Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Dulce de Leche + Postre de Vainillas
In a surprising and unprecedented occurrence, one of the containers of dulce de leche that I brought back the last time I was in Argentina has remained unopened until now. Over the past month or two, Alejandra and I have had multiple conversations on how to use this last hold out, most of them starting with her saying, "Do you understand what it's been like for me to have to ignore that dulce de leche in the pantry all this time??" Almost all Argentinean desserts include dulce de leche, sometimes in several forms, and Argentinean dulce de leche is universally recognized as being superior to dulce de leche produced in other countries (except maybe for Uruguay, but that's another regional rivalry for another day). Alejandra told me about a dessert they make in her family called postre de vainillas, and decided to write her aunt asking for the recipe. Meanwhile, I thought about all the other things that are traditionally made with dulce de leche. Say someone gives you a jar of dulce de leche, or you bring back a jar from a trip. What to do with it, other than consume the entire jar in one sitting, inducing blind sugar coma oblivion? (which is totally fine, too, we've all been there)
-Unquestionably one of the best options, and not at all similar to the vanilla ice cream-based version sold in the U.S., is to make Argentinean dulce de leche ice cream. You can swirl more, unadulterated dulce de leche through the ice cream once it's almost set, the way you would with a chocolate stripe (which is also a good option here).
-Make alfajores, or use it to fill sandwich cookies, which is basically the same thing.
-Spread it on toast. It sounds ridiculous, and the first time I saw a mother give it to her kid as a snack I thought, that is the least healthy snack I have ever seen, but it is really, really delicious (and let's be real, it's not as if most jams are actually less sugary).
-Use it to fill a jelly roll cake, or pionono. For that matter, use it to fill any cake.
-Eat it with milanesas, aka schnitzel. Just kidding, although I did have a Spanish teacher a long time ago who told me that his dad did just that.
-Dulce de leche with bananas. Slice a banana. Layer half into a small bowl, (generously) top with dulce de leche, then add in the remaining slices and top with (lots more, way more than seems reasonable) dulce de leche. Breakfast!
-Fill donuts, croissants, or other sweet rolls. When I was doing field work for my master's thesis in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, the most exciting part about getting up at the crack of dawn was the knowledge that there would be dulce de leche-filled donuts waiting for me next to the bus stop. They were massive, greasy, and rolled in granulated sugar, and the lady sold them for 1 peso until she ran out.
-Which leads me to more memories of dulce de leche-filled, chocolate-covered churros in the train station at Retiro, and the ones sold on the corners of Once that Felipe would bring home for merienda.
-Dulce de leche flan. Then serve the flan with whipped cream and a big dollop of dulce de leche alongside. Really.
-On a spoon, next to a shot of espresso or a cup of strong coffee. This is Felipe's routine after lunch every day whenever we have dulce de leche in the house (now you see how amazing that the dulce de leche had survived until now), and it is pretty wonderful. There is a fancy La Salamandra cafe in Buenos Aires that does the same, serving a dollop of dulce de leche alongside its cafes instead of the typical tiny cookie.
-Eat it with crepes, called panqueques in Argentina.
-Chocotorta, the classic Argentinean birthday cake. Basically an icebox cake, but the filling is dulce de leche mixed with a lightened cream cheese. The first time I had it my eyes almost rolled out of my head.
-In the interest of full disclosure, I feel like I have to mention one more classic use for dulce de leche, with the warning that every time I've ever had this I immediately regretted having put it in my mouth: la torta rogel, a.k.a. torta milhojas. Tasteless cardboard layered with dulce de leche and capped with sickly sweet meringue? I'll pass, thanks.
As soon as Alejandra got ahold of her aunt's recipe, we set about collecting the ingredients. We bought and then promptly ate the packages of vainillas (lady fingers) three times before a fourth trip to the supermarket resulted in an untouched package. If you don't have access to Argentinean dulce de leche, you can make your own. The dulce de leche is covered with two layers of vanilla and/or chocolate pudding, and the lady fingers are soaked in strong coffee. The dessert itself comes together very quickly and then has to chill in the fridge for a couple of hours while the pudding sets and the lady fingers soften. In our house, the postre lasted all of 24 hours, and that was solely out of politeness to our significant others. It is similar to tiramisu in its construction, but the flavor is very, very Argentine, the kind of dessert you'd be served by someone's abuela. Next time I make it I'll probably skip the chocolate in the pudding so that the dulce de leche flavor is more prominent, though a little extra chocolate alongside your dulce de leche never hurt anyone, and especially no one Argentine...
Lady Finger Pudding (Postre de Vainillas)
adapted from Alejandra's aunt
14 oz. (400 g.) lady fingers
1 c. (8 oz., or 225 g.) strong coffee (we used espresso from my beloved Moka pot)
14 oz. (400 g.) dulce de leche (if using Argentine dulce de leche, Sancor and La Serinissima are good options here-- you want good quality but non-expensive)
Double recipe vanilla bean pudding, recently made and still hot off the stove
2 Tbsp. dark rum
3 oz. (90 g.) bittersweet chocolate (optional)
shaved bittersweet chocolate or chopped walnuts to sprinkle on top
Line the bottom of a glass 9- or 10-inch square baking dish with lady fingers, breaking of edges as necessary to make them fit. Now, dunk each lady finger thoroughly in the coffee and then place it back in the dish, working quickly so the cookie doesn't disintegrate on you (you should use half of the coffee here). Carefully spread half of the dulce de leche over the layer of lady fingers (they will be fragile from being soaked in coffee), using an offset spatula/butter knife to make an even layer. Stir the rum into the vanilla bean pudding, and then pour half of the pudding over the dulce de leche layer, carefully spreading the pudding out with your spatula as to not disrupt the underlying layers.
If you want the second layer of pudding to be chocolate, stir in the bittersweet chocolate into the (still warm) pudding, letting it melt thoroughly. Dip more lady fingers into the remaining coffee and arrange a second layer of cookies over the vanilla pudding layer. Spread the rest of the dulce de leche over the ladyfingers, then pour the rest of the pudding over the dulce de leche and smooth into an even layer. (You may have extra pudding-- don't overfill the baking dish. I would recommend eating it while you wait for the dessert to set.) Put the baking dish in the fridge to chill, at least 4 hours and ideally overnight. Once the pudding has chilled, and before serving, shave bittersweet chocolate over the whole top, or sprinkle with chopped walnuts.