How to Make Dulce de Leche

This is a post about how to NOT make dulce de leche and the good alternatives for this sweet treat. I believe everybody already heard about BPA, since much has been talked about baby bottles. As you may know, BPA, unfortunately among many other things, is present as well in canned foods, like beans, tuna, infant formulas and milk products, including sweetened condensed milk – the one I want to highlight here.

I decided to write this post because I keep seeing fellow bloggers recommending to boil the condensed milk can to make dulce de leche. And I want to say: Please stop! Update your posts, do not tell people to do this. This method it may have been used in the past, before people were aware of the BPA contamination. Some brands are not recommending this boiling method and some people may think it’s because of the risk of explosion, but making a mess in the kitchen and having some injury risks is nothing compared to the long-term health risk. Of course the chemical it’s already present in the cans. And while I keep wishing to see brands switch to glass containers (yes, I have to keep the positive-thinking) at least it’s important at this point to minimize the effects by not heating the cans. What it’s even worst if you boil the cans hours and hours.

This chemical is linked to neurobehavioral changes in offspring exposed in the womb, breast and prostate cancer, among other health effects. Europe is going BPA-free, at least for baby bottles. It’s already a good turning point that they voted to ban the estrogen-like chemical at the end of 2010, which means that by middle of this year all the European countries will have stopped manufacturing, selling or importing plastic baby bottles with BPA. It’s a good start that they didn’t give in to the powerful industrial-lobbying. It gives me some hope about a few decision-makers. It’s crazy to think that the companies began using BPA in metal can linings in the 1950s and 1960s, twenty years after the chemical was first understood to be toxic in the early 1930s. But what is not acceptable is that the Governments yield to lobbying pressures when it concerns the whole humanity health. Yes, I know, you can say I’m being a little naive as this is what politics is about and how things really work, etc, bla, bla, bla. So, what to think when you read this description of the US safety reviews?

  • The U.S. EPA established its generic safety standard for BPA (the reference dose, or RfD) in 1987, a decade before the BPA low-dose literature was established (EPA 1987).
  • The U.S. National Toxicology Program’s 2001 assessment, which found BPA safe at low doses, relied heavily on industry-sponsored studies showing no low-dose BPA effects (NTP 2001).
  • FDA published estimates of infant and adult BPA exposures 10 years ago. FDA makes this assertion even though the Agency has not yet established an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for BPA, and has not even conducted the Agency’s standard, basic toxicology study to determine a safe dose for humans (FDA 2007).
  • More recently, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expressed “some concern” that BPA may alter the brain, behavior and prostate gland in children, both before and after birth.
  • The American Chemistry Council, which represents the plastics industry, maintains that BPA is safe.

You can read more about the BPA and its significant exposures in canned food here and here.

What can we do?

  • Avoid plastics with a #7 recycling code.
  • Choose baby bottles and cups labeled BPA-free.
  • Reduce use of canned foods and beverages, since can linings may contain BPA.

In the meantime, when you have to use condensed milk to make that awesome dulce de leche, at least use one of these methods below. (I know, if you’re still reading this post you might not consider this recipe anymore and think: why is she posting this in the food section, where all the recipes are here to be enjoyed? BTW, I also listed it in the Life category, so you can read it there and just come back here for the recipe. Yes, that’s how bad I am, sorry folks!)

Dulce de Leche

Preparation time: 1 minute (to open the can)
Cook time: 60 minutes

1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk

Method in the stovetop:
Pour the sweetened condensed milk into top of double-boiler pan; cover. Place over boiling water. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 60 minutes, or until thick and light caramel-colored. Remove from heat and whisk until smooth (it gets thicker as it cools).

Method in the oven:
Preheat oven to 425° F. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a flan mold with lid. Place in shallow pan (larger than the mold obviously). Fill pan with hot water. Bake for 60 minutes, or until thick and light caramel-colored. Pour milk into small mixer bowl and whisk until smooth.
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Tres Leches Cake

I first tried this cake about three years ago, when I was enjoying some vacation time mixed with work I came to do in the United States. By then I was still working in a full-time job in Lisbon which required me to travel many times. It was on one of those times when I had a project to try out in Florida that I planned to come during Summer and spend three months getting to know better this part of the world.

Three is an interesting number. Three months in Florida. I met personally my future husband and once we had lunch in one Mexican restaurant in Baldwin Park, Orlando, and I tried the Tres Leches Cake (Three Milk Cake). And now, three years from then, there are three of us.

