If you google “dulce de leche recipe” or “cajeta recipe,” the most popular result involves nothing but canned sweetened condensed milk. You boil it, in its can (potential explosions notwithstanding), until it reduces into something kind of tasty. I don’t understand why people choose to make it this way when there is a way to make it almost as easily and infinitely more delicious. Drizzle this over cheesecake, use it on or in ice cream, as a dip for fruit, an addition to your coffee or hot cocoa, or just on a spoon destined for your mouth.
Traditionally, cajeta is made with goat’s milk, which gives a fantastic tang to the finished product, but the cow’s milk version, dulce de leche, is also delicious. Depending on the resource you use, some folks say that they are interchangeable and others say they aren’t, but to me, it’s just semantics. Regardless of the type of milk you use, cook this in a large pot- milk has a tendency to foam and boil over, and the addition of baking soda exacerbates this, especially when you stir the milk. You want a lot of space for the milk to expand, so if you don’t have a pot large enough, consider halving the recipe. Though this takes a couple of hours to make, there isn’t much work to do other than stirring it and making sure it doesn’t boil over, making it ideal to make while you are busy doing other things in the kitchen.
1 gallon of whole milk (goat’s milk is traditionally used, but cow’s milk works well)
4-5 cups sugar (I use 4 cups, but tend to like mine a bit less sweet than most people)
One vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1. Pour the milk into a very large pot and add the sugar, vanilla bean scrapings and pod, and salt. Over medium heat, bring the milk to a simmer, stirring to help dissolve the sugar.
2. Once the milk has come to a simmer, remove it from the heat and stir in the baking soda. It will likely foam. Once the foam has subsided, return the pot to medium-low heat and allow it to simmer until a caramel color. This can take a couple of hours. Keep an eye on the heat- you want to keep it at a low simmer so it doesn’t boil over, so you may need to adjust the burner temperature. As the cooking progresses, you’ll want to stir the cajeta more often to avoid scorching.
3. Once the cajeta has reached a caramel brown color, use a spoon to drip a tiny bit on a plate. Let it cool and check the consistency. If the cajeta on the plate is the consistency of a runny honey, it is done; if it is too thick, add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pot to thin it to that consistency.
4. When the cajeta is fully cooked, pour it through a fine mesh strainer that is set over a glass collection container of your choice (mason jars are ideal here). Let cool, then refrigerate. It should keep for at least six weeks in the refrigerator, and likely more. Before serving, warm the cajeta to pouring consistency.