, but at a cheaper cost.

 

Some of the best cajeta I've had was at Lanny's Alta Cocina Mexicana in Fort Worth.

lannysonechurritos.jpg

There was a tanginess from goat's milk. But there was also a more complex sweetness. I asked Lanny Lancarte what else he was putting in there and he said he finished the cajeta with a bit of brandy. If you have brandy on hand, consider that addition.

 

Scott

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I can also vouch for the Rick Bayless recipe in One Plate at a Time. I made it using all goats milk, which I don't think I'd do again. The recipe itself is very easy and the end results very good, but it was far too strong for my taste. And a lot of other peoples tastes too it seems since I couldn't given the extra away once people had sampled it. I also made the contemporary dessert he featured using the cajeta, an apple tart with cajeta if memory serves. That was pretty good, but even the richness in the pastry and the sweetness from the apples didn't mitigate the overwhelming strength of the cajeta.

 

I don't have a problem eating goat, and I do like cajeta (tho' I'm no fan of Glorias), but the all goats milk cajeta was a bit on the wild side. I'm also not big on goat cheese, but I have noticed that the goat cheese I've eaten in Mexico is considerably milder than that in the U.S., and pairs very well with epazote, BTW. I'm assuming the mildness is a function of the breed of goat and feeding/grazing choices which affects the quality and taste of the end product.

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Confiture du lait from France remarkbly similar - think its a savoyarde thing

 

I hedge my bets - a jar of CdL in the fridge at home and a jar of banana DDL in the fridget at work :blink:

 

J

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The Dulceria de Celaya in Mexico City in the Centro Historico on Calle Cinco de Mayo, which was built about 150 years ago during the Porfioriato, took its name from the the fame of the sweets, especially the dulce de leche de cabra, from Celaya, Guanajuato. Even at that time the cajeta of Celaya was famous in Mexico. (The Dulceria de Celaya is a tiny, Art Nouveau jewel box confectionary in Mexico City. Its bayed glass windows are filled with a most exquisite display of sweets, as well as the errant, seduced, and dizzy bee ... flitting hither and thither in a sugar paradise fog.)

 

Mexican cajeta or dulce de leche is, effectively, always made from pure goat's milk. It seems that goat's milk, with its more assertive taste profile, is frowned upon in much of Latin America as being a coarse or indigenous taste (ie: their 'pure' Spanish tastebuds are too delicate to deal with the goaty flavor).

 

The caramel is made from milk (principally goat's milk in Mexico; in Argentina and the more 'civilized' countries (mas gachupinados) from cow's milk. It contains sugar and a bit of bicarbonate of soda. It is cooked slowly and for at least and hour and a half. It is used as a topping, as a spread on toast, and in crepas de cajeta. Rick Bayless uses it to advantage (in my opinion) in his version of Pastel de Tres Leches: an almond genoise from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible, brushed with milk, cream, and cajeta. It is heaven, pure and simple.

 

Cajeta is also 'flavored': with vainilla, or envinado - with rum or sherry. Although it is made in Puebla, Mexico, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, and other surrounding states in Mexico, it is still most famously and artisanally made in Guanajuato, especially in the town of Celaya. And yes, you can still purchase it in cajetas de madera - wooden boxes.

 

Thanks for the invite; I've missed the hell out of you guys.

 

Theabroma

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Rick Bayless uses it to advantage (in my opinion) in his version of Pastel de Tres Leches: an almond genoise from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible, brushed with milk, cream, and cajeta. It is heaven, pure and simple.

 

I actually bought his cookbook just for that one recipe. Of course, now it's packed away with my other stuff in storage in Texas. :blink:

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