Cajeta (a caramel-like thick, dark syrup or paste) is Mexico’s answer to Argentina’s dulce de leche. Cajeta is traditionally made with goat’s milk, while dulce de leche uses cow’s milk. “Cajeta” is named after the wooden boxes that it was historically served in and is a specialty of Celaya, Mexico.
Cajeta appears in many Southwestern dessert recipes, often served on fruit or ice cream. Cajeta also appears in a Tex-Mex candy favorite—leche quemada.
Cajeta is a Mexican confection of thickened syrup that in its most common incarnation is made of sweetened caramelized milk.
According to chef Rick Bayless, the name for cajeta came from the Spanish phrase al punto de cajeta, which means a liquid thickened to the point at which a spoon drawn through the liquid reveals the bottom of the pot in which it is being cooked. However, it is more popularly assumed that it takes its name from the small wooden boxes it was traditionally packed in. It goes by a number of other names in Latin America since in some of these countries, it has a vulgar meaning, referring to a woman’s genitals. Mexican Cajeta is considered a specialty of and popularly associated with the city of Celaya in the state of Guanajuato.
The process of making cajeta involves a slow cooking down of sweetened liquid until it achieves a very thick consistency. While sweetened milk is the most well-known base for this process, other sweetened liquids or juices may be employed as bases.
In Celaya, and eventually the rest of Mexico, the confection of half goat’s milk and half cow’s milk became known by the name cajeta, but elsewhere, the milk candy is known as leche quemada, dulce de leche, et al. It has cousins in the many Indian milk-based sweets like pera and the milk fudge burfi, and in the opera fudge of the U.S.. Cajeta is eaten on its own as a sweet, as a spread or filling for breads and pastries, and as a topping for ice cream.
Certain liquors are added to special cajeta recipes called “Cajeta Envinada.” In addition, “Cajeta Envinada Especial” is enriched with raisins, almonds, pecans or nuts. Often topping crepes, in a sweet sauce boiled and softened down with milk to soak the crepes, resulting in a tasty dessert.
In 2005, the Hershey Company introduced a line of cajeta flavored confections styled “Cajeta Elegancita”, targeted at Mexican-food aficionados living in the United States. The marketing decision made headlines when it was discovered that the word is a risqué term for the vulva in Argentinian parlance.
In 2006, Texas grocery chain H-E-B introduced “Cajeta” flavored ice cream.
Celaya is a city and its surrounding municipality in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, located at 20°52′N, 100°82′W in the southeast quadrant of the state. It is the third most populous city in the state, with a 2005 census population of 310,413. The municipality for which the city serves as municipal seat, had a population of 415,869. The city is located in the geographic center of the municipality, which has an areal extent of 553.18 km² (213.58 sq mi) and includes many smaller outlying communities, the largest of which are San Miguel Octopan, Rincón de Tamayo, and San Juan de la Vega.
There are many smaller towns around Celaya including Rincón De Tamayo, Tarimoro, Salvatierra, La Moncada, Panales Jamaica (Cañones), Panales Galera, La Calera, La Estancia, La Noria, La Acebuche, Cacalote, and Charco Largo.
Explosion of improperly protected gunpowder and fireworks warehouse in September, 1999 killed over 60 people and badly injured over 300.
Celaya is also famous for the production of cajeta.
A thick, dark syrup or paste made from caramelized sugar and milk — traditionally goat’s milk, although cow’s milk is often used. Cajeta can be found in several flavors (primarily caramel and fruit) in Latin markets. It’s used in Mexico and in some South American countries primarily as a dessert by itself or as a topping for ice cream or fruit.
© Copyright Barron’s Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on THE FOOD LOVER’S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.
About.com: Mexican Food
Chelsie’s Mexican Food Blog
From Chelsie Kenyon
Cajeta- Mexican Caramel
There’s not much better than an ooey, gooey blob of Cajeta oozing out from a candy bar, or topping a bowl of ice cream. Even though it is similar in flavor to caramel, they are made very differently. Caramel is made by cooking sugar very slowly and cajeta is made by cooking sweetened milk very slowly. There is a bit more to it than that, but overall it’s very simple to make. Cajeta is traditionally made with goat’s milk, but cow’s milk is an acceptable substitute. I prefer to use both. Cajeta is often used in Mexican candy bars and as cake filling, but I love to eat it right off of the spoon.
Cajeta de Celaya
This recipe is from Mexican Desserts and Drinks by Socorro Munoz Kimble and Irma Serrano Noriega.
A neat little bundle of boxes of cajeta. Each thin wooden box holds a delicious slab of rich caramel candy. The candy is soft and can be eaten with a spoon or put on crackers.
