la vida comida

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Manjar Blanco 2016 Redux

Hello again, after (another) long hiatus! I have been so thrilled to watch Peruvian cuisine gain attention and interest over the last year. I always knew that once the creativity, simple elegance, and intriguing combination of history and fusion behind this fabulous cuisine came to light, the world couldn’t help but stand up and take note!

Today, I’m revisiting manjar blanco, one of my all-time favorite sweets. (Click here for my original post.) It is ubiquitous in Latin America (and especially popular in Argentina and Peru): each country and region has its own name and variation – dulce de leche, arequipa, etc. It can be made with goat’s milk (as in Mexican cajeta), or coconut milk; but most versions are made with cow’s milk.

Manjar blanco is a culinary workhorse. Cook it a little less, and it becomes a rich sauce to drizzle over ice cream, crêpes, or any favorite dessert. Reduce it longer, and it can be piped into alfajores; spread in a pionono (a Peruvian jelly roll); or formed into tejas, a Peruvian truffle confection. It is also the base for suspiro de limeña, one of the most heavenly desserts on earth.

More about suspiro another time. But here’s a teaser.  😉

Manjar blanco can be a little tricky. The main issue I’ve had is occasional graininess, especially after a day or two (refrigerated or not).  Any suggestions?

I’ve seen some fresh milk recipes floating around. The ones that look more reliable advocate for four parts milk to one part sugar, by volume; high heat to boil quickly, then very low heat (and constant attention) for several hours. I did try this once. Frankly, I don’t have an entire day to devote to making condensed milk – THEN turning it into manjar blanco – when that hard work has already been done for me. (I know, all-natural, homemade, no shortcuts, etc. etc…. but I’m picking my battles here. I mean, we are making milk candy, not an organic salad, people!  🙂  That said, I’d like to make fresh goat’s milk cajeta sometime.) If you have had success with this method before, though, will you please share your results? Maybe I’ll change my tune.

Just say no to microwave manjar blanco. That’s all I’m saying.

Anyway… I generally make manjar blanco two ways. My favorite is my usual, tried-and-true method: slow-cooking condensed and evaporated milks. Every once in awhile, I’ll cook it in the unopened can (in other words, under presssure). I haven’t yet tried to make it in an actual pressure cooker – I’m fatally clumsy, and not fond of explosions. But this looks like a good recipe; I may try it sometime, if I’m ever feeling adventurous.

(An aside: Want some cool info about food science, the Maillard reaction, and dulce de leche? Click here, and here.)

Manjar blanco cooked in the can is smooth and perfect. It has little to no separated milk solids, and is completely slick and shiny. Also, there is practically no work involved: I simply make sure the water level stays high. It’s relatively thin, which makes it great as a dessert sauce. While the caramel flavor is good, it’s fairly neutral to me. And it looks a little too perfect, even store-bought.

Manjar blanco cooked in a pot requires much more care. You have to stir frequently, and watch for scorching. It does generally have some milk solid and caramel specks in it, so it’s not as smooth-looking as can-cooked manjar blanco; but I find this does not affect the texture or mouth-feel. I personally greatly prefer it. You can reduce it to the consistency you want; and it has that deep caramel flavor, that butterscotch fragrance… it’s just ambrosial.

Here, you can see the difference:

Left: manjar blanco cooked in the pot. 

Center: manjar blanco cooked in the can.

Right: caramel-flavored condensed milk, cooked in the can. (The fake caramel flavor was so gross – not even worth mentioning.)

I haven’t really changed my original manjar blanco recipe; I’ve just added some more cooking details and a few helpful tips. Experiment, and let me know which works best for you!

Buen provecho!

 

Manjar Blanco in a Can
This is the simplest way to have smooth, delicious manjar blanco - without all the stirring or mess. It does take hours - and it's not as thick or rich as manjar blanco cooked in a pot - but the only thing you need to do is keep the can covered with water. Doesn't get any easier!
Servings Prep Time
1can 5minutes
Cook Time
2hours
Servings Prep Time
1can 5minutes
Cook Time
2hours
Ingredients
  • 1can condensed milk(14 oz.)
Instructions
  1. Remove label from can. Place can, on its side, in the bottom of a very tall aluminum stock pot.
  2. Fill the pot almost to the top with room-temperature water. Place the lid tightly on the pot.
  3. Place the pot on the stove over very high heat until the water just boils.
  4. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Simmer gently for approximately 2 ½ hours (2 for lighter color; 3 for darker).
  5. Remove the pot from the heat, and remove the lid. Do not drain the water or remove the can.
  6. Place pot in the sink; run room-temperature (not cold) water into the pot, and gradually allow the can to come to room temperature.
  7. Do not remove the can from the pot, or handle or open the can, until it is completely cool.
  8. Let rest overnight before opening, if possible.
Recipe Notes

The can must be completely smooth, with no dents; otherwise, the can could explode.

