Unusual Ingredient of the Week - Dulce de Leche

Basically boiled milk, Dulce de Leche literally translates as Sweet Milk or Candy Milk. It is a traditional South American delicacy, known in Mexico as Cajeta, originally made with half goat’s, half cow’s milk and cooked slowly with sugar. It is steeped in legend as to how it was originally discovered, but one Argentinean legend suggest it was a cook’s fortuitous non-attentiveness when making lechada (a milk and sugar drink) that produced this golden elixir. Another story firmly puts the invention on European territory, in France during the 14th Century where a headstrong servant girl attempted to upset her master for making her boil many pans of milk, so she deliberately sabotaged the milk by adding too much sugar and leaving it to cook for a long while, turning it into a brown jam (hence Confiture de Lait) that actually tasted delicious.
It is gradually gaining popularity with us Brits who are always a bit slower on the uptake than our Gallic neighbours and you can buy Dulce de Leche in jars over here now, produced by fine food companies as Merchant Gourmet but I think it’s much more fun to make it in a more traditional (and dangerous) way. Not that I’m advocating danger in the kitchen.
The process of boiling a can of condensed milk for four hours sounds like it might produce something entirely inedible but it actually makes the luscious, smooth, creamy caramel that's used for the filling of Banoffee Pies, poured over ice cream, used in flans or just eaten straight from the can. Simply put a can of Condensed Milk in a large saucepan, cover it with plenty of water and simmer gently for four hours. You must make sure the pan does not boil dry otherwise the can might explode. What takes place during the long cooking process is known as the Maillard Reaction, whereby carbohydrates and proteins react together, causing the colourisation and caramelisation of certain food items. The same process takes place when you roast meat or toast bread. As you can imagine, this is an important facet for the food industry who exploit it readily to produce the ‘baked goods’ aroma found in pre-packaged foods, such as popcorn or bread and for colouring Maple Syrup and Beer and even fake tan!
I will not be utilising the Maillard Reaction to tan my skin just yet, but I will be making a Banoffee Pie tonight to take to an informal dinner party tomorrow. It is, apparently, the hostess’s favourite dessert.

1 comment:

Saffron said...

I use Dulce de Leche when I want to make a quick Banoffee Pie!