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How Sweet It Is

Say hola to Dulce de Leche

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In the musical Guys and Dolls, rakish gambler Sky Masterson whisks prim and proper "missionary doll" Sarah Browne to Havana and gets her drunk on a potent "milkshake" called Dulce de Leche. Sister Sarah translates that as "sweet of milk," and thinks it would be a wonderful way for children to get their daily dose of calcium. But the "sweet milk" that knocks Sarah for a loop is very different from the luscious confection that is practically a staple in Argentina, Uruguay, and other South and Central American countries, as well as in Mexico, where it's often called Cajeta.

This Dulce de Leche is a thick caramel sauce used as a toast topper, a filling in cakes, pies, dessert empanadas and cookies, or a dip for fresh fruit. Some food companies are appealing to the burgeoning Latino population in the States by introducing products that feature Dulce de Leche. Dulce de Leche M&Ms were test-marketed in cities with large Latino populations, like Miami and San Antonio, but they were pulled off the shelves because they didn't catch on. Evidently, Latinos don't like anyone messing with their M&Ms, or more likely they don't like anyone messing with their Dulce de Leche.

Häagen Dazs and Edy's offer Dulce de Leche ice cream, but the caramel they use can't compare with the rich, velvety smoothness of the real thing. Its flavor has been described pretty accurately as, "like toffee, butterscotch, and honey all rolled into one." In fact, none of the stateside-produced Dulce de Leche items, from ice creams to cakes, quite captures the exquisite taste of the original stuff, coming off instead as second-rate imitators.

The basic ingredients in Dulce de Leche are milk (surprise, surprise) and sugar. Vanilla and/or cinnamon can be added for additional flavor. It's relatively easy to make this sauce, but it you have to cook it a long time for the milk and sugar to caramelize. In South America, they simply put an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a pan, cover it completely with water, and boil it for an hour or more, adding water as needed to keep the can immersed. Of course, this is potentially dangerous, as the sealed can may explode. Don't say we didn't warn you... though it should be noted that one ardent fan here in the office claims that the results are worth the risk.

If you don't want to take the time or the risk to make your own Dulce de Leche, you can find it in the many Latino and Mexican tiendas scattered throughout Charlotte. Pick up a can or jar, grab a spoon, and indulge in a bit of heavenly sweetness. Que rico!

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