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 (crêpes filled with manjar). Simply spread a tablespoon
or more of manjar on a crêpe, 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
***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.
Homemade Chilean caramelized milk spread
*Makes about 2½ cups*
8 c whole milk
5 c sugar
¼ 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 1½ 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
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
From "The Chilean Kitchen" by Ruth Van Waerebeek-Gonzalez adapting a recipe
by Don Juan Pablo Asenjo
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
Bring the water to a boil, cover, and and reduce to simmer for 1 hour for
amber manjar (manjar blanco) or 1½ hours for a darker color.
Remove can from water with tongs and allow to cool before opening.
Buy a can of prepared manjar or dulce de leche or cajeta at a Latin market.