Call it what you want: cajeta, dulce de leche, arequipe, manjar blanco, bollo de leche or doce de leite. However, this sweet delight is the same delicious confection, prepared with goat or cow’s milk and equal parts sugar.
A staple in Latin American pantries, Argentina claims its origin, and there are several stories that trace dulce de leche‘s history. The most popular says it was created by accident in 1829 when a servant of General Juan Manuel de Rosas, an Argentine military officer and politician, ran to alert him that his enemy Lavalle had trespassed into his estate. Forgetting the burning pot with milk and sugar (to make a lechada drink) on the stove, the contents took on a thick and smooth consistency, similar to the dulce de leche we know today.
In Mexico, cajeta is named after the small pinewood boxes it is traditionally packed in. Though the pinewood does not meet FDA standards, tourists and locals love the packaging so much that candy makers refuses to change to glass or plastic packaging.
Mexico has several varieties of cajeta, and my favorites are cajeta Saluya, cajeta from Celaya, and cajeta quemada or “burnt” cajeta. Cajeta Saluya, a variety from the state of Jalisco, is golden brown, sweeter, and is a bit grainier than the smooth version we’ve come to know. This indulgence originated in Spain as an Iberian recipe, arriving in Saluya, Jalisco about 90 years ago. It’s made with whole milk, sugar, vanilla, rice and flour to add body and texture.
Cajeta from Celaya, in the state of Guanajuato, is packed in similar pinewood containers, but is made of half goat’s milk and half cow’s milk, rather than one or the other. Cajeta quemada is, by far, my favorite type of cajeta for cooking. Made with goat’s milk, it is smooth, spreads and pours easily, and has a very robust taste.
Whichever kind you choose, my best is advice is to save room for dessert!
- 6 day-old bolillos, torn in ½-inch pieces
- 5 eggs
- 4 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/3 cup cajeta quemada (burnt cajeta)
- ¼ cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup cajeta quemada (burnt cajeta)
- 1 cup pecans
- In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, whipping cream, cajeta, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and salt until all ingredients are mixed well and consistency is smooth.
- Place bread pieces in a separate large bowl and pour in mixture, making sure all pieces are coated. Use a spatula to press down on bread to coat evenly.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour or until bread has absorbed all liquid.
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- Butter a 13x9x2-inch baking dish evenly and carefully spoon in bread.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center of bread pudding comes out clean. Remove from oven and drizzle with cajeta and pecans. Let cool and serve.