Monday, May 11, 2009

Dulce de Leche aka Danger Pudding

When I first met Mr. Maricucu and we'd hashed out all the background on each other, our family, our upbringing, I frankly said, "You know, we may have been raised in different countries and even different languages but the upbringing was the same." See I was raised in a dominican household in the states where family is above all else, hospitality is key and faith intertwines with culture. Mr. Maricucu was raised in the american south with all of the above just the English version.

Another shared characteristic is our unabashed cultural obsession with indulgent food that just tastes well, good. How so? All over latin america you'll find cooks that see nothing strange with breaking out the frying pot everyday, nay every meal. Whether araƱitas a plantain latka-like creation, fried yucca sticks, tostones (fried and smashed green plantains), snacks like pastelitos/empanadas or yaniqueque (our phonetic name for johnny cake aka journey cake), it's just another part of the meal. In the south that means hush puppies, breaded okra, fried green tomatoes, and hoe cakes. No blushing at the amount of grease being consumed on a daily basis or making excuses for other similarly indulgent but everyday foods.

Today my friends, you will meet another item that unless you grew up with such a culinary sensibility, will likely make you cringe and wriggle in your seat from discomfort. Meet danger pudding, dulce de leche, aka arequipe. Traditionally dulce de leche is made by boiling gallons of whole milk, obscene amounts of sugar and a bit of baking soda that somehow chemically reacts to provide a wonderfully thick caramelized milk product totally different than regular caramel. However, the zeal with which we latin americans embraced sweetened condensed milk, it's no surprise that making dulce de leche was shortened by *please don't faint* boiling unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk.

Yes, that's why it's called danger pudding. See in Dominican Republic sweetened condensed milk is a ubiquitous pantry product. We use it in desserts, in certain drinks (if you've ever had a malta and condensed milk shake then you know what I'm talking about), and dare I admit just eaten alone. Oh yeah, in many latin american and european countries condensed milk used to be sold in individual triangles like sour cream single serves before someone thought it would be genius to package the condensed milk in toothpaste tubes, you know so school aged children could whip it out at as a snack during the school day. I know, right about now you're thinking I'm crazy.

So, back to the dulce de leche. Knowing how obsessed we are with condensed milk it was just a matter of time before some enterprising person decided to boil the product still sealed in the can. What you get is a super thick, creamy, but complex tasting dulce de leche literally translated "sweet of milk". It's so much more than caramel. It's the kind of stuff you take a spoonful of in your mouth and your eyes roll into the back of your head before you hide the rest of the can from your family.

The method is simple. Take the labels off the condensed milk cans (yes cans, don't just boil one, you'll be sorry when you finish that lone can). Why take off the labels? Do you like scrubbing pots? I don't, so I take off the label and flick off the glue that would have otherwise boiled into a crust on the edge of my stockpot. I'm nothing if not a lazy cook. Place the cans into a deep stock pot (I use an 8qt one, my pasta pot) and fill with enough water to cover the cans by about 2-3 inches. Place on high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Boil 1.5 hours on one side, then flip the cans onto the other end and boil another 1.5 hours. Be sure to keep an eye on the pot and replenish the water to keep that 2-3 inch level above the cans. This is where the danger in danger pudding comes into play. If you were to allow the water to boil down to the level of the cans then the cans could explode. Nothing makes you swear off cooking faster than having to scrape caramelized dairy product from your ceiling.

After the cans are done boiling, be patient. They must cool before opening. Not just a little, but completely cool. Again, exploding hot goo = not so good. Unless third degree burn is the look you've chosen for summer, heed my words. Let the cans cool.

Then what do you do with this stuff? Oh my goodness do you even have to ask?! Um, aside from eating it off the spoon and yes you need to do this at least once, you can spread it between cake layers as a filling. You can thin it with warm milk or cream for a beautiful ice cream sauce. In the UK banoffi pie is legendary. You can gently slice open strawberries and stuff each one with a spoonful of the dulce de leche. Or my favorite - you can make alfajores. If you're a family member still living in south florida right now I want you to be quiet about you being able to drive down to the little peruvian travel agency on Kendall Drive to buy fresh alfajores. Just.Be.Quiet. I'm not jealous that I have to roll out dough, boil my own condensed milk and put together these babies before I get to bite into a delicious, crumbly, sweet rich bite of heaven. Nope, not jealous at all.

Thankfully google is my friend and I hope to test out a few recipes - if I can just keep my spoon out of the can of dulce de leche.

Safety Disclaimer: This is just a blog and I am just a blogger. The above method for boiling dangerously hot milk and sugar pressurized in a can is my method. Anyone who attempts the above assumes all liabilty and risk. I make no guarantees that you won't hurt yourself by following said method and if you blow up your kitchen, go cry on your momma's shoulder then beg her to help you clean up. Do not under any circumstance get a lawyer to plead your case about some fool recipe you found on the web. Much love, Marielle.

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