Dulce De LecheSeptember 9, 2010
I just got back from the source of dulce de leche: Argentina. They serve it everywhere and in everything. On breakfast buffets in the hotels it is translated as “milk candy.” A little much for me in the morning, but if a little spread on your toast gets your day going-why not?
If a country had a national cookie it would be the alfajor. LAN Airlines offers alfajores on their flights, and they sure beat peanuts. The alfajor consists of two light shortbread like cookies (but a bit lighter and made with cornstarch) sandwiched together with a dulce de leche filling. There are different flavors of cookies. Some alfajores are rolled in coconut, others dipped in chocolate. You can also find them with a lemon filling instead of dulce de leche.
At candy kiosks you’ll find at least 12 different brands of alfajores. Oreo even has one but I couldn’t bring myself to try it. Brands vary in taste and quality. Havana has alfajore stores throughout the country, more than 10 in Buenos Aires, and they are the ones you find at the Duty Free Shops when you are trying to spend your last pesos. My favorites are made by the company Cachafaz.
Dulce de Leche also finds its way into layered cakes (see picture above). The one I tried is actually not really a cake as we know it. It had the flavor of a thin cake and the appearance of a tortilla. The cake is made with egg yolks and flour, no sugar. At bakeries and restaurants I saw anywhere from 5 to 12 layers, each spread with a thin swipe of dulce de leche, and then topped with meringue. When I first saw it I thought it would be too sweet, but it was delicious.
Even thought dulce de leche is a part of South America’s heritage, my Argentinean friend told me that it didn’t take off in the United States until recently because during World War II there was a shortage of fresh milk so many Americans had to drink sweetened condensed milk with their coffee. It didn’t catch on until the next generation grew up and lost the negative association with that flavor.
Other countries make their own versions of dulce de leche. In Mexico, it is primarily made with goat’s milk and called Cajeta. The French make confiture de lait (milk jam) to spread on day old baguettes.
In the United States imported dulce de leche is expensive. It is made by combining and slowly reducing,either in the oven or on top of the stove, sweetened condensed milk or by putting an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot of simmering water for several hours. Food scientists frown upon this latter method since the can may explode it if it is not covered properly with water.
But now that I have tasted the real stuff I won’t be making it much anymore. It isn’t worth my efforts because what I get there is so much better. The flavor is less sweet and more intense with a beautiful golden brown caramel color. On my next trip I will take an extra suitcase.