Shelf Life likes this recent news item: “In San Francisco, a Girl Scout sold 117 boxes of Dulce De Leche and Tagalong cookies after setting up shop outside a medical-marijuana dispensary — a 46% increase over the product she moved in the same time span outside a Safeway.” (Time magazine)
Nice anecdote; however, had Shelf Life been there, things might have gotten unseemly. We love dulce de leche, in any form — so much so that innocent, sickly dopers may have been injured in our rush to grab the cookies (including the Tagalongs, a name hitherto unfamiliar to Shelf Life; turns out they’re a peanut-butter and chocolate combo).
Dulce de leche (“milk candy” in Spanish) is a spread or sauce prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk until it caramelizes. The classic caramel spread is enjoying a moment in the culinary sun; suddenly it’s in everything, even savoury dishes (see recipes below). Dulce de leche is popular in South America, notably in Chile, Venezuela and Argentina. A Mexican version called cajeta is made from goat’s milk. Although Shelf Life adores dulce de leche, we still don’t know how to pronounce the stuff; after watching an unnervingly throaty lesson on YouTube, we gave up (we’re going with the short and sweet “dool-say”).
“You say doolsay, we say tomahto, let’s open a restaurant” chorus this week’s expert judges: freelance writer, chef and culinary she’s-all-that Signe Langford; television food stylist Sandra Watson, recently culinary director on CBC’s Recipe to Riches; and Victoria Zielinski, pastry superchef at The Westerly Kitchen and Bar; all in Toronto. Space limitations prevent us from evaluating every product in a given category; entries reflect the luck of the draw. Items are blind taste-tested and awarded between zero and five stars. After the taste test, judges were invited to feature a dulce de deche brand of their choice in a recipe.
Bonne Maman Dulce De Leche
830g, $3.99, available at Loblaws stores; for more information visit bonnemaman.ca
Signe It’s creamy, smooth and glossy, and I ate it all. Brand 1 has a very attractive smooth taste and an equally attractive dark blond appearance. There are no flaws here, as far as I can tell. Put this in the bottom of your cup and then drip your French pressed coffee in there — delicious. ★★★★
Sandra Yes! I recommend getting right down to the naked truth with Brand 1 — just dip a spoon in the jar and enjoy. It has a lovely silky, pourable texture and a delightful full-bodied caramel taste. I would serve it drizzled on a crepe filled with Nutella and bananas. ★★★★½
Victoria How about a banana caramel smoothie? I really like Brand 1’s deep brown glossy look and its rich creamy taste — I think it would have lots of applications. People love sweet cocktails, Brand 1 could certainly go there. ★★★★½
TOTAL: 13 stars
Haute Goat Goat Milk Caramel Cajeta Sauce
$12.50, available at select gourmet stores in Ontario (e.g. The Candy Bar on College in Toronto); for more information visit haute-goat.com
Signe Hello — meet the goat! We’re in the barnyard! Love it, love it, love it! This is a smooth product with a distinctive knockout flavour. So many uses spring to mind: cheesecake, a mini pavlova, or — cheese please! — a charcuterie plate with pecorino and pork sausages. Incredibly real taste. ★★★★½
Sandra Sorry … but when I taste Brand 2, I end up wearing my squinched-up picky baby face. It doesn’t appeal to me — it’s a bit much. Having said that, I can see the appeal, and I think goat milk caramel sauce would make an interesting whoopee pie. ★★★½
Victoria It’s got a really unusual tang, and I agree with Signe — the possibilities are amazing. Maybe a mango purée. Or something with Dijon mustard? Or — a thick stack of banana pancakes with Brand 2 slathered between layers, plus bacon. ★★★★
TOTAL: 12 stars
Nestle La Lechera Dulce de Leche
380g, $3.99, available at Latin food stores; for more information visit elmejornido.com
Signe You have to sniff really hard to get the aroma, but there’s a burnt sugar smell in there that’s not too bad. There’s a thickener in the house — that’s OK — it’s starchy, but at least the milk comes through. ★★★
Sandra Brand 3 tastes like it has been processed in a can; I’m getting an odd condensed milk aftertaste. But I like the thick texture and the burnt caramel flavour — mix it with cream cheese and you’d end up with some tasty icing. ★★★★
Victoria Brand 3 is really all about the condensed milk. If you don’t like the taste of condensed milk, you won’t like this dulce de leche. It reminds me of an ice cream cone you can buy on the streets of New York — a few of the food trucks sell the Salty Pimp, which is vanilla ice cream, chocolate and dulce de leche. ★★★½
TOTAL: 10½ stars
Gaucho Ranch Dulce de Leche
425g, $7.99, available at gourmet food retailers and at Latin food stores; for more information visit gauchoranchfoods.com
Signe Brand 4’s appearance is very dark, almost chocolatey. Then it’s all downhill: The texture is gluey, the aroma is like old socks and I can taste the fillers — someone has dumped a lot of cornstarch in there. How do you screw up cooked milk? Well — like this. ★
Sandra It’s so thick Brand 4 is hard to get off the spoon — not a wonderful quality. This dulce de leche smells like common caramel, and the flavour has a burnt quality. ★½
Victoria It’s thick and dark and smooth, but Brand 4 tastes fake. Or cheap, like those caramels you get at Halloween. ★
TOTAL: 3½ stars
The Results Technically, Bonne Maman had the advantage, but Haute Goat was the star of the show — judges were enthusiastic about this extraordinary, head-butting product of Ontario. Nestle was deemed pretty-goodish, while everyone agreed in future to drive past Gaucho Ranch without stopping.
