Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Cajeta: A Mexican sweet treat

I looked out the window today and saw that it was raining—a good sign as grey skies, umbrellas and brightly-colored slickers mean one thing: it’s March. It’s not my favorite month—the weather is erratic, leaning mainly towards wet. But it does mean spring is almost here, and the warmer, longer days make me feel as if I’ve awoken from a deep sleep.

The one and only time I’ve been to Mexico was in the spring, and so my first-hand impressions of that country are based around what was in season—namely strawberries. We couldn’t drive a mile without seeing a roadside stand selling overflowing baskets of the fresh berries nestled under large signs boasting, “Fresas frescas.” I was too scared to eat the strawberries not knowing if they’d been washed in contaminated water or not—but as we were in the state of Guanajuato, each stand also had fresh jars of cajeta—which is the specialty of that state.

You could say that cajeta (pronounced kah-Heh-tah) is Mexican Spanish for what other Latin American countries call dulce de leche. The word means “little box,” which is what the confection was stored in back in the 1500s. I’ve heard that cajeta is vulgar slang in some other Latin American countries, which is perhaps why it’s known as dulce de leche elsewhere. But beyond the names, there is another difference between the two.

What sets cajeta apart from its caramelized milk-and-sugar brethren is that it’s usually made from goat’s milk instead of from cow’s milk. I tend to find dulce de leche a bit cloying, but the goat’s milk used to make cajeta adds a certain tang that mitigates the sweetness. And while goat’s milk can be strong in flavor, its presence in cajeta isn’t prevailing but instead offers an occasional high note, like the ring of a triangle in a symphony of flutes and strings.

It’s not difficult to find dulce de leche in New York, but cajeta is a different matter. And while I have seen one commercial brand at a Mexican bodega, its ingredients weren’t exactly pure. I know people that make an easy dulce de leche by boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk, but I’ve never seen a can of sweetened condensed goat’s milk. Have you? This meant if I wanted proper cajeta, I’d have to make it from scratch.

The most difficult thing about making cajeta is that you must stand and stir the pot for about an hour and a half, though this tedium can be minimized by having a good book on hand. Comfortable shoes or a stool to sit on aren’t bad ideas, either. But for this penance you are rewarded with a thick, luscious treat that bears no resemblance to its previous self. And it’s so addictive you’ll be hard pressed to do anything but just eat it straight out of the pot with a spoon, though it’s good on ice cream, in crepes and tortillas or on apple slices as well.

I’ve been hoping to take another trip to Mexico this spring, but I don’t know if I’ll have the time. But even if I don’t make it there, a spoonful of creamy cajeta will be almost as sweet.

Cajeta
Ingredients:
2 quarts of goat’s milk
2 cups of sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of baking soda

Method:
1. Stir together the milk and sugar in a large pot (make sure the liquid only goes half-way up the sides as it’s going to get frothy at one point and you don’t want it boiling over) and add the cinnamon and vanilla (if using a bean, split it lengthwise, scrape the seeds into the liquid and add the pod as well). Bring to a boil on medium heat while constantly stirring. This will take about 15 minutes.
2. When milk boils, remove from heat and add baking soda (dissolved in a bit of water) to the pot. The mixture will rise and get frothy, but as long as you keep stirring it will be fine.
3. Place the pot back on the stove on medium heat, and stir and stir and stir (though if you need to take a break, leaving the pot unattended for a minute or so won’t cause any harm to the cajeta). Make sure the milk stays at a gentle simmer rather than a raging boil.
4. After about an hour, the milk should start to turn golden brown. Remove the cinnamon stick and the vanilla pod. At this point, it will start to thicken fast, so it’s important to keep stirring so the milk doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan.
5. Keep stirring until the mixture is a rich brown and thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, which will happen in about 15 minutes.
6. Pour into a glass container. It should keep in the refrigerator for a week, though mine has never lasted that long.
Notes: You can find goat’s milk at most health-food stores or farmer’s markets. Also, the cajeta gets thicker as it cools, so be sure not to overcook it. If it’s too thick, however, you can thin it by adding hot water.

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59 comments:

crocus said...

You got to be kidding me!!! I LOVEEEEEEEE cajeta it is absolutely tastefully delicious. OH my mouth is watering now. I found this "dulce de leche" from Bolivia yummmmy.

Ashley said...