Makes: 6 cups
I N G R E D I E N T S
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 cups cow’s milk
6 cups goat milk
(or use 12 cups cow’s milk if goat milk not available)
3 cups sugar
1 canela stick (cinnamon)
I N S T R U C T I O N S
In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch and the soda in two cups of cow’s milk. Heat the reaming 10 cups of milk in a very large heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil.. Add the cornstarch and soda mixture to the boiling milk. Add the sugar and cinnamon stick and continue cooking, stirring with wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens and you can see the bottom of the pan clearly. This process will take about one hour, during which tie the mixture will cook down. Cool and store in covered jars. Cajeta will keep indefinitely if refrigerated.
June 1854, Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science, and Art (NY, NY), pg. 665:
The enterprising proprietor was on a trading expedition, his stock consisting of queso, a sort of curd cheese, and a species of preserves, somewhat resembling marmalade, which the Mexicans call cajeta de membrillero. There is but a slight taste of the quince preserved, and the article would hardly establish a reputation for the artiste. It seems, however, to be a choice specimen of native manufacture, and rates (financially) accordingly.
February 1896, Land of Sunshine (Los Angeles, CA), “Some Mexican Sweet” by Linda Bell Colson, pg. 136:
CAJETA DE LECHE—Take six plats of milk, one and one-half pounds of brown sugar, and a tablespoon of flour. First clarify the sugar, that is, beat up the white of one egg thoroughly with a cup of cold water, and add this to the sugar dissolved with one of water. Heat the whole mixture until a scum appears. Remove from the fire and skim. Repeat until no scum arises. Then put three plats of the milk, the clarified sugar, and the flour (previously mixed with a little milk) in a saucepan on the fire. Stir it constantly, being careful not to remove the spoon, and let it boil until you can see the bottom of the saucepan. Then add another one and one-half plats of milk and repeat the operation; lastly add the remaining one and one-half plats of milk and continue to stir until you can again see the bottom of the saucepan.
Two things of importance are, to stir constantly and never take the spoon with which you are stirring it, out of the saucepan until you remove it from the fire; then continue to stir briskly until it is thick. Pour on a plate, let it cool and it is ready to serve.
Celaya is even more celebrated for its sweets than is Queretaro, and the trains as they stop at the station are besieged by eager venders in ragged, cotton clothes, and with sandalled feet, demanding at first big prices for their neatly arranged boxes of the famous “Cajeta de Celaya” but gradually cheapening them until as the train moves away they run breathlessly beside it holding up their wares to the Pullman windows and offering them for anything they can get. The Mexicans prize this sweet very highly. I must confess I don’t care for the taste of the goat’s milk. However, I give the recipe.
CAJETA DE CELAYA—Six plats of cow’s milk, three plats of goat’s milk, mix and boil; allow to cool, and remove the cream or scum. Burn one and one-half pounds sugar and then stir it into the milk, and add to it four and one-half pounds more of sugar ,and six ounces of ground rice. Place the mixture on the fire and let it boil until it is thick. One can tell this, if when one takes a little of the paste in a spoon and whirls it around it adheres to the spoon. Then remove from the fire and add half a pint of sherry ,stir until it is well mixed, and pour into plates or pretty dishes.
Pan-Pacific Cook Book:
Savory Bits from the World’s Fare
compiled by Linie Loyall McLaren
San Francisco, CA: The Blair-Murdock Company
489. CAJETA DE ALMENDRA—CHILEAN
Beat whites of five eggs stiff. Have ready a thick, clear syrup made of two cups of sugar and one of water boiled to the threading point. Beat the syrup into the whites by degrees and beat hard until the mixture thickens slightly; then add a generous half cup of finely chopped almonds. Pour into small paper boxes and bake. Walnuts can be used if preferred.
490. CAJETA DE LECHE—MEXICAN
Make a syrup of four cups of brown sugar and one of water; bring to a boil, clarify with the white of an egg beaten with half a cup of cold water, and skim until clear. When reduced to a thick syrup add a tablespoon of flour dissolved in a quart of milk. Boil again, stirring constantly, and, as it thickens, add, little by little, another quart of milk and stir until it is of the consistency of thick custard. Remove from the fire and beat with a wooden spoon until lukewarm; then spread it a third of an inch thick, on a platter. When cold cut in diamonds and dust with powdered sugar.
Live Search Books
by Edith O’Shaughnessy
New York, NY: Harper & Brothers
There were various sweets on the table: cajetas de Celaya,* celebrated all over Mexico,...
* Boxes of sweets from Celaya.
Brimstone and Chili:
A Book of Personal Experiences in the Southwest and in Mexico
by Carleton Beals
New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf
...then brought us food, among other things a cajeta de Celaya, a small, round, wooden box containing a sweet for which this town is famous, made of brown sugar and milk—a very saccharine and liquidly concoction.
