Rick Cooks Home Manjar

Manjar (the Old Spanish word for "food") is caramelized milk, the Chilean version of the Spanish dulce de leche*, the Mexican cajeta, the Peruvian natillas, and the Italian dolce di latte**. It used to be made at home by cooking milk and sugar (and bicarbonate of soda for color) slowly and laboriously for over two hours over a stove. The result is a sweet, creamed-coffee-colored spread or filling.

With the advent of canned sweetened condensed milk in the 1950's, more home cooks began making manjar by simply cooking an unopened can in a pot of water***, until today manjar is usually associated with this method. But even this is today being replaced by commercial prepared manjar, until eventually the recipe below may become completely forgotten.

In Chile, as in most Latin countries, this spread is used in many desserts, candies, ice cream, jelly rolls, and pastries, and is most widely used as a spread on bread for an after-school snack. Try it in its most popular form, panqueques celestinos (crpes filled with manjar). Simply spread a tablespoon or more of manjar on a crpe, roll it up, sprinkle with powdered sugar, and put under a broiler until the sugar caramelizes.

*Dulce de leche is the most common name for this product in the Spanish-speaking world. In Spain, manjar is a product containing sweetened milk and rice flour.

**Dolce di latte, a main ingredient in the Italian commercial product Nutella, is now practically unknown in Italy, having been eclipsed by its commercial derivative blended with gianduja (cocoa-hazelnut).

***A note about cooking unopened cans: some readers have written and advised against this method, as the can may explode. One reader suggested that the can be completely submerged to reduce the risk of explosion. Actually, it's not the water level that matters, but that the water not be allowed to completely evaporate, which can and has happenned to those who have gone away and forgotten about it! The picture of a can of hot milk exploding in the kitchen is not a pretty one, so my suggestion is to play it safe and make the homemade manjar casero, as it tastes a whole lot better anyhow.

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Manjar Casero

Homemade Chilean caramelized milk spread

*Makes about 2 cups*

8 c whole milk
5 c sugar
t baking soda
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or cinnamon stick)

This requires a large heavy saucepan (preferably copper) a wooden spoon, and a gas range.
Put all ingredients in the saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently and watching constantly. As the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat and regulate to prevent overboiling (this is why you need the gas range). Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture begins to thicken, about 1 to 2 hours.
Discard the bean or cinnamon stick. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickening and turns an amber caramel color. It's ready when the bottom of the pan can be seen when the spoon is drawn across it.
Remove from heat and continue stirring for a few minutes antil smooth. Turn into a serving bowl and allow to cool at room temperature before refrigerating.

From "The Chilean Kitchen" by Ruth Van Waerebeek-Gonzalez adapting a recipe by Don Juan Pablo Asenjo

"Easy" Manjar

Place an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and fill the pan with water halfway up the side of the can.
Bring the water to a boil, cover, and and reduce to simmer for 1 hour for amber manjar (manjar blanco) or 1 hours for a darker color. Remove can from water with tongs and allow to cool before opening.

"Easier" Manjar

Buy a can of prepared manjar or dulce de leche or cajeta at a Latin market.