Dulce de leche. It’s the sweet caramel concoction of Latin America, and the Argentinians have a love affair with the stuff. It seems to be everywhere. It’s made by cooking down milk and sugar, often starting with sweetened condensed milk. It is creamy and very, very sweet.
I first learned about this sweet concoction from a friend in medical school. He had married an Argentinian. She couldn’t cook. He would tell me stories of her cooking disasters such as making a stir fry in a pressure cooker. She also tried to make dulce de leche. She put the can of sweetened condensed milk in a pan of water to boil. Then she forgot about it. The can exploded at some point in the night. Dulce de leche was found on the ceiling.
We never did find it on the ceiling, but we did find dulce de leche in virtually every corner of Buenos Aires. It was stuffed into donuts, cakes, crepes, and churros. At fairs we walked past vendors selling ice cream cones stuffed with the stuff. The most classic creation was the alfajores, two cookies glued together with dulce de leche. An Argentinian Oreo. Some were covered in chocolate, white or dark, but the best were from a small bakery called Smeterling (yes, for you germanophiles, only one t) where they made their alfajores with lemon shortbread, still crispy and not too sweet. A perfect foil for the sweet richness of the caramel. We loved the dulce de leche we sampled, but it was a bit overwhelming. We were happy we didn’t find it in our salad dressing or our steak sauce. Though I’m sure, in somewhere Argentina, salads and steaks are dressed with that sweet, sweet, rich caramel called dulce de leche.
Thanks to Vincent Dixon for the beautiful photos of the Smeterling products. I left the desserts in his fridge.