Three Paths to Cajeta (Goats Milk Caramel)

Dos Caminos a Cajeta
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Most people nonchalantly say that Mexico’s cajeta is the rest of Latin America’s dulce de leche, but that’s not completely accurate. Yes, they both start with dairy that’s slow-cooked with sugar until well over half of the milk’s water has evaporated, creating a luscious texture, and the natural sugars in the milk have browned to a very tasty caramel color. Mexican cajeta has been traditionally made from tangy-earthy goats milk, while dulce de leche is typically more neutral-flavored cows milk. Cajeta is frequently redolent of cinnamon; dulce de leche may offer a touch of vanilla, though it’s not mandatory. Cajeta, like most creations of the Mexican kitchen, is bold—certainly bolder than dulce de leche. But both satisfy in a way that’s unique from the more common caramel sauce that’s the results from cooking just sugar to a rich amber before adding cream. The way I learned to make cajeta was in Celaya, Guanajuato, in an enormous copper cauldron near the place they milked goats. The mixture simmered slowly for a day or so, evaporating water and taking on the most beautiful color, most enticing aroma. That’s the first way I’ll explain how to make cajeta—though in a much smaller quantity cooked in a much shorter time. You must know, however, that the end result is considerably different in texture from what you can buy in the Mexican groceries. The name brands sport the flavor of cajeta, but the texture of glucose—thick and gooey. The second path I’ll take you down is similar to the first, but employs a slow-cooker doing its slow-cooker thing for the better part of a day. It’s kind of a no-brainer and turns out beautifully brown cajeta. Since it takes so long, it’s easy to forget that you’ve got something cooking. And the third employs a can of sweetened condensed milk, an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, and very little of your time. The result is different because it’s made only from cows milk and the texture is thicker, more spreadable than drizzleable. It’s more like the dulce de leche you find in Latin America
Servings: 3cups for the stovetop and slow cooker versions, 1 3/4 cups for the pressure cooker version
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Ingredients

  • For Versions 1 and 2
  • 2quarts goats milk (or half goats milk and half cows milk)
  • 2cups sugar
  • A 2- to 3-inch piece of cinnamon, preferably Mexican canela
  • A generous 1/2teaspoon salt
  • 1/2teaspoon baking soda dissolved in a tablespoon of water
  • For the Pressure-Cooker Version
  • 1(14-ounce) can of sweetened condensed milk (preferably made from goats milk)
  • A 2-inchpiece of cinnamon (if you want)

Instructions

Version 1: Stove Top.  In a medium-large (6-quart) pot, Dutch oven or Mexican copper cazo, combine the milk, sugar, cinnamon and salt over medium-high heat.  Whisk or stir as the sugar dissolves and milk comes to a simmer.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the dissolved baking soda (the mixture will likely foam).  Return the pot to the heat and adjust the temperature to keep the milk at a brisk simmer (not a rolling boil).  Stir occasionally to ensure that nothing is sticking to the bottom, until the mixture has taken on an amber color and has begun to thicken, about an hour.  Be close by for the rest of the cooking.  Turn down the heat and stir the mixture regularly until the color darkens to a rich caramel brown and the consistency resembles honey. Test it on a chilled plate: a teaspoon should cool quickly to the consistency of caramel sauce.  If it’s too thin, continue simmering; if it’s too thick, stir in a little water.  (The slower this final simmering goes, the darker the cajeta.) Strain into a storage container.  Once cool, store tightly covered in the refrigerator for a month or more.

Version 2: Slow Cooker.  All slow cookers are different: in some, the cajeta will be done in as little as 15 hours, while others may take 22 hours or longer.  Combine all the ingredients in the slow cooker and turn on high.  When the milk is warm, stir to ensure that all the sugar has dissolved.  Cook uncovered for about 16 hours or so, until the mixture has taken on a light amber color. After that, stir it regularly (I do it every 20 to 30 minutes) over the next several hours—ensuring that nothing is sticking on the bottom—as the mixture darkens and thickens. It probably won’t look very pretty with a few white foamy clumps likely floating in places—they will get strained out.  Test it in a similar way, on a chilled plate: a teaspoon should cool quickly to the consistency of caramel sauce.  If it’s too thin, continue cooking; if it’s too thick, stir in a little water.  Strain into a storage container.  Once cool, store tightly covered in the refrigerator for a month or more.

Version 2: Pressure Cooker.   Set up the pressure cooker with the steamer rack in the bottom.  Remove the top from the can of condensed milk, then wrap the can in aluminum foil.  Set into the cooker and pour in water until it reaches half way up the can.  Pressure cook for 40 minutes, then quick-release the steam.  Use oven mitts to remove the can, uncover it and, holding it with an oven mitt or tongs, scrape the contents into a bowl.  Whisk to make it more fluid.  Scrape into a storage container.  Once cool, store tightly covered in the refrigerator for a month or more.  

 

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