Guest post and photos by Rebecca of From Argentina With Love
Along with tango and Evita, dulce de leche is one of the first things that comes to mind when people think of Argentina.
The sticky, sweet caramel spread plays so beloved a role in the culinary culture in Argentina that, in 2003, the country declared it a "national product" and lobbied UNESCO for official designation -- much to the chagrin of neighboring Uruguay, who argued that they have been making dulce de leche just as long as Argentina has.
Dulce de leche’s legendary status comes complete with a saga of mythic proportions.
Allegedly, dulce de leche was accidentally created on a battlefield in Buenos Aires province in 1829, where two opposing forces met in a camp to make a treaty. General Lavalle entered his enemy’s tent, found it empty, and decided to take a nap. (Truly, nothing can separate the Argentinean from his siesta.)
Meanwhile, a woman who cooked for the camp was making a sugar-fortified milk drink called lechada. She discovered the sleeping General Lavalle in General de Rosas’ tent and, forgetting her cooking, went to call soldiers to notify them of the intrusion. In all the ensuing chaos, the milk caramelized, only to be tasted later by a fearless and very hungry soldier.
Whatever its origins, you certainly don’t have to be Argentinean (or Uruguayan) to enjoy dulce de leche. In some form or another, it's found worldwide -- doce de leite in Portugal and Brazil, confiture de lait in France, cajeta in Mexico and manjar blanco in Peru.
Dulce de leche is cow's milk (or a mix of cows' and goats' milk) reduced over heat to one-fourth of its volume, which causes the milk to thicken and caramelize. It has found its way into yogurt, ice cream, and even Frappuccinos. It’s enjoyed on toast, and in cookies, cheesecake, crepes and tarts, and could probably even find its way onto a ham sandwich!
The perfect pantry would indeed contain dulce de leche, whether stashed in a suitcase and brought home from a trip, purchased at a local Latin grocery or online, or made from scratch.
Dulce de leche milhojas
In Argentina, milhojas is a popular dessert, using Chantilly cream or pastry cream between many thin layers of puff pastry (the French call it mille feuille, meaning ‘a thousand sheets/leaves of paper', to describe the paper-thin layers of pastry). In this nontraditional (and unbelievably simple to make) version, I use premade puff pastry layered with dulce de leche. Makes 4 desserts.
One package store-bought puff pastry, defrosted according to package instructions
1 cup dulce de leche
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Line two large rectangular baking sheets with parchment paper. Unfold the first sheet of puff pastry, and cut with a wet knife along the fold lines (Creating three long strips) and then across the center to make 6 rectangular pieces. Repeat this with the second sheet. Place the rectangles of puff pastry onto the baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Put into the oven and bake for 12-14 minutes, until the pastry has puffed and turned golden in color. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
Slice each rectangle of puff pastry in half horizontally. Generously spread the bottom of one pastry with dulce de leche. Top with the bottom of another rectangle, and spread with more dulce de leche. Top with the top of the first rectangle. Repeat this process until you have 4 desserts (combining the tops and bottoms to get three layers of puff pastry, separated by dulce de leche, in each dessert). Place the confectioners sugar in a fine mesh strainer, and gently shake to top the desserts.
Serve with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.
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