What intrigued me about this cake was the moist satin cream it has all over it and the exquisitely spongy cake texture. I almost couldn’t believe that was a cake, because there wasn’t any part of it dry. So, I was totally amazed and delighted.

No wonder I had to do my own. I saw many recipes online, but after a few experiments this is how I like my Tres Leches Cake. I use spiced rum in the syrup and I think this little hint takes it to the next level but this can be optional if you prefer to skip the alcohol.

Many recipes call for cherries as a topping complement, others add nuts or even dulce de leche turning it into a Cuatro Leches Cake. I opted to just sprinkle the top with cocoa powder and I like the contrast it made with the sweetened syrup.

As a dessert cake it’s a wonderful option to serve with coffee. We have a simple stovetop espresso maker and we love how easily and quick we can have a rich authentic espresso at home. This cake is the perfect combination to end a meal. Or to go with a coffee snack. Or to enjoy anytime.

Three is a great number. Just follow the three steps to make the cake. One, two, three and you’ll have it. Lucky number this three, awesome cake, lucky me.

Tres Leches Cake

Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 35-40 minutes
Serves 12

For the cake:
1 cup sugar, divided
5 eggs, separated
1/3 cup milk (I use whole milk)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

For the 3 milks syrup:
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (13 oz) evaporated milk
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp spiced rum

For the topping:
1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
cocoa powder for decoration

Cake:
Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Grease a 13×9 baking pan with butter and flour. Set aside.
Separate the eggs. In  a large bowl of an electric mixer beat the egg yolks with 3/4 of sugar, until it gets creamy and pale yellow (approximately 5 minutes). Add the milk and vanilla extract and mix together. In another bowl combine the flour and baking powder and stir to the egg mixture. Set aside.
In another bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then add the remaining sugar (1/4 cup) and continue beating until the eggs are firm and glossy, but not dry. Gently fold the egg white mix into the previous egg yolk mixture and pour in the baking dish. Bake in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes (check with a toothpick in the center until it comes clean). Take out of the oven and let it cool completely.
Turn the cake upside down in a baking dish or a rimmed baking sheet (It will catch the syrup when it overflows). Pierce the cake thoroughly with a fork.

Prepare the syrup:
Whisk the condensed milk, evaporated milk, whipping cream, vanilla extract and rum in a large bowl until well mixed. Slowly pour this mix all over the top of the cake, allowing to absorb the mixture before pouring more. Don’t worry with the liquid getting down on the pan, the cake will absorb it all in some minutes.
Once the milk syrup is all absorbed, turn the cake in the final serving plate (I use the glass baking dish). Turning the cake again into the original position allow the syrup that was at the bottom to get totally combined into the cake. Refrigerate.

At last, prepare the topping:
In a mixing bowl, beat the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Spread the whipping cream over the top of the cake, using a spatula. Sprinkle cocoa powder on top. Cut into squares and serve immediately.
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Flan

Flan is definitively superb, outstanding in any table. What other dessert has this texture, this impressive shiny look, the colors and the pleasing flavor? No wonder that when my mother-in-law told me she also had a recipe for flan, my immediate reaction was: “Bring it on!”.

Besides, I would have another opportunity to test my Flan Mold, which I’m pretty sure is going to have great use in the years to come. What a wonderful purchase!

This recipe is totally different than My Mom’s Flan, and only requires three whole eggs. The lack of eggs is compensated by using sweetened condensed milk. Another difference is adding vanilla instead of lemon zest. If you tried my mother’s “Pudim” and make this one now you’ll taste the distinctness of each one, as I did. Don’t you love the variety, the novelty, the opportunity to challenge your palate?

Thank you family for introduce me to new recipes. There is certainly something I can’t never get enough. And to celebrate that I’ll have another slice. I say the recipe serves eight, but I’m not sure anymore. Probably it is way too many people for this preciousness, it would be cruel to give just one piece to each one. I would say it satisfies plenty about four. Or two. You’ll tell me if you agree.

Flan

Note: You’ll need a flan mold with locking top

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 50-60 minutes

Serves 8

1 cup of sugar

1 can (14 0z) sweetened condensed milk

1 can (13 oz) evaporated milk

3 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

Caramelize 1 cup of sugar in the flan mold at medium-heat, stirring frequently until it becomes amber color and liquid. Tilt the flan mold to make sure that both the bottom and sides are coated with the caramel. Let it cool down. As it gets hard the sugar may crack a little, that’s normal to happen and nothing to worry about. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl of a stand or hand mixer, whisk the eggs. Add the milks and the vanilla, whisking slowly until well blended.

