Monday, July 2, 2007

Dulce de Leche

To call this a national obsession may sound like overkill but this ubiquitous sweet paste may even hold more cultural importance than peanut butter in the USA.
You find it as a spread for breakfast, or any other time of day; an alternative to ice cream or cream with you desert; a topping for ice cream; and in almost every imaginable pastry, tart and biscuit prepared in Argentina it seems, as seen below on a street stall.

While I found it's sweetness a little overwhelming at first it has grown on me. Dulce de Leche could be up there with grilled beef as the quintessential Argentine flavour.
The origins of Dulce de Leche are controversial but the history books point to 17 July 1829. Much of the confusion comes from another desert called "manjar blanco" that is also a preparation of milk and sugar to which cornstarch or gelatin is added but which stays totally white.
Dulce de Leche as we know it was first made in 1829 in Cañuelas, in Buenos Aires province, during the meeting of General Lavalle and Juan Manuel de Rosas. These two major Argentine historical figures came together to end the hostilities and call elections that would integrate the Junta de Representantes (Convention of Barracas). On July 17, Lavalle arrived at the camp of Rosas very tired from his ride and asked to see him to address the important matters. Being so tired he was unable to resist the temptation for a siesta while waiting in a nearby tent but he fell fast asleep.
An assistant was preparing sweet warm milk ("lechada") for mate when she saw someone sleeping on Rosa´s cot and, indignant, went to find help to get him out. In her haste she forgot the milk over the coals and it kept simmering slowly. When she returned with reinforcements Rosas ordered that his "brother" not be disturbed. Next day the newly awoken Lavelle and the cook found the "lechada" had changed into a type of brown gel. She and some of the sweet-toothed soldiers tried the paste and their enthusiasm converted those around them: thus Dulce de leche was born.

Ingredients

1 litre whole milk
200g sugar
50g Glucose syrup (may be omitted if unavailable)
1 teaspoon Bicarbonate of soda (aids the coloration of the final product)
vanilla or other flavouring - optional

Method
Combine all ingredients in a heavy based saucepan over low heat. Simmer until thickens, stirring frequently to begin with and continuously once it starts to thicken to prevent it catching on the bottom of the pan.
Cool and store in a jar in the fridge.
Can last many weeks in the fridge if you can resist it that long!

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