3.30.11 Sticky Sweet

Cajeta-790-xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
One of my earliest memories is of being handed a small saucer of fresh cajeta by a tall, dark-haired neighbor of ours in Mexico. A sweet seduction like this you never forget, no matter how chaste. This amber-colored elixir is the taste of my childhood: dizzyingly sweet, with notes of burnt sugar and barnyard commingled in a sigh of pleasure. The name allegedly comes from the Spanish phrase al punto de cajeta, which means a liquid thickened to the point at which a spoon drawn through it reveals the bottom of the pot. But I've also heard it said that it takes its name from the small wooden boxes in which it was traditionally packed. There is simply nothing like goat's milk caramel, cooked to a dark satin swirl and touched with hints of salt and vanilla. It's delicious with cheese, believe it or not, and drizzled over or mixed into ice cream, but I enjoy it best spooned sinfully straight from the jar.
 
Making-cajeta-790-xxx
stirring the (cajeta) pot
Cajeta is a specialty of Celaya in the state of Guanajuato, although it is also produced with the traditional hand-stirred method in Jalisco, and is widely available all over Mexico. You've most likely had dulce de leche, the very popular (especially in Argentina) cow's milk version of this, but it's missing some of the earthy, goaty notes that make cajeta so divine. If you've never tried it, you can looks for jars or squeeze bottles of it in Latino markets or even online. Coronado is a decent brand, but I recommend you make your own or go for the full-on artisanal experience with Fat Toad Farm.
Fat-toad-790-xxx
buy the (fat toad) farm
Fat Toad Farm is a family-run dairy in Vermont that produces delicious cheeses as well as several flavors of cajeta, including cinnamon and coffee. I think plain or vanilla are my favorites, though I have a weakness for the spicy habanero version made by Beekman 1802. If you can get your hands on some goat's milk—and raw is always best—you'll be surprised how incredibly easy it is to make cajeta at home. The little bit of corn syrup (I prefer organic tapioca syrup that I buy here) enhances the consistency but it not essential. Beyond good ingredients and patience, you just need a good stirring arm. Children come in very handy here, and they are happily rewarded with a spoonful of the results.
 

Cajeta (Goat's Milk Caramel)

makes about 1 cup
  • — 4 cups fresh goat's milk (or best quality cow's milk)
  • — 1 cup organic cane sugar
  • — 1 tablespoon light corn or organic tapioca syrup, optional
  • — 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • — 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise; or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or 3 tablespoons brandy
  • — 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water

Combine the milk, sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a medium, tall, heavy-duty pot. Scrape the vanilla bean into the pot and add the pod (if using vanilla extract or brandy, don't add yet). Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Remove from the heat, add the baking soda, and stir carefully as it will bubble and steam up. When the bubbling has stopped, return it to the heat.

Adjust the heat so the mixture is at a constant simmer, stirring often so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Once it has turned a golden color, pay more attention and stir more often. Cook until it is thick and a dark caramel color, about 1 hour. (It will get thicker and stickier as it cools.) Remove from heat. If using vanilla extract or brandy, add it now, being careful not to burn yourself as the cajeta may steam a bit. Allow to cool before using. Remove the vanilla bean. (If you feel the caramel has thickened too much once it’s cooled, simply stir in a bit of warm water.) Store in refrigerator; bring to rom temperature and/or gently heat before using if it has become too stiff.

CHEATERS' VERSION:

Although it can't compare to the traditional made from scratch, a quick and easy way to make cajeta is with a can of condensed milk. Using a can opener, poke 3 holes in the top of the can, then place the can in a pot with simmering water for about 2 hours. (Make sure you do't forget to poke the holes as without them pressure will build up and the can may explode!) Open the can and add the vanilla or brandy. Pour out the cajeta and store in a jar.

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2 Comments

That is your earliest memory? Lucky lady. Mine conjures images of me vomiting on my dear mother after a long car ride. I too am enjoying My Sweet Mexico - a shockingly alluring read (I've been browsing plane tickets so I can taste these treats at the source). Just out of curiosity - did you try it w/o the corn syrup as well? I see your note, but was wondering what the resulting consistency is w/o it.
Michelle on April 2, 2011 at 5:19 pm — Reply
Michelle: I have tried it without the corn syrup in the past and can't say I remember much difference.
laura on April 3, 2011 at 3:57 am — Reply