I honestly did not know that caramel could taste so good until I made my very own cajeta. Cajeta is a luxurious caramel sauce that is made by boiling down sweetened goat’s or cow’s milk. Aficionados will tell you that it should only be made with goat’s milk, but in some parts of Mexico they are adopting a combination of both goat’s and cow’s milk to make it. Otherwise, a mixture of sweetened cow’s milk should properly be named dulce de leche.
Up until a few weeks ago, I had never seen goat’s milk in the store. So, the first time I made this sauce to go on top of a chocoflan, I used cow’s milk and absolutely loved it. The cajeta or should I say dulce de leche was velvety and sweet with faint notes of vanilla from the flecks of vanilla bean.
Then one day, at Wal-mart of all places, I randomly spotted a quart of goat’s milk in the dairy aisle. Here was my opportunity to make truly authentic cajeta! So, I decided to buy it. Now, I would like to pause for a commercial and tell you that my only experience with goat’s milk anything is cheese. Yes, many think chèvres are a delicacy, but I detest the stuff. I think it tastes like wet sock. However, you will be happy to know that I did not carry this bias forward with me when I excitedly jumped into the process of making real cajeta with goat’s milk. So, as the pot of milk and sugar began to bubble away, it had that funny and familiar musty smell, but I ignored it. How could milk and sugar and vanilla simmered for hours possibly taste bad? But, it did. When all was said and done, my authentic cajeta made with goat’s milk had that suspicious muggy off taste.
Now, some will argue with me that this precise flavor is what makes goat’s milk cajeta so delicious. They say it’s more tangy, grassy, and tart. But, for now I prefer to use cow’s milk, and I guess we’ll correctly call my caramel concoction dulce de leche. (As an aside, many people say that fresh goat’s milk or milk that is handled properly will not have that distinct “goaty” flavor. Maybe I’ll give it another try sometime.)
Celaya, a small town in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, is best known for its cajeta. Here you will find a variety of flavors and types of cajeta, some cooked more than others and some flavored with liquors. Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to visit Celaya, but when I was living in Mexico, my landlady, Señora Nena, brought some cajeta back to Mexico City for me. It came in a long oval-shaped wooden box and had a tiny little wooden spoon with it. The cajeta was to be eaten straight from that box with the spoon. Boy, was it delicious! Many think that the name for cajeta came from this very presentation. In Spanish, “cajita” means little box and historians say that is where the name for the sweet is thought to originate.
Whether you decide on goat’s milk or cow’s milk, I can guarantee that your hours at the stove will certainly pay off when you taste your very own cajeta. Pour it on ice cream. Spread it on toast. Use it to sandwich two cookies together. Make a decadent flan. The possibilities are endless!
Click here for printable recipe.
Caramel Sauce (Makes about 1 cup)
4 cups goat’s* or cow’s milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 TBSP light corn syrup
¼ tsp. salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise OR 1 TBSP pure vanilla extract OR 1 TBSP vanilla bean paste
¼ tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 1 TBSP cold water
→Combine the milk, sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a medium, tall, heavy-duty pot. Scrape the vanilla bean into the pot and add the pod. **If using vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste, do not add yet.**
→Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally (every 3-5 minutes) so it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Remove from heat, add the baking soda, and stir carefully as it will bubble and steam up. When the bubbling has stopped, return it to the heat.
→Adjust the heat so the mixture is at a constant simmer, stirring often (every 1-2 minutes) so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Once it has turned a golden color, pay more attention and stir more often.
→Cook until it is thick and a dark caramel color, about 1 hour. (It will get thicker and stickier as it cools.) Remove from heat.
→If using vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste, add it now, being careful not to burn yourself because the cajeta may steam a little.
→Allow to cool before using. Remove the vanilla bean, if necessary. (If you feel the caramel has thickened too much one it’s cooled, simply stir in a bit of warm water).
- *If you read my blog post on cajeta, you will know all about the difference between goat’s milk and cow’s milk.
- Make sure the pot you choose has tall sides. Once you add the baking soda mixture, the cajeta has the tendency to foam up unexpectedly. One time, my pot was not wide/tall enough and I couldn’t control the cajeta. It boiled over and got all over my stove.
- I like my cajeta to be a darker caramel color. I think it has a better consistency and deeper flavor.
Recipe Source: Adapted from Fany Gerson’s My Sweet Mexico