Monday, September 14, 2009

Mazamitla and Helado de Cajeta

Mazamitla, Mexico

This weekend we headed out of town in search of that crisp fall feeling. Really, it does get tiresome living in a place with perfect weather all year-round, and from time to time we venture out to experience novelties like cold or foggy or tropical swelter. Mazamitla is where we headed: a picturesque mountain town about 2 ½ hours from Guadalajara. White stucco homes topped with Spanish tile roofs and hilly cobblestone streets draw weekenders from the city who are in search of a dip into country life. The small town boasts the required plaza with food vendors, a looming antiquated church, and Mexican cowboys in tall hats riding high on their horses strolling through town.

This was our second trip to Mazamitla, and I was drowning in a pool of my own drool on the drive there, thinking about the night food market where we ate on our previous trip and my highly anticipated pending excursion to the cajeta factory. Before we get to the point of this post, which is cajeta (or as it is know in parts of South America, dulce de leche), I have to mention THE FAT TACOS at the night market. Just do as I say: picture a sizzling hot metal sombrero with a moat of liquid pork fat bubbling in the brim, now take your preferred meat and cook it á la confit (in its own fat) in the sombrero, dip your corn tortilla in the fat for extra-tasty good measure, chop the freshly crispy meat and put it on your well seasoned tortilla, top with raw onions, cilantro, and salsa- and if you are Carter, eat NINE. If that is not your thing, I suggest you hit up one of the pozole ladies for a hot bowl of delicious hominy and pork soup. It is difficult to say if that meal topped our Saturday late lunch of rabbit braised in cerveza and tender lamb chops. Mexican mountain cuisine gets you ready for choppin’ wood!

Ready for something sweet? Me too. Cajeta is a seductively toothsome Mexican treat, made by reducing goat’s or cow’s milk or a mixture of the two plus sugar; rum and other spices are sometimes added for more depth of flavor. The best way to describe what you are rewarded with, after hours of stirring the pot, waiting for it to reach a spoonable consistency, is a silky dense caramel pudding. Cajeta is the color of caramel and has a hint of caramelized flavor, but is soooo much more approachable in its pudding-like texture. I mean, who sits down with a spoon and a jar of caramel and goes to town? Not me, but I am sitting here doing just that with a jar of Mazamitla cajeta. Its flavor could also be described as condensed milk pudding and is incredibly versatile and irresistible. Use it in flan, ice cream, your favorite brownie recipe, mix it into chai tea, spread it on cookies, bread, crepes, dip apples or popcorn into it. As I sit here wondering how I just managed to suck down half of a jar of the delecatble goo, I am pretty certain a thick layer spread over an old leather shoe would make a mouth watering dessert.

I went to the cajeta factory hoping to learn the inside secrets to this time honored spreadable love, but was greeted by a very unenthusiastic chef who was less than forthcoming with information on the process and history – I can only assume she was experiencing an extreme sugar low. One thing I did uncover is that cajeta is different from dulce de leche in that it is traditionally made from goat’s milk, however, in Mazamitla, they set themselves apart from the Mexican way by making it from cow’s milk fresh from the utter. This is somewhat disappointing as I truly love the tang that the goat’s milk brings to the party. Also, cajeta means small box. Originally, the final product was packed in small oval-shaped wooden boxes, thus the name. I stood in the steaming vapor of leche, feeling like I was in a Turkish bath trying to extract some more cajeta lore, but alas the Señora was not having it and I’ll have to be satiated by spoonful after spoonful of the real thing.

After a great weekend eating, drinking and snuggling fall, I am back in sunny Guadalajara and thoughts of cajeta caramelized apples will have to wait because I am reaching straight for the ice cream maker to make one of my favorite flavors of ice cream – cajeta!

Helado de Cajeta

2 cups half-and-half or milk
5 medium egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
¾ cup cajeta*

1. Prepare a large bowl or pan of ice water.

2. Heat the half-and-half over a double boiler until it begins to steam.

3. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks until blended, then whisk in the sugar until it is well distributed.

4. Whisk half of the hot half-and-half into the yolk mixture SLOWLY, then pour the yolk mixture into the pan of half-and-half, whisking the entire time.

5. Cook while constantly stirring. The ice cream base is finished cooking when the mixture thickens and coats the back of a wooden or silicone spoon or spatula. Pull the spoon out of the ice cream base, draw your finger through the white coat of the ice cream base; if a line stays where you swiped your finger, the custard is done cooking. About 10 minutes.

6. Immediately place the custard in a clean bowl in the ice bath. Stir occasionally until it cools to room temp.

7. Whisk in the cream and cajeta. Loosely place a piece of Saran wrap over the top surface of the ice cream base, so a film does not form and put in the refrigerator until it is completely chilled, about 3 hours.

8. Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a container, cover and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.

Note: You can find cajeta in Mexican bodegas and in many supermarket chains. You can also easily make it. Try adding a vanilla bean, cinnamon or chopped nuts to your ice cream for different flavors!


  1. cute photo of Oscar -- Looking forward to seeing the little guy! will you make me some cajeta? My "unfoodie" Brazilian friend, Isabela, makes dulce de leche by boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk for gazillion hours.

  2. I haven't had helado de cajeta in a LONG time. Beautiful pictures and post. Makes me miss Mexico.

  3. 9 tacos by Carter! Go Brothers Jons!!

  4. It ALL sounds yummy!! One of my students loves pozole, though unable to describe.I would love it too! Thanks!