la vida comida

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Tag: pastry

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.)

About me

Let me tell you a little bit about myself, and how I became so enthralled with Latin American and Peruvian cooking.

I’m a second-generation chef. My mom was a catering chef; and every one of her five children has been involved in food service since childhood – in just about every front and back of the house position you can imagine. Even now, my brother Ted and his wife Sheila compete in national barbecue competitions; my brother Cristiaan is a restaurant owner / manager in Chappaqua, New York; and our sister Kathleen works in the front of the house there.

I myself began catering with my mom at the age of eleven; and later worked with her at Estherwood Mansion in Dobbs Ferry, New York. I continued to work in restaurants and catering, even throughout college and a very rewarding foray into the human services field. I’ve been a dishwasher, busser, waitress, and hostess. I’ve butchered, prepped, line-cooked, and expedited.  You name it – if it involves food, I’ve probably done it. I fulfilled a lifelong dream in 1998, when I finally attended the Culinary Institute of America. I graduated in 2000; then worked in New York, Connecticut and Vail hotels till 2003, when I returned to be with my family in Connecticut.

Then, while I was Pastry Chef at Zinc in New Haven, I reconnected with an old friend – and married him. My husband, Eduardo, came to this country from Peru in 1988; we met at work in 1993, and kept in touch. I left my completely awesome job at Zinc (which I still miss!) to return to Albany, New York to live… which I swore I’d never do.  But you make sacrifices for love that you would never consider otherwise. (No offense, Albany-ites….)

So now I was jobless, living somewhere I really didn’t like, and – since my husband worked long hours – pretty lonely. To pass the time, I started indulging another passion of mine, cake and sugar art. (I’ve moonlighted as a cake designer ever since, even doing it as a full-time job on occasion.)

Around this time, a late wedding present arrived in the mail. My sister-in-law Susi sent me The Art of Peruvian Cuisine by Tony Custer, so I could learn to make my new husband’s favorite meals. I was happy to have another cookbook – what chef isn’t? – and I was more than happy to spoil my new husband with food. But I figured, hey, I’m a chef. What’s to learn? Since I had nothing but time on my hands, I dove in.

Choclo? Ají? What the hell is lucuma? I was immediately stunned by the multitude of ingredients I hadn’t even known existed. The more I read, the more I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about world cuisines, other than the brief overview I’d received at school (which at that time centered on European and Asian cuisines, though I am happy to see that they have begun to remedy this wonderfully in the last few years). Soon, I was pretty shamed by my own sheltered ignorance. (I had a lot to learn about being married to a Peruvian-American man, too. But that’s another story!)

I was completely won over by our very first Peruvian meal. It was amazing how a few simple ingredients could be transformed in a way that I’d never experienced before. Sure, it was exotic because it was new; but that wasn’t all. It just worked. It was fresh, vibrant, eclectic and just plain good. I was totally hooked.

I’ve spent the last nearly eight years researching and testing Peruvian and Latin American foods and recipes. I’ve learned enough Spanish to carry on a reasonable conversation with my mother-in-law, who doesn’t speak a word of English. And most importantly, I’ve expanded my view of the world and the people who inhabit it. It has been the most enlightening, enjoyable and fulfilling journey of my life (outside of our marriage and daughter, that is). That cookbook was the best gift I was given – not the actual book, per se; but the knowledge of other cultures, other places, other spheres of reference outside my very narrow American comfort-zone bubble.

I’ve grown more as a person in the last eight years that I had in my entire life previous.  And I want to share what I’ve learned with everyone – not just the food and the recipes, but also the great respect for other cultures… and that wonderful feeling of inter-connectedness we could and should share as fellow human beings on this planet.

I hope that you enjoy reading this blog just as much as I enjoy writing it! Thanks so much for being here.

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