Dulce de leche in Spanish or doce de leite in Portuguese ("milk candy"), is a milk-based syrup. Found as both a sauce and a caramel candy, it is prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk to create a product that is similar in taste to caramel. It is also the basis for the elaboration of many sweets and desserts wich form part of the classics of the argentine gastronomy.
It is especially popular in Argentina and Uruguay, and also consumed in Paraguay and Brazil. The French preparation confiture de lait is very similar to the spreadable forms of dulce de leche. There are also other varieties of it around all Latin America.
There are many stories about the origin. One story involves the 19th century Argentinian caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas. The story goes that in a winter afternoon at the Rosas house, the maid was making some lechada—a drink made with milk and sugar boiled until it starts to caramelize—and she heard someone knocking at the door. She left the lechada on the stove and went to answer the door; and when she came back, the lechada was burnt and had turned into a brown jam: dulce de leche.
It may also have its origins in Europe, possibly as the French confiture de lait: a popular similar legend dating back from the 14th century exists in the region of Normandy, involving a cook from the military troops who had the same culinary accident when making sweetened milk for breakfast. Variations of this legend refer to a cook in Napoleon's army.
The most popular dulce de leche brands in Argentina are Ilolay, La Serenísima and Sancor. The most popular dulce de leche brands in Uruguay are Conaprole and Lapataia, which is made in Punta del Este.
The most basic recipe calls for slowly boiling milk and sugar, although other ingredients may be included to achieve special properties. Dulce de leche may also be prepared by cooking sweetened condensed milk for several hours. Although the transformation that occurs in preparation is often called caramelization, it is actually a form of the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction that is responsible for many of the flavors of cooked food. Dulce de leche is usually one sixth the size of its original volume.
Dulce de leche is used to flavor candies or other sweet foods, such as cakes, cookies (see alfajor) or ice cream, as well as flan. It is also popular spread on toast. Confiture de lait is commonly served with fromage blanc. Dulce de leche is also very popular on alfajores cookies.
A solid candy made out of Dulce de Leche, similar to the Polish Krówki, was also very popular, named Vaquita ("little cow") was manufactured by the Mu-Mu factory in Argentina. After the factory went out of business in 1984 (as a consequence of financial speculation by its owners), other brands began to manufacture similar candies giving them names such as Vauquita and Vaquerita in an effort to link their products to the original.
In early April 2007, Starbucks began offering Dulce de Leche flavored lattes and Frappuccinos.
The Dominican style of Dulce de Leche is more of a fudge than a syrupy sweet. The simplest way of making it is as follows: mix equal parts of whole milk and brown sugar, simmer over medium heat until it has the consistency of thick yogurt and then pour into a mold and leave to set up for 2-4 hours, depending on the size of the mold. Once it is set, it is removed from the mold and sliced. It can also be filled with jelly and jam, marmalade. It can also be flavored with vanilla and/or caramel, etc.
The Mexican cajeta is named after the small wooden boxes it was traditionally packed in. Developed as a specialty of the town Celaya in the state of Guanajuato, this Mexican version of dulce de leche is made of half goat's milk and half cow's milk. This is a very popular dish for Cinco De Mayo.
There are also other Brazilian, Chilean, El Salvador, Paraguayan, Venezuelan and Colombian varieties of it, which are solid and can be cut into bars. The Venezuelan variety is made in the city of Coro, in the Northwest of the country, and is sold as either pure dulce de leche or made with chocolate swirled in (dulce de leche con chocolate).
There is a similar confection known as Manjar blanco (“white delicacy”) in Peru and Chile, but the preparation of this delicacy does not fully complete the Maillard reaction of the sugars and so has a different flavor and appearance from other versions.
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