13 January 1937, El Paso (TX) Herald-Post, pg. 7, col. 1:
Dessert was “cajeta de celaya” in round wooden boxes—that Mexican “dulce” of boiled goat’s milk, cinnamon, almonds and soda stirred with cherry wine.
10 September 1939, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Mexico’s Central Valley Contains Scenic Variety,” pg. C4:
Perhaps you will set out from the village of San Miguel de Allende, perched on the mountainside surveying this great central valley, and turning southward you will travel to the thriving town of Celaya, famous for its churches, whose curiously open belfries are the signature of the great architect Tresguerras. here too is made the delicious “cajeta de Celaya,” a milk and sugar candy that comes in little wooden boxes, dozens of which you fit into the corners of a suitcase.
6 June 1954, San Antonio (TX) Express and News, pg. 6E, col. 6:
Still further, Celaya (20 miles) will entice the traveler to pause (...) and its famous candy, “cajeta de Celaya” (a delicious kind of caramel made of goat’s milk and sugar), ...
Where to Look, How to Buy Mexican Popular Arts and Crafts
by James Norman
New York, NY: William Morrow & Company
Cajeta (ka-HAY-ta) Delicious regional candy made of milk and sugar.
5 February 1959, Deming (NM) Headlight, pg. 12, col. 8:
Celaya is famous for its “Cajeta” a caramel sauce type of candy and for the charming cardboard toys made here.
23 February 1962, Amarillo (TX) Globe-Times, pg. 13, col. 1:
Probably the most popular of sweet substances in Mexico is cajeta in all of its many forms and flavors. it is a rich and golden caramel-like sauce made from goat’s milk in Celaya and cow’s milk in other areas. The cow’s milk mixture is called “leche quemada” or “burnt milk” which is not at all an accurate description of its flavor. It may be served on small plates and eaten with spoons, but the best way is to spread it on hard-crusted rolls.
(...) (See leche quemada—ed.)
Variations are flavored with a couple of tablespoons of sherry stirred into the mixture. Another is called “Cajeta Almendrada” and is made by soaking almonds in hot water until you can peel them. Grind and mix with a small amount of milk. Boil the nuts and milk with sugar until it melts. Remove from fire and pour into a serving dish and garnish with toasted slices of almonds.
Other flavors can be added to the basic recipe, such as quince or sweet potatoe and pineapple. An 18th century cook book suggests such wild switches as: cajeta de hueva con agua de Azabar (eggs and orange blossoms); cajetas de limon real (peeled and deveined lemons); cajeta con guayaba guave; cajeta de mermelada de membrillo (quince marmelada); cajeta de almendra y caco (almonds and coconut); cajeta de haba y almendra (lima beans and almonds); cajeta de uva (grape juice); cajetas de bien-mesabe (this translates into “cajeta supreme” and calls for ground almonds, chicken breast, orange blossom water and dry crumbs to be placed on top of cajeta). They list a few more but some of them soar pretty far into uniquely Colonial realms of improbability.
3 September 1963, Christian Science Monitor, pg. 10:
We are bursting at the seams with tortillas, enchiladas, hot tamales, avocado salads, plus numerous Continental-inspired dishes since Mexico’s haute cuisine has become a deft mixture of Indian, Spanish, French and other European kitchen secrets. Any tourist visiting Mexico can eat very well, indeed, at prices not far below those for comparable meals in the United States. He can order food as hot and spicy as he can stand it, or as mild and bland as the custardy nut cajeta desserts, which are traditional here.
30 April 1969, Wall Street Journal, pg. 19 ad:
We also bring Italian Dressing to the Italians. And Kraft Cheddar to the English and Kraft Cajeta to the Mexicans.
25 June 1978, New York (NY) Times, “Dining Out” by Guy Henle, pg. WC23:
Most unusual was cajeta, a sort of Mexican crepes suzette. The crepes are folded, bathed in a special imported caramel, flambeed in Cointreau, and sprinkled with walnuts.
17 December 1989, New York (NY) Times, pg. XX16:
Try a cappuccino with Kahlua or with cajeta, a sweet, caramel-like syrup.
The Book of Regional American Cooking
by Janeth Johnson Nix
New York, NY: HPBooks
This Mexican-style ready-to-use caramel sauce comes in several flavor variations. The original style is a simple combination of goat milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Sold in jars, it can be stored indefinitely in the refrigerator after opening.
19 February 1993, New York (NY) Times, “Restaurants” by Bryan Miller, pg. C23:
The cajeta (caramelized goat’s milk) and banana sundae is fun, a tower of cinnamon ice cream and whipped cream crowned with crunchy fried plantain strips.
