It’s no secret that we’re drowning in goat’s milk here on the farm– three quarts a day is enough to satisfy even the most avid of enthusiastic-milk-drinkers-cum-amateur-cheesemakers. So when Amy suggested we make cajeta, I was plenty excited to try it. As a kid, I’d always wanted to make that Dulce de Leche where you boil a can of sweetened condensed milk for hours– turn a boring can of canned-something into candy? Yes, please!– but heard it was dangerous or something– what if the can exploded?– so never did.
Turns out, as far as basic preparation (“the bones of the recipe”), Cajeta = Dulce de Leche = Confiture de Lait = trans. MILK JAM. This delights me to no end.
It’s simple to make (“Get some milk. Put some sugar in it. Boil it.”), and wildly delicious.
Let me explain.
We took 6 quarts of goat’s milk (but you can use cow’s milk), mixed in 6 cups of sugar (this makes a tooth-achingly sweet caramel. Next time, we’re dialing way back.), and threw in a vanilla bean pod.
You bring this to a boil, and stir occasionally to make sure that the sugar dissolves and that the milk isn’t scorching. You can see in the picture above that the stove is on high– if you do this, keep an eye on it.
Meanwhile, dissolve a little bit of baking soda (less than a teaspoon) in a half-cup of water. Once the milk boils, add the dissolved baking soda– the milk will bubble up more crazily than before, because the baking soda’s releasing CO2. As I understand it, this keeps the cajeta sort of foamy, so that it cools into a silky cream, instead of gritty, precipitated-out sugar crystals.
Anyway, turn the heat down a little and keep boiling & stirring & boiling & stirring until your cajeta turns darker and darker tan. It should be reduced by a little more than half, and be pretty thick. This took us about an hour and a half– it could take you longer. Once it’s reached soft ball stage, take off of heat and let cool.
How to tell if it’s reached soft ball stage? Take out a little spoonful and throw it in some ice water. Did it waterily dissipate? Or did it turn into a firmed-up piece of soft caramel that you think you’d like to eat? If the latter, you’re gold. Another way to tell is to see if the sauce “ribbons”– if it drips directly off a slightly-tilted spatula, or if it runs along the surface of the spatula and then all drips off in one corner.
If you scroll down to the last picture, you can see that we opted to err on the side of a thicker caramel, mainly because you can always thin it out by heating it up. But, experiment. Make it how you like it.
Once the sauce cools, you can pour it into clean jars (note the 1 pristine jar that we’re giving to Amy, and the 1 grotty jar we’ve already gotten in to).
From 6 quarts of milk and 6 cups of sugar, we got 2 very heavy quarts of ultra-ultra-concentrated, thick, silky caramel. This goodness of this stuff is so highly concentrated that it was (according to Wikipedia) an important element in the Mexican War of Independence– which fact also delights me to no end. You get a lot of energy in a small, easily-transported, non-spoiling (all that sugar– it’s the same idea as jam) jar– you can win a war with this stuff! It’s awesome!
Thus far, we’re having it with our coffee– and eating it right off the spoon– but we’re also branching out into the rather Inception-like possibilities of putting it on goat-yogurt, or goat-ice-cream, and making goat-milkshakes (this is called, “Caprine Confection Inception”).
If you have any other caramel ideas, I’d love to hear them! I’ve had a particular yen for these ever since she blogged about them (also for this, but that’s weirder), and the best part is, we’ve got a closet full of lavender that’s been drying since June.
All I’m saying is, things are pretty darn wonderful around here. Thank goodness for goats!