dulce de leche cheesecake squares
I confess that I am not much of a caramel fan. I remember when caramel frappuccinos were all the rage at starbucks, and honestly, i've never had one. I don't like caramel on my ice cream, and I'm not a huge fan of caramel desserts.
Then I discovered two things: good caramels (salted!) and dulce de leche. Good caramels, i've discovered, come wrapped singly and cost far more than anyone should ever have to pay for something that weighs under an ounce. And then you eat one, and you wonder which organ you should sell to buy another.
Dulce de leche is also delicious. It doesn't cost a fortune, but it takes ages to make. Literally. I made three different batches at once (I wanted to try all the varieties in a cross comparison! Don't look at me like that!) and no, I did not boil three different kinds of condensed milk. I did this the old-fashioned way. (And someday, I'll make my own butter too!)
I scoured the internet for dulce de leche recipes, and settled on two, one with whole cow milk (one batch with the best whole milk I could find, from a local dairy, and another with 'plain' whole milk) and a version with goat's milk (which I'd never had and sort of squicked me out.)
Then I realized that making the dulce de leche would take hours. In fact, when I finally got to it, it took over eight hours. I actually woke up once an hour through the night to go stir it, because I'm insane.
It was delicious, but I'll spare you. Below is the Smitten Kitchen version, safer than than of most of the world (which boils the milk inside the sealed can), but still a time-saver compared to my obsessive version.
Dulce de Leche (Milk Caramel)
Pour 1 can (14 oz.) 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.
I know 40-50 minutes seems long. But remember- my version took at least eight hours. It might have been twelve. I quit counting.
If you make this with the dulce-in-a-can, the dulce de leche flavor is subtle. If you make it with the longer version (ask for the recipe and I shall post) the flavor is much stronger. In fact, it's amazing. And addictive. And I wish I had more.
Also, use powdered gelatin for this. I used leaves of gelatin (thin sheets) the second time I made this and they did not melt as well. I think I need to learn gelatin-sheet handling techniques. As it was, I had to pick the unmelted bits out of the final batter.
Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares
Adapted from Gourmet, December 2003
Time: 9 3/4 hr (includes chilling) (45 minutes active time)
Makes 64 (1-inch) petits fours
3 1/2 oz graham crackers, crumbled (1cup)
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-oz envelope, will just about half of envelope)
1/4 cup whole milk
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
3/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup dulce de leche (12 1/2 oz) (recipe follows)
3 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), coarsely chopped
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) 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. (If you're OCD, don’t skip this step! A clean knife is essential for uber-neat squares.)