Pour in the flan mold (after the sugar cools), lock the cover, and place flan mold in a large glass or ceramic baking dish. Fill the baking dish with about 2 inches of hot water.

Bake in the oven for 50 to 60 minutes in the water bath.

Take out of oven and let it cool completely. Cool in refrigerator for one hour before inverting onto a plate. The caramel will flow over the custard. Serve and enjoy!

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Peanut Butter and Chocolate Ice-cream

Since my ice-cream post, I’ve been trying different flavors with the same base. I already did tangerine, strawberry and I’m delighted with all the possibilities. The good thing about it is that it can be made in any freezer covered container, there’s no need for special ice-creams makers, though I’m considering to get this Ice Cream Maker Attachment for my beloved KitchenAid.

Considerations apart, any ice-cream done with this method will result in a very creamy, rich, milky and velvety texture. I’m very pleased with it. And I’ve been enjoying it to the fullest. On every little scoop (yes, sometimes I like to use cookie dough scoops for my ice-creams). Poor me.

The chocolate shavings are a great addition that I’ve been using repeatedly in all those variations. Am I monotonous or chocoholic?  Maybe so, but with this peanut butter I couldn’t help myself again. Guilty me, I would be doing it over and over. Judge me now.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Ice-cream

Preparation time: 15 minutes + 4 hours in the freeze

Serves 6

1 can sweet condensed milk (14 oz)

1 pint heavy whipping cream (2 cups)

3/4 cup natural peanut butter creamy

2 oz semi-sweet chocolate shavings

1 tsp cinnamon (optional)

In a large bowl, whisk together the sweet condensed milk, peanut butter and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a previously chilled large bowl of a stand mixer (or hand mixer) beat whipping cream until forms soft peaks. Fold into the sweet condensed mix/peanut butter mixture. Add the chocolate shavings. Transfer to a container with lid and put in the freezer for at least 4 hours or until firm.

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Spicy Lemon Butter Cookies

Hello cookies! Long time no see. But here I am redeeming myself for the fault. I think I can be forgiven with this butter cookies. I’m sorry, I can’t speak much, you see… those six up there just landed in my mouth… right now… excuse me a minute… or two.

Ah, feeling better. The main ingredients of this round cuties are the obvious butter, lemon zest, pure vanilla extract and a nice spicy flavor with the addition of cinnamon and nutmeg. Unpretentious but charming.

These are the supreme cookies for tea time. Green, white, oolong, black or herbal tea, any selection will match perfectly.

This recipe makes about 30 cookies. Can you guess how many are left at the end of the day?

Spicy Lemon Butter Cookies (adapted from McCormick recipe)


Preparation time: 15 minutes + 1 hour or overnight in the fridge

Cook time: 12 minutes

Makes about 30 cookies

Note: To bake the dough all at once, you’ll need 2 baking sheets

 

1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, softened (better results with European style butter)

1 cup sugar

pinch of salt

1 egg

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp lemon zest

2 cups unbleached flour

 

Beat butter, sugar, salt, egg, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon zest in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in flour on low-speed until well mixed. Refrigerate 1 hour. Alternatively, you can shape the dough into a log and wrap in a parchment paper before putting in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls or, in case you have made a log, slice the dough. Place on ungreased baking sheets.  Flatten with a fork.

Bake 12 minutes or until lightly browned around edges. Cool on baking sheets 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

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Salted Cod with Cream (Bacalhau com Natas)

Salted Cod or bacalhau is probably the most traditional ingredient you can find in Portugal, especially during holiday seasons. Considered a delicacy, there are 1001 ways to cook this dried and salted codfish, and everybody knows the best quality kind comes from Norway. Naturally, Portugal is the world biggest importer of the country’s national dish, also called the “faithful friend” (fiel amigo) of Portuguese cuisine.

Bacalhau is a savory fish, with white flaky meat, low in fat and with high levels of zinc, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iodine and some essentials amino acids.

Usually is served with potatoes and paired with a good Portuguese wine. In Portugal, every grocery store sells bacalhau, but here in the “New World” is not so commonly found.  Although is not difficult to buy it online, many times is not the superior extra quality that we found in Portugal. Nevertheless, those are good enough to prepare dishes like “Bacalhau a Bras” or this “Bacalhau com Natas” I present today.