It is extremely important to make sure the water never runs low. If the water is allowed to evaporate to the point that the can is exposed to air and not completely submerged, the change in temperature / pressure may cause the can to explode.

The can must always be covered with at least 2” of water; so it’s best to simply keep the pot filled. Be sure to check the water level at least every 15-20 minutes (set a timer!), and add hot water whenever necessary (it’s helpful to have a hot pot of water at the ready, and ladle in extra water as needed). Keeping a tight lid on the pot will help prevent evaporation.

Manjar Blanco 2016
Manjar blanco - milk caramel - can be a decadent spread for Belgian waffles, a filling for cookies or cake, a rich fruit dip... or just eat it, one huge spoonful at a time. It is well worth the effort and time - which you can spend collecting all the foods you want to put it on! The yield is determined by how much you reduce it.
Servings Prep Time
1 pint (approx.) 5 minutes
Cook Time
1.5hours
Servings Prep Time
1 pint (approx.) 5 minutes
Cook Time
1.5hours
Ingredients
  • 1can condensed milk(14 oz.)
  • 1can evaporated milk(12 oz.)
  • 1/8tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
Instructions
  1. Combine 1 Tbsp. of the evaporated milk with the baking soda in a small bowl; set aside.
  2. Place remaining milks and salt in a very tall aluminum pot. Pot should be at least 6-8 times as tall as the milk in the pot. Stir to combine.
  3. Quickly bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
  4. Stir the baking soda into the mixture very quickly with a long wooden spoon. Be careful - it will immediately foam up a great deal.
  5. Immediately turn heat down to very low, still stirring constantly.
  6. Once the mixture stops foaming and is very lightly simmering, stir very frequently (every few minutes), for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour (depending on desired degree of caramelization and thickness).
  7. When manjar blanco holds its shape for 2-3 seconds when stirred, it can be removed from heat. (Continue to reduce for thicker / more caramelized manjar blanco.)
  8. Pour into a completely clean stainless steel bowl (use the cleanest side of the pot to pour). Do not scrape bottom or sides into bowl (scrape it into a separate bowl, if you don’t want to waste it).
  9. Cool to room temperature, then transfer to a container with an airtight lid.
Recipe Notes

Manjar blanco keeps for 3-4 days at room temperature, and longer than a week in the refrigerator. (However, it is more likely to re-crystallize and become grainy if refrigerated.)

Arroz con Leche / Rice Pudding

My mother-in-law, Evelina Ramos Tremolada, is the most amazing Peruvian cook. She grew up on a coffee plantation in the town of Chanchamayo, in the central Andean highland province of Junín. Chanchamayo is an area where many Italian immigrants have settled for the last 100 years. Evelina’s own father, Félix Tremolada, was originally from Milan.

Mamá Evelina, teaching the next generation of Ramos chefs!

Evelina has also lived in Piura and Lima, and has traveled all over Peru. She can make any Peruvian specialty, from any region – including chifa, ceviche, Italian-Peruvian food unique to her family and town, traditional Andean dishes, and other national favorites – and every single one is absolutely delicious. When she comes to visit us, we are treated to a vast array of dishes: secos, lomo saltado, milanesa, rice dishes, empanadas, tamales, and – perhaps most anticipated of all – her arroz con leche. The four of us can polish off an entire batch in one evening. She has to make it two or three times per visit, just to keep up with demand!

Lucky me: my very generous and patient suegra Mamá Evelina has been sharing some of her most prized recipes with me! I have learned so much from just watching her cook; and I am so thrilled to reap the benefits of her extensive Peruvian culinary expertise. During this visit, she has walked me through several of her most famous dishes, and given me tons of hints and tips. Her arroz con leche recipe is just a fraction of the knowledge I’ve gleaned from her during this visit.

My first experience with (edible) rice pudding was when I was the pastry chef at Zinc. We made brûleéd coconut-jasmine rice pudding, Chef Denise Appel’s creation. Before then, I’d only seen rice pudding in massive bowls at the diner, or little plastic tubs in the supermarket; I tried it once, and found it gelatinous, gloppy, and cardboard-flavored. I couldn’t bring myself to eat it again. But Zinc’s creamy, fragrant jasmine rice, enriched with coconut milk and a burnt sugar crust, changed my mind in a split second.

Rice pudding is found in a vast majority of world cuisines, as rice became nearly universally widespread throughout the Old World in antiquity. Thought to have originated in India, rice pudding was originally used to aid digestion and thicken other dishes; it evolved largely into a sweet dessert or porridge. Rice was introduced to Europe through Arab-occupied Spain and Sicily; then exported to Latin America by the Spanish conquistadores, where it became an indispensable component of the food culture.

