Cajeta Casera (Homemade Goat's Milk "Caramel") Recipe

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Photograph: Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Compared to cow's milk, goat's milk is uniquely stable, able to endure high heat without scorching.
  • A pinch of baking soda lowers the temperature at which goat's milk can brown, helping it develop a rich caramel flavor despite a cooking temperature well below the traditional point of caramelization.
  • The robust flavor of a Mexican vanilla bean won't fade away with extended cooking.

If you've never tasted cajeta, you're in for a luscious surprise—a thick, gooey sauce reminiscent of dulce de leche, but exponentially more complex. Old-school techniques require the better part of an afternoon, but my method will reduce a quart of goat's milk down to a half cup in less than an hour, concentrating its flavor and consistency. Drizzle it over your favorite ice cream, use it as a dip for apple slices, spread it over cake, or just lick it off a spoon...

Recipe Facts

4.5

(12)

Active: 45 mins
Total: 60 mins
Makes: 12 1/2 ounces

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Ingredients

  • 1 Mexican vanilla bean
  • 34 ounces (4 cups; 965g) fresh goat's milk, preferably UHT (see note)
  • 6 ounces (3/4 cup; 170g) sugar
  • 1/2 + 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Directions

  1. Split the vanilla bean with a paring knife and scrape out seeds with the flat of the blade; reserve seeds for another use. Combine split vanilla pod with goat’s milk, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a 5-quart stainless steel pot. Warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a heat-resistant spatula, until sugar dissolves and milk turns foamy and light, about 15 minutes.

  2. Continue cooking at a gentle simmer, stirring and scraping the sides of the pot frequently if not constantly, until milk is thick, golden, and reduced to no more than a thin, super-jammy layer, about 45 minutes; stir more frequently as the cajeta thickens to prevent scorching. Continue cooking until cajeta forms a "trail" that remains open for 1 second when a spatula is scraped across the bottom of the pot. Remove from heat. Using tongs, remove and discard vanilla pod. Scrape cajeta into a heat-resistant, wide-mouth glass jar. If the total amount is less than 12 1/2 ounces (1 cup; 355g), thin with a touch of milk or water or else the cajeta will be too thick on cooling. Cajeta can be refrigerated for up to 3 months.

Special equipment

5-quart stainless steel pot, heat-resistant spatula

Notes

This quick-cook technique hinges on the unique properties of goat's milk and cannot be attempted with traditional cow's milk or nondairy replacements. I've found that ultra-high-temperature pasteurized (UHT) goat's milk works particularly well—look for purple cartons of Meyenberg in the refrigerated case of supermarkets like Kroger and Whole Foods. Raw or low-temperature pasteurized goat's milk (often found in local markets) will coagulate toward the end of the cooking process, giving the cajeta a slightly grainy consistency, so save those delicately flavored milks for fresh applications.

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