dulce de leche KC

I brace myself as I present the caramel.  A jar of homemade Dulce de Leche to my dear friend, Ms Contreras.  I apprehensively push the jar across the table towards her.  She eyes it eagerly.  My nerves grow as I fear disappointment.  I do not want this to be the second worst day of her life!

She promptly opens the jar, and, with spoon clutched in hand, lingers momentarily.  I almost slap both hands over my face in anticipation.  I fretfully watch as she scoops up a dollop of the Dulce de Leche, and quickly tastes.

And then it happened.  Immediately.  With just one spoonful.

Ms Contreras was instantly transported back to Chile.

To the lush and green surroundings of her childhood town of Talca.  The tree lined streets. The rolling hills.  To the four-hour train journey between Talca and Santiago she regularly took to visit family.  To the joy of the train stopping during the trip in the town Curicó.  To watching hundreds of charming old ladies dressed in white, selling Tortas de Curicó (pastry and caramel treat), to passengers on the train.

To the hustle and bustle of Santiago.  To the memory of standing at one of her favourite spots, the Plaza de Armas, surrounded by trees, statues and fountains.  To the imposing and majestic Andes looming in the background.  To the sound of Salsa and Cumbia from performers nearby.  To the memory of onlookers slowly moving their hips to the beat of this seductive Latin rhythm.

To the cheerful and sunny seaside retreat of Valparaiso.  To the colourful scenery of pastel buildings clinging to the steep hills.  To the charming art and antique markets full to the brim with treasures.  To happy chatter of families holidaying echoing in the distance.

To her grandmother’s kitchen.  To the memories of her lovingly making Torta de manjar (sponge cake filled with caramel and liquor and covered in caramel and nuts) and Pastel mil ojas (thin layers of pastry with rich caramel filling) for the family.  To recollections of helping her grandmother in the kitchen, watching, learning – and licking her mixing bowls and spoons after she was finished!

To the memory of so many special moments.

To the realisation that caramel takes her back there….

Then Ms Contreras is back, with me.

Back at Piaf, South Bank in Brisbane.  Fashioning a smile on her face that you could not mistake.  Seeing that smile I am reminded of why I bake – and my priceless reward.  What a privilege for me to share these special memories.

Dulce de Leche

Dulce de Leche is very similar to Confiture du Lait (milk jam).  I experimented making this caramel sauce based on these two variations.  P.S. There is no dangerous boiling of cans involved!

{ Dulce de Leche }

* Ingredients *
2 cans of sweetened condensed milk

* Directions *
Empty the condensed milk into an ovenproof bowl.  Generously cover with foil.  Put the bowl into a baking dish, and in a similar way to baking cheesecake, fill the tin up with hot water so it covers the condensed milk.  Bake for 1 ¼ hours at 200C or 400F.  Check the oven every 20-30 minutes to ensure the water levels do not drop.  The condensed milk should have turned a golden, brown colour when it is ready.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

{ Confiture du Lait }

* Ingredients *
600ml or 1 pint whole milk
250g or 1 1/3 cups sugar
Vanilla, optional

* Directions *
Add the milk and sugar to a heavy saucepan.  Add the vanilla, if using.  Bring to the boil stirring the mixture constantly.  Turn the heat down to a very low simmer, and cook for 2 ½ to 3 hours.  The caramel is ready when you have reached a golden, brown colour and thick consistency.  Remove from the stove and allow to cool.