I just found your blog a few weeks ago-I too am a homesick Texan living in Florida. I love cajeta. This makes me think of MiTerra's goats milk fudge! YUMMY Also I tried your biscuit recipe and it is fool proof-turned out great. I am planning to make your "fancy" King Ranch Chicken tonight. Looking foward to more tastes of Texas.

Lissa said...

Yum, yum, yum! I haven't made this myself, but someday I'll try - and I'll definitely use your recipe.

Of course, if I make it, I'll have to make some of Matt Bite's Alfajores. Have you tried those? They're divine!

Mike said...

Where did I see someone making cajeta recently...I think it was on PBS....I want to say Rick Bayless...Mexico One Plate at a Time ???

Anyway, looked good then....looks absolutely fantastic here !

Say it with me...Cajeta....rolls off the tongue.

Cenk said...

Oh my.. It is always a treat to visit your blog. That last photo is killing me! I have got to try this recipe. Many thanks for sharing!

Julie said...

I've never had cajeta but I know (based on my general love of caramel and all variations) that I would love it. It looks so delicious in your last picture that the thought of standing and stirring for an hour and a half seems totally worthwhile

Rachel said...

that looks super yummy!

Aran said...

I just found your blog and the first thing I see is cajeta! Oh my! I fell in love with cajeta while working with a crazy Mexican lady who used to make it for us all the time. Poured over vanilla ice cream is my favorite!
Lovely blog!

D. Lite said...

ohhhh, I've been saying cajeta wrong in my head. Dang it. Lovely photos, the colour of the cajeta is fabulous. I look forward to trying this some time. It may have to wait 9 or 10 years as the list of things I want to make is ever growing in leaps and bounds every day.....

robin said...

This looks interesting. I like dulce de leche but you're right about the cloying-ness. I can also get my hands on some fresh goat's milk (I'm so lucky to know someone with a goat!) so I HAVE to make this. Thank you.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Like you, I find dulce de leche a bit too sweet for my taste. I can imagine that the goat's milk helps strike more of a balance. I'll look for this on my next trip to Mexico, too.

SimmerBright said...

I just love this blog. Food + stories = me checking every day for something new. I'm hooked! I have been to Mexico a few times, but only once deep into the heart of Mexico--to Queretaro, a magnificent city for a million reasons. The best pancakes I ever had were there, along with lots of fancy crepes. Also there was this snack that a vendor across the street from Universidad Cuahtehmoc sold--something like pretzels in a cellophane bag with chili lime sauce--so good! Also the first time I had milanesa, made by my host mom, and the first time I had cajeta, smeared between little wafers like the ones you get at communion. But the thing I remember most and the reason I will go back there someday, is the fruit stands in the plaza where you could get fresh watermelon, strawberries, pineapple, jicama (also a 1st), etc., cut up into juicy chunks and sprinkled with chili lime powder. I know there are places closer to get it, but that first taste, amongst all the beautiful architecture and culture of downtown Qte.--it can't be replicated. Now I miss Mexico terribly and I'm hungry. Your blog is so much fun.

Gloria said...

LOvely recipe!! This cajeta is how Dulce de Leche or manjar we say, but is more knowen by Dulce de Leche.
I like your recipe. xx Gloria

Homesick Texan said...

>>> Lisa Fain 3/6/2008 11:19 AM >>>

Crocus--How is the dulce de leche from Bolivia?

Ashley--I'm glad you enjoyed the biscuit recipe! And it looks like I might have to try to recreate Mi Tierra's goat milk fudge.

Lissa--I haven't made Matt's alfajores but I have tried them before. Someone sent a box to our office a couple of month's ago, and I couldn't stop eating them!

Mike--Rick Bayless is pretty famous for adoring cajeta, so I bet it was his show.

Cenk--You're very welcome. Enjoy!

Julie--If you love caramel, you'll definitely love this. The funny thing is I can't stand caramels usually, but I adore cajeta. And trust me, it's an hour and a half well spent.

Rachel--Thanks!

Aran--Welcome! And yes, it's wonderful over vanilla ice cream!

D.Lite--Ha! I hear you! I have an overstuffed file of things I want to try, and it'll probably take that long to get through it.

Robin--Fresh goat's milk is the best!

Lydia--You can't miss it as it's all over Mexico in the shops.

SimmerBright--Mmmmm, I'll have to try the chile lime powder sprinkled on strawberries when they come into season soon! Sounds so refreshing!