IF YOU DON’T EAT ALL YOUR DULCE DE LECHE WITH A SPOON FROM THE JAR, TRY IT IN ONE OF THESE RECIPES FROM SHELF LIFE’S PANELLISTS
Sandra Watson’s Bonne Maman Dulce De Leche Fudge With Pistachios & Maldon Sea Salt Flakes
1 lb (454g) 72% cocoa chocolate chips*
1 can (300mL) sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups (375mL) roasted, salted, shelled pistachios
* regular chocolate chips can be substituted.
½ cup (125mL) Bonne Maman Dulce de Leche spread
6 oz. (175g) white chocolate, chopped
1 tsp. sea salt flakes, or to taste 5mL
1. Spray an 8-inch/2L baking dish with cooking spray and line with two strips of parchment paper to create an overhang on each side. Place chocolate chips and condensed milk in a glass bowl. Set over a pot of simmering water and stir until chocolate has melted and mixture is combined. Stir in pistachios. Spread mixture evenly in prepared pan. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
2. Place Dulce de Leche and white chocolate in a glass bowl. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is combined. Pour over chocolate/pistachio fudge layer and smooth the top. Sprinkle with sea salt flakes. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Makes 36 pieces. Store in refrigerator.
Victoria Zielinski’s Haute Goat Caramel Swirl Ice Cream With Shaved Apple Cake & Sesame Seed Decor
Haute Goat caramel swirl ice cream:
2 cups 35% whipping cream
2 cups 10% cream
7 large egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup Haute Goat caramel sauce
1 vanilla bean, seeded and scraped
1/8 tsp salt
1. Heat both creams, vanilla seeds and pod in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. If time allows, steep the mixture for an hour, then bring it back to a simmer.
2. Meanwhile, whisk yolks, sugar and salt until thick and pale in colour.
3. While gently whisking, slowly pour the hot mixture into the yolk mixture until well blended.
4. Return mixture to saucepan and place over medium low heat. Gently stir until the mixture thickens. Do not let it boil. The mixture will be done when it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
5. Strain mixture into a bowl set over an ice bath. Occasionally stir until it is very cold.
6. Freeze in an ice cream maker following the manufacturer’s instructions. When it is almost ready add the caramel and mix it in briefly to create the swirl. Cover and freeze until very firm.
Shaved green apple cake:
3 large eggs
1½ cups granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeded and scraped
6 oz. unsalted butter, melted
6 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, quartered, cored and thinly sliced.
¾ cup all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
¾ cup whole milk, room temperature
1. Line 9- or 10-inch cake pan with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 375 F. or convection oven to 325F.
2. Place eggs, sugar and vanilla seeds in bowl. Whip on high speed until mixture is very thick and pale in colour. On low speed, slowly add the melted butter. Add flour and baking powder on low speed until evenly mixed.
3. Add milk and continue to mix on low speed until blended. Scrape batter and briefly mix by hand.
4. Pour batter over the apples and mix gently to ensure all the slices are coated with batter.
5. Pour batter into pan gently smoothing the layers and bake for approximately 45 minutes or until cake slightly pulls away from the pan and top is golden in colour.
6. Cool and chill before slicing. Serve with a scoop of Haute Goat Caramel ice cream and a spoonful of caramel sauce.
Sesame seed decor:
¼ cup corn syrup
1 tbsp. sesame seeds
½ tbsp. black sesame seeds
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Dip a wide brush in syrup and paint a 10 cm strip on a silicone mat. Sprinkle lightly with sesame seeds and bake for 5 minutes. Cool for 30 seconds. Lift warm strip gently with a spatula and mould into desired shape with a flat base. Repeat as needed. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container. Use the same day.
Signe Langford’s smoky pork ribs with Canadian Club-spiked Haute Goat Dulce de Leche
Don’t crinkle your nose like that! Pork loves sweet stuff. Maple, brown sugar, molasses, and si, even dulce de leche. For the method of this madness, I defer to the Great One – no, not that Great One, the other Great One – Ted Reader, King of the ‘Q. Follow this fire bug’s advice for the stickiest, most succulent ribs ever; even when done in the good old oven, like these.
1 approximately 2 lb rack of pork ribs (side or back, up to you)
4 tbsp Smoked Spices for Pork (from http://www.smokefinefoods.com )
1 tbsp bacon fat, rendered pork fat, butter or olive oil
1 -2 cloves garlic, minced or microplaned
1 tsp Mexican chili powder
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp dry oregano
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
½ cup apple cider or juice or water
½ cup CC or other rye whisky
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
¼ cup Haute Goat Cajeta or any brand dulce de leche
Your favourite Mexican hot sauce to taste
1. The Night Before: trim excess fat and silver skin or membranes from ribs. I like to render the fat from the trimmings and use it for this and other recipes. Bonus: pork rinds or chicharrones! Rub the Smoked Pork Spice all over the ribs – about 2 tbsp on each side. Wrap, refrigerate, and let sit overnight.
2. Pre-heat oven to 350 ˚F. In a small sauce pan over medium heat, add fat, garlic, chili, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir; don’t let the garlic or spices burn. Add apple juice (or water), rye, vinegar, dulce de leche, and hot sauce. Blend well – a whisk works best. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer to reduce by half. Taste and adjust for salt and hot sauce heat level. Once reduced, set aside.
3. Tightly wrap the ribs in a couple of layers of aluminum foil and set onto a sheet pan. Roast low and slow for about 1 hour per pound.
4. After about 2 hours, open foil, and drizzle about half of the dulce de leche sauce over the top; flip the ribs over and spread some more. Close up tightly again and pop back into the oven for about 1 more hour at 350˚F.
5. After about an hour, peel back the foil and transfer ribs to either the grill or onto a sheet pan to go back into the oven. Save those juices! Pour the drippings from the foil into the saucepan with the dulce de leche sauce, and stir. Use this to baste the ribs frequently, whether on the grill or roasting, uncovered, in the oven.