I’m introducing dulce de leche today because I thought that having lived here for almost 2 1/2 years already, I should feature some of the foods and delights from this very passionate and vibrant nation. The other reason is because I plan to one day make something with dulce de leche.
Dulce de leche, or literally “sweetness of milk” is the one thing that is present in almost all of Argentina’s households. Made of sweetened milk, it has a taste similar to caramelized sugar and the colour of dark camel, and is used in many recipes, as a side, a topping, or simply eaten pure straight from the open jar.
When I first arrived in Argentina in 2007, I wasn’t a big fan of dulce de leche. It was just too mightily sweet for me. In fact, Singapore cuisine had trained my taste buds to be greatly tilted towards savoury foods, and sweet desserts and candies never did much to tempt me. Of course, I had my occasional local dessert, such as goreng pisang, ice kachang, red ruby, etc, but I was never one to wake up in the middle of the night and order ice cream just to fulfil some random craving for a sugar high.
Coming to Argentina and eventually living here changed not just my timetable (Buenos Aires is 11 hours behind Singapore), or my spoken language (I converse almost 90% of the day in Spanish). It changed my tastebuds, my eating habits, and even my cravings. Argentines love sweet stuff, they can eat ice cream anytime of the year, even in the freezing winter at 0 degrees celcius. They can stuff themselves with a whole beef steak and still have room reserved in their stomachs for a caramel custard (flan), or a crepe filled with dulce de leche (panqueque de dulce de leche). It seems this nation never tires of thick, sweet, overly powerful desserts that make your knees go weak after an initially sugar kick. And, after living for more than two years in this sugar-craving land, it starts to get to you as well. If you realized, I have been making and baking an awful lot of desserts, cakes and pastries. Oddly weird for a Singaporean palette.
Dulce de leche wins all other desserts hands down as the favourite in Argentina. It is to Argentines what Kaya is to Singaporeans, and what peanut butter and jelly is to North Americans. It is the magic ingredient in so many recipes in Argentina – chocotorta (a cake made of layered chocolate biscuits and dulce de leche – see my chocotorta recipe here), alfajores (biscuit sandwiches of dulce de leche), ice cream, crepes, cakes, and muffins. It is the beautiful brown colour that brings life to Argentine desserts and marks them uniquely Argentine, and the only thing which Juan’s mum claims makes her wake up at night to creep into the kitchen and sneak a large spoonful of dulce de leche and head right back to bed. This caramelized condensed milk is thick and dense, teeming with the sweetness of milk, with a consistency as rich as its taste.
This is the the light to Argentine desserts and the king of sweet sauces, the rainbow after any Argentine storm.