Most Latin American rice puddings include sweetened milk, cinnamon, and citrus or coconut. I’ve since tried several different rice pudding versions; and while I admit I’m slightly biased – and really love Zinc’s – this is truly my favorite. I think that the pisco-soaked raisins add such a delicious flavor that I would advise against omitting them – and I’m not a “raisin person.”

Muchas gracias, Mamá Evelina, for sharing your incredible food with us!

 

Arroz con Leche / Rice Pudding
Servings Prep Time
8-10people 15minutes
Cook Time
1.25hours
Servings Prep Time
8-10people 15minutes
Cook Time
1.25hours
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2cups white rice,short grain
  • 3cups water(and extra, as needed)
  • 2each cinnamon sticks
  • 1each vanilla bean,split
  • 14 oz. evaporated milk(1 can)
  • 14oz. condensed milk(1 can, + up to one more can, to taste)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4cup granulated(to taste)
  • 1cup raisins
  • 1/2cup pisco(enough to cover raisins)
  • fewdashes Cinnamon, ground(for garnish)
Instructions
  1. Macerate the raisins in the pisco until very soft and plump (preferably overnight).
  2. Place the rice in a fine colander or sieve; rinse under cold water until the water runs clear.
  3. Bring the water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the rice; stir until the water boils again. Do not cover.
  4. Split the vanilla bean down the middle, then scrape the pulp into the rice. Add the vanilla bean itself and cinnamon stick.
  5. Turn down the heat to a simmer. Stir frequently, scraping the bottom of the pot. Cook until the rice is thoroughly cooked and very soft (about 20-30 minutes). If the rice is not tender after 30 minutes, add water (1/2 cup or so at a time), and cook until soft.
  6. Add one can each of evaporated and condensed milk, and the whole milk. Stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil again, then turn heat back down to low.
  7. Drain the raisins and add (if using). Reserve the pisco. Cook for another 15 minutes or so
  8. Taste, and add up to 1 more can (a few tablespoons at a time) of condensed milk until the desired sweetness is reached. If you would like it to be sweeter, you can add granulated sugar (to taste - a teaspoon or so at a time). Also, can may also add 1 to 2 Tbsps. of pisco to taste at this point, if desired.
  9. Cook for another 5-10 minutes / until mixture reaches the desired thickness (and the alcohol evaporates).
  10. Remove cinnamon sticks and vanilla bean; pour into serving bowl or airtight container. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon; cool to room temperature. Refrigerate covered until ready to serve.
Recipe Notes

Arroz con leche keeps refrigerated for up to 5 days - but I bet it won't last that long!

Copyright © 2011 la vida comida.
Recipe by Jennifer Ramos Lorson.

Bienvenidos a mi cocinita! / Welcome to my kitchen!

Welcome to my little kitchen. Please make yourself at home!

It’s not a professional kitchen; it’s not richly appointed; it’s certainly not state-of-the-art; and you won’t find many expensive tools. But it works for me.

When we first looked at this house, I balked. One of my only requirements was a nice, roomy kitchen, with lots of workspace. Not only was this one small and narrow, but also it had a 1955 GE oven, avocado carpeting, and an ancient nonworking dishwasher. Eduardo assured me we could update it, but I was doubtful. Still, we chose this house; so I decided to make the best of it.

I found that it was deceptively functional – and quickly realized why. Most restaurants have a line (a galley-type kitchen), because the cook has everything within easy reach: cooler, sink, stove, prep area. Minimal steps are required to get from point A to point B. I could prep, cook and serve everything almost standing still. It also had some clever 1960s innovations: a garbage chute under the sink; a pullout butcher’s block; a buzzer to call kids to dinner! Now that’s state-of-the-art!

The diminutive dimensions required that I downsize my equipment and utensils – something I certainly didn’t view as a plus at first. But it forced me to see just how much unnecessary crap I was holding onto. I pared down to the bare essentials, even discarding some small appliances I’d thought were indispensable – which required me to do a little extra prep work…. but that allowed me to focus on the food, which is the whole point in the first place.

A splash of yellow paint, a new floor and some new appliances, and we’re good to go! Some food bloggers’ kitchens look like an upscale appliance showroom… and yes, I do feel a twinge of envy sometimes. But when I’m done cooking and photographing my food, my family sits down to eat it… because this is our home, and these are our daily meals. In our house, we live what we cook. And I’m quite content with that.

I gradually came to love my sunshiny little kitchen, even more than some of the really cool kitchens I’ve worked in. I hope you will too!

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