Gloria--I wasn't aware that it was called manjar in chile--thanks for letting us know!

crocus said...

Basically is just cajeta but with a bolivian name ... I think!?
Bolivian put it on pastries, cakes, mix it with rum for fillings OH my yummy

Life in Recipes said...

Crazy coincidence - just left a friend's house where we were teaching her daughter how to make cajeta. I just sat down, went online and here is this post. I have the Twilight Zone tune going in my head now.

ann said...

Wow! You have such a crazy Mexico itch (sounds painful)! Cajeta is definitely one of the best ways to scratch it. Then again, so are tacos. Mmmm... tacos.

Brave Sir Robin said...

Oh, the things we take for granted down here.

Yes, I can buy it in the stores here.

(ut I can't buy Moxie, or Brown Bread, and a good bagel is a two hour drive to Houston.)

:(

SimmerBright said...

Brave Sir Robin--are you anywhere near Austin? Central Market has delicious bagels (I think). So much so that we had some other bagels once from a Polish bakery in Montreal and we were disappointed. The bialis are especially wonderful.

deb said...

I am so glad you made this! It looks amazing. How perfect for a Tex/Mex dinner, no?

Sandi @the WhistleStop Cafe said...

That is new to me~ I will keep my eyes open. We have a little mexican store around the corner...

Brave Sir Robin said...

simmerbright -

Austin is about 2 1/2 hours away.

:(

Houston is a bit closer, but still almost two hours.

And yes, Central Market Rocks.

Terry B said...

Wow. This sounds delicious and totally worth all that stirring--and this comes from a guy who doesn't have the patience to make risotto. I like the idea of the tang that goat milk brings to it. I bet this would also be wonderful drizzled over a dense, not too sweet loaf cake of some sort.

Lore said...

Wow great! I've never made cajeta but with such great explanations I have no excuses not to.

Rebecca said...

Oh, I love the idea of a vanilla pod-I'm going to try this the next time I make dulce de leche! I wonder if my husband (Argentinian) will be able to tell!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Wonderful! It is a little like Dulce Leche, isn't it? That treat would taste great with pudding or cake and spread on a slice of homemade brioche!

Cheers,

Rosa

Bee said...

I am just eating my cajeta now . . . and with apple slices for dipping, it is like the caramel apple of my dreams.

As I was stirring, I read "No Country for Old Men" -- and the laconic, yet philosophical, narrative (not to mention the Tex-Mex border setting) was perfectly suited to the task.

By the way, my goat's milk took longer than 15 minutes to come to a boil -- which threw off my timings a bit. Just as the cajeta was starting to thicken, "Mad Men" (a show which I've been wild to see; just started over here in the UK) came on. I took a chance and turned the heat off and left it for an hour. Then after the show, I heated it back up for the final lap of thickening. As far as I can tell, it still turned out perfectly.

Another bite . . . delish!

Cynthia said...

I've never heard of cajeta before but yesterday I found out where I can get some nice, fresh goat's milk... I'll work up the courage to try this one day soon.

Bee said...

Postscript to previous comment:

My 13yo daughter came home from school to a cajeta/apple snack. (I didn't finish stirring until 11pm last night, so she hadn't had the chance to sample the goods yet.)

Her verdict: "This is SO worth the effort."

I should point out that she didn't do any of the stirring . . . but I wholeheartedly agree.

excelsior said...

"boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk": I've also heard this called Danger Pudding.

You know, because you shouldn't boil a can because it might blow up. But I'm very brave.

Caffienated Cowgirl said...

Oh man, I haven't had cajeta since I left California. I love the stuff! Thanks so much for sharing the recipe.

Olivia said...

Hm, my comment here a few days ago got lost, and I can't remember what I said!

You know, I think I can imagine the extra richness in the background of the goat's milk cajeta vs the cow's milk one.

Pille said...

You are an angel, Homesweet Texan!!! I loved this in Mexico, and there's no way I can get this here at home, so I have to make my own..

White On Rice Couple said...

You're right about the richness of the goats milk and we want to try this so badly!! We're fans of anything goats milk, especially raw goats milk cheeses! Thanks for the note about not over-cooking it, I know we would have done that.
This is finger lickin' good!

BJR said...

