Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dulce de Leche

    Dulce de Leche (Sweet Milk) is the most popular candy in the Rio de la Plata. As with many other things, there is a dispute between Uruguay and Argentina regarding its invention. The important thing is not "who" invented it, but the fact that it was invented and it is here with us to make our lives a lot sweeter.

    Legend has it that an important politician many years ago (I will not give names to avoid nationalities) asked his cook to warm some milk with sugar to accompany the Mate. The cook got distracted (for political reasons that we won´t go into) and the milk started to boil. When she remembered and went back to the kitchen the milk had become something brown and thick. When her boss tasted it he liked it and it became a new sweet to be enjoyed at all times. That's how Dulce de Leche was "invented".

    It is, of course, not exclusive of the Rio de la Plata. With different names it exists throughout Latin America. Manjar in Chile and Ecuador, Manjar Blanco in Perú, Bolivia, Ecuador and Panama, Arequipe in Colombia and Venezuela, Cajeta in Mexico, Fanguito in Cuba, and Dulce de Leche in Argentina, Uruguay, El Salvador, Honduras, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Republica Dominicana and Costa Rica.

    It is simply a preparation of milk, sugar and vanilla, boiled for a long time until it becomes thick and creamy.

    If you want to try it the hard way:

         Milk: 3 liters
         Sugar: 1 Kilogram
         Sodium bicarbonate: 1/2 spoon
         Vanilla: 1 pod or a small quantity of essence.

    Cook all the ingredients together over low heat, stirring all the time until the milk starts to boil. Lower the heat to the minimum and keep stirring, preferably with a wooden spoon doing an 8 movement, until the mixture begins to thicken and darken. Raise the heat until it starts to boil again. Remove from the heat and let it cool. It is ready to be tasted.

    If you want to do it the easy way just go to the supermarket and buy a jar of Dulce de Leche Lapataia or Conaprole. If this is too easy then do the following:

    Get a can of condensed milk. Put it inside a large pan and cover it with water. Boil for 2 hours. Take it out of the water (very carefully) and let it cool. Open it and you have a can of Dulce de Leche.

    The Dulce de Leche can be used in many different ways. It can be eaten out of the jar, one of the great pleasures in life, or mixed with other things. Some of the great things to eat with Dulce de Leche are bananas, pancakes, flan (creme caramel) or cakes. The Alfajor is a round pastry filled with Dulce de Leche, extremely popular in Uruguay and Argentina. There is a cake called Milhojas (Thousand Leaves) that is made of many thin layers of pastry, each one separated by a thick layer of Dulce de Leche, and covered with meringue. Try it, you won`t regret it.

    If you have a sweet tooth then any or all of this things are highly recommended.


Anonymous said...

As a native to Argentina who spent many summers in Uruguay, I have correct you: Dulce de leche does not have any vanilla. Not the original, not in Argentina and not in Uruguay. Milk and sugar, that's it.

Alejandro del Pino said...

Thank you very much for your message. Vanilla is, of course, optional. It is added to give it a "special" flavour. Most receipes for homemade dulce de leche ( - - - - - Sorry they are all in Spanish) include vanilla as an added ingredient. It can be, of course, left out.
I confess I have never prepared it myself, it requires a lot of patience.
Thanks again for you comment.
Best regards,

Anonymous said...

As an Englishman who spends much time in both Uruguay and Argentina, and loves both countries and Dulce de Leche, I can inform you that it was invented in England about 160 years ago. I'm not sure when the idea first came across the Atlantic but it strangely went out of fashion here a long time ago. I hope that is interesting information for you.

Alejandro del Pino said...

What I said about the “invention” of Dulce de Leche is a joke about the rivalry between Uruguay and Argentina regarding the invention or origin of different things.
The dulce de leche exists in many countries and most of them claim its “invention”.
It was most probably first accidentally “invented” in many places where somebody simply put milk and sugar to boil and then forgot about it.
No matter where or by whom it was first made, it is a great and delicious thing to have around.
Thanks for your message and regards,

A Friend Away From Home

I too am a foreigner. I have the advantage of coming from a country that is just round the corner. But I spent most of my childhood and adolescence as a foreigner, so I understand very well what it like is to be away from home. We could say that I became an expert in creating a home away from home. In times when there was no Internet and no cell phones, one had to get used pretty fast to life in new, far away places. And it was at those moments when one learned to really appreciate a friendly face, a soothing voice and a warm handshake. One felt that even living in a different culture and hearing a different language, one could find, and one always did find, a friend to make one feel a little less lost and lonely. Uruguay is very similar to Argentina, so it took no effort for me to feel at home here. Specially when the reason that brought me here is a lovely Uruguayan lady. We´ll get into that later on. But it really amazed me to find such a large quantity of foreigners, mostly from countries that are not so close at hand, living in this beautiful country. I have had the opportunity of meeting some of them. And I thought: "wow, even if the weather is great, it must not be so easy living far away from countries like Canada, USA, Switzerland, India or France. But I have been there so I can understand the feeling. And then I thought, what can I do to help them feel less far away? Could I find a way of becoming their friend away from home? I would really like to. I know Uruguay and the Uruguayan culture very well. I speak some of their languages. I understand them. Yes, I think that might work. I´ll try to help them and become their friend. And that is what I want to do. I am here to help you, to understand you and to try to make your stay in this great country as pleasant as possible.
Just ask, we´ll see what we can do.