Dulce de leche, where have you been my whole life? Oh, sure, I knew what you were and I understood implicitly that you were a good thing. I knew that you were practically the national dish of Argentina and I knew I wanted to be the national dish of, well, anywhere, one day but I hadn’t yet taken you into my arms and my belly. I hadn’t yet really tasted you. I am sooo going to have to make up for lost time.
The thing is, and I know this sounds a little funny, but I love dairy products–like milk and cream, especially when they’re full fat and super-fresh and hormone free. I love the little smell that wafts off freshly steamed milk. I can absolutely taste the difference between skim and two percent, and simply cannot abide the former and only occasionally the latter. And I would rather have one tablespoon of cream over anything–baked apples, swirled into oatmeal–than 14 of something so-called good for me. And yes, I have digressed, but I just wanted to set this up:
Dulce de leche is the embodiment of everything I love about dairy products and everything everyone loves about caramel together. Like one or the other weren’t good enough, let’s just mash this up and die happy. Minus the dying part.
And in the 78 days that I have had this dulce de leche cheesecake bar recipe bookmarked, not a single one has passed that I haven’t considered when I’d find an excuse to make it. I’d angled for a holiday party, but didn’t get my act together in time. Ditto for a New Years party, and a housewarming two weekends ago. Thus I decided it was Superbowl or bust, bought all of the ingredients, made the dulce and everything else and it was … bust.
Yes, these dulce de leche cheesecake bars made it to a Superbowl party without me. I sat on the sofa, eating my lowly square in a most-pitiful a Superbowl Party of One (plus tissues, Day-Quil and a pitcher of water). Except, of course, it was not pitiful at all, as you might call. And these dulce de leche cheesecake squares are exactly as good as you would expect from milk caramel, and cheesecake, and a graham crust, oh, and chocolate.
Question: How do you eat your dulce de leche? Do you have a favorite recipe that plays off of it?
To get you started, here are some that make me paw the computer monitor:
- Dorie Greenspan’s Snickery Squares
- Chez Pim’s Dulce de Leche From Raw Milk
- Tartlette’s Dulce de Leche Brioche Rolls
- Matt Bites Adam’s Alfajores, or Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies
- David Lebovitz’s Dulce de Leche Brownies
- And just to torture, a dulce de leche-tunneled doughnut Alex and I had at the Doughnut Plant on Essex Street last year
Cheesecake, previously: Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake, Key Lime Cheesecake, Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake, Nectarine, Mascarpone and Gingersnap Tart (almost no-bake!), Brownie Mosaic Cheesecake, Black-Bottomed Cupcakes (with a cheesecake filling) and Cream Cheese Marbled Brownies.
One year ago: Soft Pretzels
Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares
Adapted from Gourmet, December 2003
If you’re looking for a strong dulce de leche flavor in a baked good, this unfortunately isn’t it. Oh, it’s there, but it’s not front and center. It has to share the spotlight with cream cheese, and, well, I’m not sure that it wants to. But, it lingers subtly in the background and, honestly, if there was ever a way to make cheesecake more heavenly, this would have to be it.
I’m sure you’ll notice that there is some gelatin in this recipe, and think it’s odd. Heck, even Alex did, which really just made me beam with pride that he knows so much about baking right now that he knows that gelatin is atypical in (baked) cheesecakes. But, if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. The reason why most cheesecake recipes don’t fare well as squares is that they’re too soft to easily pick up; the gelatin fixes addresses this perfectly.
Makes 64 (1-inch) cheesecake squares
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams or 1 cup) graham crackers, crumbled
2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar
3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-ounce or 7-gram envelope, will be just about half an envelope)
1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
8 ounces (225 grams) cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
3/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup dulce de leche (12 1/2-ounce or 355-gram can) (recipe follows)
3 ounces (85 grams) fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), coarsely chopped
1/2 stick (2 ounces or 55 grams) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
Make crust: Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with 2 sheets of foil (crisscrossed), leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides.
Finely grind crackers with sugar and a pinch of salt in a food processor. With motor running, add butter, blending until combined. Press mixture evenly onto bottom of baking pan. Bake 10 minutes, then cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.
Make filling: Sprinkle gelatin over milk in a small bowl and let stand 2 minutes to soften. Beat together cream cheese, eggs, salt, and gelatin mixture in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes, then stir in dulce de leche gently but thoroughly. Pour filling over crust, smoothing top, then bake in a hot water bath (I was able to fit mine in a 9×13-inch baking pan) in oven until center is just set, about 45 minutes. Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 2 hours. Chill, covered, at least 6 hours.
Glaze cake within 2 hours of serving: Heat all glaze ingredients in a double boiler or a small metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth, then pour over cheesecake, tilting baking pan to coat top evenly. Chill, uncovered, 30 minutes.
Lift cheesecake from pan using foil overhang and cut into 1-inch squares with a thin knife, wiping off knife after each cut. (Don’t skip this step! A clean knife is essential for uber-neat squares.)
Note: Cheesecake (without glaze) can be chilled up to 3 days.
Dulce de Leche (Milk Caramel)
I know that most of the world makes this by boiling the milk inside a closed can, but honestly, that scares the bejesus out of me and according to the Carnation can label I pulled this technique from, is not recommended by them (likely because they do not want to get sued, but still). This method works just as well.
Pour one can (14 ounce) sweetened condensed milk into top of double-boiler pan; cover. Place over boiling water. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 50 minutes, or until thick and light caramel-colored.
Remove from heat. Whisk until smooth.