Rabbit Hole Rewards

It always mystifies me how recipes evolve.  It’s like falling into a rabbit hole and not wanting to come out.  Of course, with a blog named Culinary Distractions, that is not a big reveal.

If you happen to read the previous post, you’ll know this one is inevitable. The major reason for the dulce de leche preparation was to have a supply available to test this idea.  Before that, it all started because I had too much buttermilk.

Old-fashioned tapioca made with toasty sweet dulce de leche seemed a perfect match with the creamy tartness of buttermilk.  But I was wary of buttermilk in tapioca pudding.  The pudding must simmer in order to cook the pearls and thicken it, and the heat could cause the buttermilk to separate in the process.tapoica cooking

When I realized I could use less buttermilk and simply add it once the pudding had thickened, the idea finally came together.  Tapioca is fine without the addition of egg, but even a little makes a difference, even one yolk.  Cooking the egg yolk too long is also problematic, but incorporating the yolk once the tapioca thickens would add just enough egginess to do the job and lend a thick creamy mouth feel.  After that, the buttermilk could be heated to blend flavors, but not boiled.

tapioca spoonSo here it is, I’m out of the rabbit hole, back in the sunlight enjoying the rewards of a lovely discovery.taapioca partial glass

Dulce de Leche Buttermilk Tapioca

Old fashioned tapioca gives pearly thick results blended with the sweet-tart combination of dulce de leche and buttermilk.

1/3 cup pearl tapioca
2 ½ cups milk
1/2 cup dulce de leche, depending on preferred sweetness
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Soak the tapioca in 1 cup milk for 1 hour.
  2. In a heavy medium pot over medium-high heat, combine the tapioca mixture, dulce de leche, the remaining 1 1/2 cups milk, and salt.  Whisk to incorporate the dulce de leche and bring mixture to a simmer.  Reduce heat to low and cook until mixture thickens, pearls swell and become translucent, 10 to 12 minutes; whisk frequently to keep the bottom from sticking and scorching.
  3. Temper the egg yolk by mixing a bit of the hot mixture into it and adding it back into the pot.  Continue whisking, about 1 minute. Add the buttermilk and cook until it returns to a simmer, approximately 1 minute longer.  Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
    Cover the surface with plastic wrap and let cool.  Serve warm, room temperature or chilled.  It will thicken substantially as it cools.  Store in the refrigerator up to 3 days.  Serves 6

As a pudding, sprinkle with fresh grated nutmeg.  Thin it and use it as a warm sauce over fresh fruit or cake.

The Art of Dulce de Leche

The other day while rummaging around in my larder, I came across a can of sweetened condensed milk that had shifted to its far reaches.  Normally this wouldn’t be reason to break out in a big smile, but it struck me as utterly serendipitous, since I had been thinking about it earlier in the week.

There was a time when I always had one or two cans of Eagle Brand milk on hand.  Back in my Florida days of hanging out in marinas with the live-aboard community, it was regarded as a provisioning staple.  With little else, you always knew you could whip up a quick dessert worthy of company  ̶  Key lime pie, for example.
Eagle Brand Milk

Dulce de leche is a by-product of sweetened condensed milk that all boaters know about because the method couldn’t be simpler.  The sealed can is simmered in boiling water for two to three hours until it is transformed into a lovely caramelized confection.

Compounded by the fact that almost anything tastes better on the water, I suspect I could have smeared dulce de leche on just about anything and would have been happy.  But as intriguing as it sounded, I was more fearful of blowing up the boat and becoming lost at sea than zoning out on dulce de leche, and I never quite reached that level of distraction.

I certainly have thought about making it since, but the apprehension has remained.  So nothing could have been more co-incidental than reading a couple of different references to David Lebovitz’s baked dulce de lecheand then happily discovering a can of the sweet stuff adrift in my cupboard.

It’s difficult to read anything by David and not get swept up in his seductive prose, which is often in contrast to his straight forward approach. His preparation could not be easier: bake the contents of a can of sweetened condensed milk in a water bath for just over an hour.  David promises positive results without the cataclysmic two to three hours of sweaty hovering.

Granted, I am such a pushover I could eat sweetened condensed milk straight out of the can  ̶  without any further cooking, but the dulce de leche is as good as David claims.  The process is angst-free and and the toasty, nutty, caramelization makes it well worth the effort.  dulce de leche

I’ve since learned that one 14 oz. can does not yield much when reduced: perhaps one cup.  If you sample it at all, there goes the cup.  Next time, I will make a double batch, for sure.  Also, know that it sets up as it cools.  Store it covered in the refrigerator and simply warm it until spreadable  ̶  or dipable.  Use it anywhere you would a caramel sauce or dulce de leche.  If you are like David, you’ll want to try a little on your day-old baguette with your café au lait.

Dulce de Leche or Confiture de Lait

Adapted from David Lebovitz, The Perfect Scoop

14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
pinch of flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425° F.

  1. Pour 14-oz. can of sweetened condensed milk into a glass pie plate or shallow baking dish. Stir in a few flecks of sea salt.
  2. Set the pie plate within a larger pan, such as a roasting pan, and add hot water until it reaches halfway up the side of the pie plate.
  3. Cover the pie plate snugly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 to 1¼ hours. (Check a few times during baking and add more water to the roasting pan as necessary). Once the dulce de leche is nicely browned and caramelized, remove it the oven and let cool.  When cool, whisk until smooth.

Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Warm gently in a warm water bath or microwave oven before using.  Yield: about 1 cup.