I have this idea that everybody loves caramel.
You might like it salted.
Prefer it with chocolate.
Enjoy it chewy.
There’s a caramel for virtually everyone.
And whatever form your caramel-love takes, what’s better than making your own? Nada.
Goat milk is what makes this particular type of caramel so special. Have you ever tried milk from a goat? It has a grassy, fresh aroma and flavor – very rustic but also very dairy. Almost like a truffled version of fresh cow milk.
Today we’re making cajeta, a traditional Mexican caramelized syrup made from sweetening and cooking down goat milk.
I love cajeta because it is so simple and pure.
I love cajeta because there’s nothing to it other than the flavors of the milk, sugar and canela, yet it tastes so intoxicatingly complex.
I love cajeta because there’s an enormous jar of it sitting on my counter right now, and it’s about to get on my ice cream, under some fresh strawberries, and in to my tummy.
Don’t panic if you can’t find goat milk – you can make cajeta with milk from a cow. It won’t be authentic, but it will still be delicious. If you’re going to go on the hunt for goat milk, look for the Meyenberg brand that I found. It’s most common and I purchased mine from a national chain grocery store.
Another thing to love about cajeta is how little labor is involved.
Simply set up your pot (preferably a Dutch oven), add your milk, sugar and seasoning (preferably a stick of canela, otherwise a stick of cinnamon will do), and cook slowly over medium to low heat, stirring occasionally as the spirit moves you.
The key to most excellent cajeta is finding just the right temperature, which will depend of the acidity of your milk, as well as the size of your pot. You want your milk to slowly but actively simmer down to the thick syrup that ultimately serves as the final product. You also need to stir enough so that nothing sticks to the bottom or sides of the pot.
Simmer. Stir. Wait. No biggie.
Your cajeta will gradually turn from white to a light golden color, and then to a deep khaki tan. I’ve listed some notes on cooking times below.
As your cajeta comes close to finishing, you can start testing it on a plate. Once the cajeta cools on the plate, it should be the consistency of a thick syrup. If it’s too viscous, simply add some water and keep stirring until it has thinned. You’re done! If it’s not thick enough, keep cooking for just a little while longer.
It’s just that simple. Can you dig it? Of course you can!
And here’s where your own particular brand of caramel-love comes in: simply jar your fresh cajeta and then consider the sky your limit.
Will you bake with it? Fruit it up? Show it some ice cream affection? Get down with some fleur de sel?
Of course, there will be no judgment here if you simply introduce your new cajeta to the closest spoon. That’s caramel-love at its purest.
recipe adapted from Rick Bayless/frontera
2 quarts goat milk (As I mentioned above, cow milk may be substituted. If you opt for cow milk over goat milk, be sure to go with whole fat cow milk.)
2 c. white sugar, granulated
1 stick canela (a cinnamon stick may be substituted)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. water (plus extra, possibly, for thinning)
Dissolve the baking soda in the water and set aside.
Cook the milk, sugar and canela over medium heat in a large pot, preferably a Dutch oven. Bring to a simmer while stirring regularly (once the mixture begins to simmer, you should note that all of the sugar has dissolved). As soon as the mixture is simmering actively, remove from heat and stir in the baking soda mixture. The milk may foam if the milk is highly acidic – that’s not a problem. Once any foam subsides, return the mixture to heat and adjust the temperature so that it is at a constant, brisk simmer. Continue to stir regularly.
Regarding cooking times: the first part of this process -bringing the milk to its first simmer, adding the baking soda, returning to heat- took about 20 minutes. Cooking the milk down to the cajeta took about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Keep in mind that this is only while maintaining the mixture just below a boil for the entire time.
After one hour of cooking the cajeta down you can begin testing a couple drops on a plate: when cool, the cajeta should be the consistency of a medium-thick caramel sauce. If the cooled cajeta is thicker (almost like caramel candy), stir in a tablespoon or so of water and remove from the heat; if too runny, keep cooking.
Once the cajeta is done, remove it from heat and allow it to cool before pouring it into storage containers, preferably glass jars. Refrigerate your cajeta until you are ready to serve. You can always reheat it (even in the microwave) and stir in a few drops of water to thin if necessary. Mr. Bayless indicates that cajeta keeps for a month or more in the refrigerator, as long as it’s tightly covered.
YIELD: approximately 18 fluid ounces