Saturday, July 24, 2010

Captivating Cajeta

I usually make cajeta every other weekend, to keep us stocked for our weekday morning caramel mochas.  I forgot to make it last weekend, and we ran out this week.  Because this is a treat I really look forward to, I decided the other night to “whip some up” after work.

I was up until after 11:00 p.m.

It’s not like cajeta is complicated.  It’s really not.  However, cajeta does take some time, and after evening chores and milking, even starting cajeta at dinnertime means a late night.  When I make cajeta early on a Saturday morning, I don’t pay a lot of attention to time.  I know it takes a couple of hours, at least, but for me, apparently, it’s more like three.  I cook it a little slower than the recipe calls for, because I do not want to burn it.  There is nothing more heartbreaking than being soooo close to having golden cajeta ready to pour into a jar and then burning it.  Believe me, I know.  That’s what I did on my very first attempt.  Nowadays, as I am stirring this luscious concoction, I repeat in my head, “Low and slow.  Low and slow.”  This is what my friend Jeff E. commented to me on Facebook when I posted about my heartbreak.

By now you might be wondering, “What the heck is cajeta?”  Cajeta is a sweet, sticky Mexican caramel sauce with a hint of cinnamon traditionally made with goat’s milk.  It is Heaven in a Jar.  We like to add a spoonful to a steaming hot café mocha, or drizzle it pour it over freshly homemade, hand cranked goat’s milk ice cream.  I am sure that there are many, many other uses for this deliciousness that we will work on discovering in the future.  Especially as apple harvest time comes close, I am imagining apple pie a la mode with vanilla ice cream and a touch of caramel.  I guess I better start thinking about eDiets again.

I discovered this recipe at a blog called Dishing It Out.  The author notes that cajeta can be purchased in some shops, and in Sonoma County it might be more available in the little Mexcian grocery stores.  Having made it, I can’t imagine settling for a store-bought version.  It is really worth the time!

You can make cajeta with any kind of milk, though I (of course) prefer goat’s milk.  You can find goat’s milk at Whole Foods and probably other local markets in Sonoma County.  I make my cajeta from raw milk, but pasteurized will do just as well.  Remember that whatever milk you use, it must be whole milk.

There is something magical about watching the transformation from milk and sugar with a touch of baking soda into this creamy, dreamy sauce.  I guarantee that you will lick the pot and spoon, so as not to let one tiny morsel go to waste.

The recipe from “Dishing It Out” is below.  Enjoy, and remember - “Slow and low!”

Cajeta, or goat’s milk caramel sauce
Adapted from Mexico, One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless

Makes about 3 cups

Note: This recipe can easily be halved.

2 quarts goat’s milk or a combination of goat’s milk and cow’s milk, or all cow’s milk (use whole milk in all cases)
2 cups sugar
a 2-inch piece of cinnamon stick, preferably Mexican canela
1/2 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

In a medium-large pot (preferably a Dutch oven), combine the milk, sugar and cinnamon stick and set over medium heat. Stir regularly until the milk comes to a simmer and the sugar is dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the dissolved baking soda. It will foam up a bit. When the bubbles subside, return the pot to the heat.

Adjust the heat to maintain the mixture at a brisk simmer. Cook, stirring regularly (you don’t have to hover over the pot - give it a stir about once every two or three minutes), until the mixture turns pale golden, about an hour. Now, begin to stir frequently as the mixture turns caramel-brown and thickens to the consistency of maple syrup. The caramel will start to bubble, and the bubbles will become bigger and glassier. Sitr regularly so nothing sticks to the bottom. Test a couple of drops on a cold plate. When cool, the cajeta should be the consistency of a medium-thick caramel sauce. If the cooled cajeta is thicker, stir in a tablespoon of water and remove from the heat. If it’s too runny, keep cooking.

Pour the cajeta into a wide-mouth glass jar or bowl through a mesh strainer. Cool, cover and refrigerate.

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