What’s not to love about a creamy-dreamy caramel sauce with the subtle essences of vanilla and cinnamon and the distinctive tang of goat’s milk?
My husband had been carrying sweet memories of cajeta with him since he spent a semester in Mexico as an undergrad. Every time we’d simmer down milk or sweetened condensed milk to make banoffee pie or caramel filling for cupcakes, he’d reminisce about the caramel of his college days and urge me to swap in goat’s milk next time.
When I learned that goat’s milk was gentler on my lactose-hating gut, I knew I had to give the man’s request a shot.
Called dulce de leche (and generally made from cow’s milk) in other parts of Latin America, Mexico’s milk-caramel is often a bit more on the runny side (think sauce or dip rather than pie filling) and is typically made from all or at least some goat’s milk (though an all-cow’s milk approach is acceptable as well).
While it takes a while to cook down, the process is incredibly simple (no candy thermometers or soft-ball-stage tests required).
For best results, use a heavy-bottomed vessel that will conduct and distribute heat relatively evenly. A ceramic-coated cast-iron Dutch oven is perfect for the task. The mixture does not require constant attention, but you will need to check on it semi-frequently to make sure it is simmering and not scorching.
As the cajeta darkens and reduces, it will require incrementally less heat and more stirring.
1 cup brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 cinnamon stick (about 3 inches long)
1 quart whole goat’s milk
1 vanilla bean
Place the brown sugar, salt, cinnamon stick, and goat’s milk in a 4-quart Dutch oven. Use a paring knife to split the vanilla bean lengthwise, and use the dull edge of the knife to scrape out the tiny seeds. Add the seeds and the pod to the other ingredients and stir gently to combine.
Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it reaches a rapid boil (about 25 minutes on an electric-coil range). Reduce the heat slightly, and continue cooking at a gentle boil or peppy simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 50 minutes. Use a spider or heatproof slotted spoon to remove and discard the cinnamon stick and vanilla pod.
Reduce heat to med-low and continue to stir occasionally for 75 to 90 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer, and stirring a bit more frequently to prevent scorching as the mixture reduces and deepens in color. When done, the cajeta should be deep golden in color and thick enough to heavily coat the back of a spoon or spatula, but still quite pourable.
Use the cajeta immediately if desired, or pour into a sealable container and let cool, uncovered, before sealing and storing in the fridge for up to 10 days.
Serve as a topping for ice-cream, a dip for shortbread cookies or churros, a sweetener for hot chocolate, or even as an ingredient in cakes or cheesecakes.