The Border Cookbook:
Authentic Home Cooking of the American Southwest
by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison
Boston, MA: Harvard Common Press
BAKED APPLES WITH CAJETA
Apple orchards flourish in scattered areas of the borderlands, from Arteaga in southeast Coahuila to Velarde in northern New Mexico. This is a luscious way to eat the fruit, stuffed with pecans from the same region, baked, and lapped with tangy cajeta, a goat’s-milk caramel sauce. While some people dislike the assertiveness of goat’s milk, virtually everyone loves this combination. If you are unconvinced, or just can’t find goat’s milk, substitute cow’s milk in the cajeta.
1 quart fresh goat’s milk, or 2 cups canned evaporated milk plus 2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon baking soda (...)
(OCLC WorldCat record)
Title: The use of ultrafiltration process for the manufacture of ice cream and cajeta.
Author(s): Nevarez, Hector Garcia.
Description: 1 v.
Dissertation: Thesis (Ph. D.)—University of Glasgow, 1996.
The Santa Fe School of Cooking Cookbook
by Susan Curtis
Piloncillo Baked Apples with Cajeta
At the School, we use this in our Breakfast class, but it could also serve as a dessert. The cajeta is a rich caramel sauce made with goats milk. Leftovers will keep indefinitely if refrigerated. The cajeta is good on pancakes, waffles, blintzes, ice cream, or fresh fruit. For a milder cajeta, substitute 2 cups of regular cow’s milk for half of the goat’s milk.
A Cowboy in the Kitchen:
Recipes from Reata and Texas West of the Pecos
by Grady Spears and Robb Walsh
Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press
Cajeta Sauce (Caramel Sauce)
YIELD: APPROXIMATELY 4 CUPS
Cajeta is goat’s milk caramel, and it’s used in some of the most delicious desserts in Mexico. You can buy a bottle of cajeta sauce in a Mexican grocery store, or you can make it from fresh goat’s milk the way we do at Reata.
4 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 to 2 cups heavy cream or fresh goat’s milk (...)
World on a Plate
September 02, 2004 in Food and Drink, Mexico, Sauces
I was never of the caramel sort. Most likely due to my preference for all things pure chocolate. But once I started exploring Mexican cooking, well one thing led to another and now I’ve taken to getting a firm sticky handle on caramel. Discovering cajeta and dulce de leche will do that to a girl.
Webster’s defines caramel, as, a color; caramel, the flavor, mellow and complex. It’s also a close color of my hair. Carmel can be found in many candy bars and desserts. It seems to one of the most versatile in that you can stir toasted nuts into liquefied caramel and it becomes praline or cook it with butter and spread across a smooth marble slab for toffee. According to Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat’s History of Food it was an Arab invention used as a depilatory for harem ladies. (Sweet mother!)
Distinguishing between cajeta, dulce de leche, and for that matter fangullo, manjar blanco, and arequipe can be become strained. Goat’s milk is the primary ingredient in cajeta while cow’s milk is used in the creation of dulce de leche.
Dulce de leche has gained in popularity here in the U.S. enormously through the introduction of Haagen-Dazs’ dulce de leche ice cream in Miami it outsells vanilla 3 to 1. According to company press releases it’s the second best selling flavor after vanilla.
Although cajeta hasn’t yet caught on with the public on the scale of dulce de leche I find it to be a lot sexier. Traditionally the sauce is produced by the dulceros (sweet-makers) of Celaya in Central Mexico. The name cajeta comes from the name of the small balsa-wood box or case “cajita” especially made to store the product before refrigeration was widespread.
According to Rick Bayless, in, Mexico One Plate at a Time, the goat’s milk flavor brings a more intricate flavor as it is allowed to reduce in volume through slow simmering giving it a more depth in taste and color. It takes a lot of patience and time. Homemade Cajeta is infinitely superior to store bought, as according to Diana Kennedy, the Mexican cooking maven is often degraded with the addition of cane syrup.
Editor’s note: Photosource: http://www.mexicodesconocido.com; continues with recipe.
In fact cajeta is not true caramel because it does not contain caramelized sugar. The goat’s milk temperature never gets high enough to brown the sugar, instead the milk solids brown to form the caramel texture. Baking soda is added which neutralizes acidity and promotes the browning to be appealing to the eater.
Texas Monthly (December 2004)
Crepas con Cajeta
La Cuesta, El Paso
4 cups goat’s milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon orange liqueur
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Combine milk and sugar in an 8-quart pot (don’t use a small pot or milk will boil over at a later stage) and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
While milk is heating, in a small bowl mix baking soda with 2 tablespoons water. When milk is boiling, add baking soda mixture. Reduce heat and stir vigorously with a spoon to deflate milk suds.
Lower heat and simmer mixture, stirring occasionally, until it is reduced to the consistency of heavy cream, a little more than an hour. Mix in liqueur and vanilla, stirring for a minute or two to combine thoroughly and allow alcohol to evaporate. Serve warm or at room temperature; refrigerate if not using immediately. Makes 1 1/2 cups.