Dulce de leche is very easy to make. You basically just buy a can of sweetened condensed milk, put the can in a pot and cover it COMPLETELY with water (this is very important --- if it is not completely in the water, there will be a pressure difference and the can could explode). Let the water simmer for an hour or so. The longer it simmers, the more caramelized the sweetened condensed milk becomes. Then you take the can out of the water and let it cool.

If you could get sweetened condensed goat's milk in a can, then you could do the same thing, without having to stand there and stir it.

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

This. Looks. Amazing! I've made dulce de leche from scratch before and it took 10 hours! This will be a breeze for me. ;) I can't wait!

David said...

What's funny is last spring I did some classes in Texas, thinking dulce de leche would be available everywhere. So I put a dessert on the menu with it.

People told me they had a hard time finding it there...so I'd stop being homesick for Texas and kiss the streets of NY, where it seems to be everywhere, just for that alone!

Homesick Texan said...

Crocus--Yummy, indeed! Thanks for letting us know how it is in Bolivia!

Life in Recipes--Wow! Now I have the song going through my head as well.

Ann--It's not too painful, but let's just hope I can manage a trip there this year.

Brave Sir Robin--Have you ever tried making bagels at home?

SimmerBright--Yes! I used to love Central Market's bagels.

Deb--Thanks for the inspiration! And yep, it's indeed, ahem, perfect for a Tex-Mex dinner!

Sandi--And if you're lucky, I reckon the little Mexican store around the corner stocks this.

Terry B--Oh, yes--this is quite delicious over a sweet loaf cake!

Lore--I wouldn't worry about excuses--it does, after all, take a whole lot of time to make.

Rebecca--There is a slight difference between this and dulce de leche, so I bet he will notice. Though that said, it's not an unpleasant difference.

Rosa's Yummy Yums--It would be amazing with homemade brioche!

Bee--I have to admit I have yet to read (or see) "No Country for Old Men." But my friends tell me it's the quintessential West Texas story--a perfect pairing with cajeta. I'm also a big "Mad Men" fan. You have great taste in both food and entertainment! And thanks! I'm glad your daughter enjoyed it!

Cynthia--There's no need to work up the courage as it's both sweet and rich with nary a hint of the usual goat's milk strong tang (instead, the tang is rather subtle at best).

Excelsior--I'm not that brave, hence my standing at the stove stirring for a couple of hours.

Caffeinated Cowgirl--You're very welcome.

Olivia--Yes! The goat's milk adds such a nice depth to the caramel.

Pille--Why thank you! And yes, if you can find goat's milk and sugar, it's sooooo easy to make!

White on Rice Couple--Finger-lickin' good indeed! And if you happen to overcook it, I've found in my experience that you can add hot water to the mixture and it will soften and thin out to a proper consistency.

BJR--I haven't been able to find a can of sweetened condensed goat's milk, hence the reicpe.

StickyGooeyCreamyChooey--10 hours? Sheesh! That's a heck of a long time. Two hours will be nothing after that!

David--My, my...really? I had no idea! All right--the street of NY are indeed deserving of a kiss for this alone!

la terreur said...

I loved the idea of homemade caramel so much that i just had to make this. And even though I accidentally put double the sugar, it still turned out delicious. My friend and I even came out with our own variation, with cayenne pepper. You should try it!

mari said...

i am also a homesick texan (although i have lived in california 42 out of my 44 years on earth. Born a texan, ALWAYS a texan! for the cetija can you use canned goat milk or do i need to try to find some fresh goat milk. I live just south of San Francisco and wouldnt begin to know where to find fresh goat milk.

thanks,

mari

Homesick Texan said...

La Terreur--Yea! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! And I will definitely try it with cayenne next time--yum!

Mari--I used fresh goat's milk from a carton. If you have a Whole Foods or similar type of grocery store near you, they should have goat's milk. A farmer's market will sell it as well. I think Whole Foods sells canned goat's milk, too, which could probably also work if you can't find fresh.

Miriam said...

I just love this recipe and I love cajeta!! I'm a Homesick Mexican who's been living in NY for a couple of years(sorry for my bad writing, my english it's not very good yet).

I tried the recipe and wasn't too hard to make, I sat on a stool, called my mom on Mexico and kept stirring. The time goes by really fast when you're talking on the phone and you're smelling the delicious cajeta.

Ohhh and my parents in law loved it!!!

Thank you for the recipe !

T said...

I like this idea MUCH better than boiling an aluminum can (with plastic interiour coating).. I'm tempted to try it. Great blog!