Don’t take me wrong, but being a Portuguese my palate is culturally developed to easily identify the best salted cod. Usually, the cod is classified being of first or second category and each category has different classifications. As an example, from the first category, it can be classified as special if has weight superior to 3 kg. But not only the weight is signal of better salted cod, it also needs to have the right cut, had been salted and dried following the traditional method, do not present lesions and have the right color. Any part of the cod is not to be wasted and each recipe uses different parts of the fish.

This baked recipe includes potatoes, onion, garlic and an extra creamy Bechamel sauce.

I couldn’t help but paired this exquisiteness with a good white “green wine” (Vinho Verde), served very chilled. Vinho Verde is the Demarcated Region in Minho, North of Portugal. The wine is light and fresh and mainly consumed within a year.

Making this dish felt like reviving the unique taste of Portuguese cuisine, sparkling my roots and invigorating the sweet word “saudade“. Nothing better to complete this comfort zone than listening to the unparalleled music Fado. Tchin-tchin!

Salted Cod with Cream (Bacalhau com Natas)

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes + 5-8 minutes to broil

Serves: 4-6

4 fillets salt cod

3 lbs of potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 onion

5 cloves of garlic, minced

5 tbsp olive oil

1 bay leaf

1 pint (473 ml) heavy whipping cream

1 cup milk

1/2 tsp nutmeg

2 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp corn starch

1/2 tsp salt

pepper to taste

Soaked the salted cod fillets in water for 24 hours, changing water twice (keep the cod in the fridge).

Parboil the cod for about 5 minutes in water. Flake the fillets and remove the bones and skin if it’s the case (the fillets I got came without skin and bones, so I skipped this step). Set aside.

Peeled the potatoes, wash, cut in small cubes and fry with 3 tbsp of olive oil just until look like cooked (do not over fry). Set aside.

Slice the onion in thin rings, minced the garlic and fry all with the 2 tbsp of olive oil left and a bay leaf until soft and translucent (around 5-8 minutes). Add the cod, sautee a little and then add the potatoes, mixing all together. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Note: Since the cod is already salted, you don’t need to add any salt during this cooking process. I just added some to the sauce.

Prepare the Bechamel sauce: in a medium skillet, melt 2 tbsp of butter and slowly add the corn starch mixing well. Add the milk, heavy whipping cream and mix until well incorporated. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper and cook over low-heat for about 10 minutes until the sauce turn into a rich creamy texture.

Add 2/3 of this mixture to the cod, potatoes and onion mix and pour into a large baking dish (or two glass loaf pans like the ones I use in the picture). Cover the mix with the rest of Bechamel sauce and put in the oven for 20 minutes. After that time, turn into the broil and gratin for more 5-8 minutes, keeping an eye in the oven to not let it burn (just until you get a golden crust on top).

Take out of the oven, let it rest for a few minutes and serve with chopped fresh parsley on top. This dish is good served with a green salad, sautéed spinach or just by itself with the fresh parsley.

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These Are the Days of Our Lives

We’ve been spending the mornings at the beach. The weather is greetings us with sunshine and warm temperatures and we’re welcoming the outdoors. This is, in my opinion, the best time of the year to enjoy the Florida coastline, before it starts to get a little to hot to handle the outside temperature for too long.

Plus, our little runner loves to get her feet on the sand. Beach is a word she recognizes and learned how to spell, a word associated with lots of fun. On top of that we bought her this castle bucket set, so easily you can imagine how busy we’ve been trying to build castles and a tunnel of water under the castle. Or sort of.

These has been very busy mornings, a hard time making complicated engineering calculations to architecture a way of keeping the castle up and to make sure it doesn’t collapse just like this one down here. I think we’re almost there, but we will need some more experience on the field.

So, here we are surrounded not only by bucket sets, but also by pretty birds like this snowy egret.

We watch people walking or jogging in the sand, fishermen having more or less luck with their catches or surfers riding the waves.

We even look at planes and helicopters flying around us.

By now you may think why I’m writing like a ten years old, being so descriptive and basic. Sometimes I like to think how perfect the world seemed to be when we were kids. Just like the song that makes the title of this post, the sun should always be shining and it would be great to live just for fun. We have our eyes and thoughts in the raising tragedy from Japan, the latest information about Libya and even sad news of people surrounding us. Such a disaster, so much damage and a few stories of love and humanity in between, but all of them heartbreaking. So, let me keep it simple and try to look at life through the eyes of a child. Allow me to embrace the world and return to innocence.

I’ll be back next week with a savory recipe and a special ingredient. In the meantime, I hope you savor these images and smile.

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