Chris said...

I made this last night. This is dangerous stuff, folks. I halved the recipe, and hence used half a vanilla pod. I didn't feel like sawing a cinnamon stick in two, so I used the whole thing. I think in the end, the cinnamon really was a bit too strong. But still, the caramel was out of this world. It blows away my attempts at dulce de leche out of the water. I think I've found a new addiction.

Kitchendruid said...

I have made cajeta several times using the recipe from one of Rick Bayless' books. Amazing stuff! When I am not standing in front of the fridge eating it with a spoon or having it warm with apple slices, my favorite is warmed and poured over homemade Chocolate-Chipotle ice cream.

The Austin Family said...

I have read your blog for a few months and knew it was the place to come when I was looking for a good cajeta recipe :). I am a military spouse living in central NY and it seems cooking up all the food I grew up with is my therapy after this move. Thank you for your posts!

Anonymous said...

My sister in law gave me some home made cajeta for Christmas. I am reading about how to use it and have discovered that it should be stored in the fridge! Mine has been in the pantry for a month, should I throw it out or can I still use it?
Thanks,
Ruth

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Ruth--Has it been opened? I'd probably throw it out. But if it hasn't see how she canned it--it might be OK.

JuliaChancey said...

I know this post is over 2 years old, but I just wanted to add my 2 cents:
Recently my mother-in-law (who lives part time in Mexico) introduced me to little candies called glorias from mexico which is pretty much cajeta with pecans rolled into a ball. I tried replicating it myself, but added too much sugar and ended up with cajeta fudge, which still tasted great. HEB sells goat milk by the quart, so I can keep attempting to make the candies. Unfortunately there is not much on google about them.
Another use for cajeta is in a latte (i had one in houston at Brazil's i think) and the flavor just complements the coffee wonderfully.
Also, in Wal-Mart in the hispanic section they sell cajeta in bottles like hersey's chocolate. Its not as good as homemade, but if you are not willing to stir for 2 hours it is a viable substitute. I am not sure if it is just in our (bordertown) wal-mart or in others.

Tera said...

I have been craving this forver. I happened to have all the ingredients in my kitchen. I just happened upon your blog and this recipe so I made it today and it came out perfect! Everything just came together so well :>

Alison said...

Thank you!! I am a homesick american in ireland working on a goat ranch! I can't wait to give this a try and share it with my host family :D

Shawna said...

I am making a chocolate flan cake, and needed cajeta. I couldn't find cajeta in the store, and I cannot imagine that it would be remotely close to this anyway!
I made it, and it is SO good! Worth the full hour and a half of stirring...
The goat's milk is the key!
Thank you for a terrific recipe and great directions!

Monica from Hola!design said...

I was born and raised in Celaya, Guanajuato, the birthplace of "cajeta", so i grew up eating it all the time. It's delicious...here in NJ here I live now I can't never find it...I'll make a batch from scratch! Thank you for the recipe!

Anonymous said...

Another homesick Texan here! I got fresh goatmilk from a friend and made up some cajeta this morning. Yum!

Jennifer LoveMarque said...

Cajeta isn't what u call little boxes, little boxes are "cajita" pronounced ca-hee-tah :)

dessertqueen1 said...

Just made a coconut pecan cajeta frosting for a German chocolate cake for my son's birthday last weekend....wow!!!! Everybody loved it!! Well worth the effort.

Tellulah said...

I've had this post bookmarked for the longest time...finally found raw goat's milk. The stuff at the stores is loaded with junk AND ultra-pasteurized. This turned out amazing, the directions were perfect. I'm thankful I took your advice about the large pot because I had it about 2/3 of the way up the edge and transferred it to a larger pot at the heating stage. When that baking soda hit...WOW! Foamed up like crazy. Stirred like mad and only lost a teaspoon. :) Thanks for the great recipe.

Aurora Leveroni said...

I am so excited to try this recipe. I was raised on Goat's milk and I must admit it's not my favorite beverage now but from the wonderful reviews of this recipe I am on the go to try it.

JenZ said...

I just finished making my third batch of cajeta in a month (3 jars went to friends, but two were eaten here and now we have three more!). Anyway, I used the Rick Bayless crock pot recipe that I found online although with more sugar as recommended by another recipe - almost 3 cups per 2qts goats milk. Delish on ice cream, of course, but my kids also loved it spread thinly into pancakes.

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