Fox Chapel woman uses grandmother's recipe in sweets and savories
Not all love stories involve a romantic scene with roses and a velvet box snapped open to reveal a diamond ring.
Some love stories are more about family and culture, childhood memories and a grandmother's comforting recipe. Such is the love that brought Josephine Caminos Oria to write “Dulce de Leche: Recipes, Stories & Sweet Tradition” (Burgess Lea Press, $25).
“The book is really a love story to my grandmother,” says Oria, of Fox Chapel. “I think it will bring some comfort to people. It brought me comfort. And I know there are a lot people out there that one simple ingredient … stays with you throughout a lifetime.”
As an infant, Oria moved to the United States with her family from Argentina. Her grandmother, Dorita, often came for extended visits to help Oria's parents take care of the children.
Her grandmother's goal, Oria says, was “keeping normalcy during a time when nothing was normal because they moved five children to a different country. A lot of that comes from meals,” she says, “providing that comfort, that continuation of culture through the kitchen.”
Dulce de leche was a key ingredient for Dorita's pantry, but she couldn't find it in the grocery stores, so she made it herself.
“At night, she would stand on a step stool — she was 5 feet tall and had platinum hair — and she would stand over this pot of milk that would be boiling for about two-and-a-half hours,” Oria says. “It's very much a part of my memory of her. … That really carried through with me. It resonates with me and it brings me back to my culture.”
Today, bringing the family flavor of love to the region, Oria is the founder of La Dorita Dulce de Leche in Sharpsburg. The company is named after her grandmother, whose picture is on the label. Oria and her husband, Gaston, produce small batch, all-natural dulce de leche, which can be found in Whole Foods and Market District stores. Their La Dorita Liqueur made with Boyd & Blair Vodka is sold in select PLCB Wine and Spirits shops.
In her new cookbook, Oria's recipes include many tantalizing desserts and sweet breakfast treats — Cappuccino Cheesecake, Deep-Dish Peach Tart, Dulce de Leche Double Chocolate Empanadas, for example.
But the savory side of dulce de leche is more of a surprise. There's Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Pork Chops with Sauteed Apples made with dulce de leche. Even Pistachio-Crusted Salmon benefits from the rich, creamy ingredient.
“It's a very versatile ingredient and a little bit goes a long way. It combines wonderfully with cheese, with creams,” she says.
But Oria says her Divine Carrot Layer Cake is her flagship recipe and its “trifecta of flavors” the reason she makes dulce de leche. The cake is baked for each of her children's birthdays. Her five children range in age from 5 to 13. “It's gorgeous and delicious,” she says.
She tried to buy dulce de leche in Pittsburgh, but if she found a jar, it was often expired. Just like her grandmother, she decided to make it herself and looked to Dorita for direction.
“Getting a recipe from my grandmother — her recipes were not recipes,” Oria says with a laugh. “She'd give you ‘take little of this, some milk, you boil it.' That generation, they didn't write down recipes.”
The process took about a month with Oria and her husband working on it at night to get the recipe right.
“For me, it took me back to simpleness and it was really important to give my children a homemade birthday cake,” she says. “Just to show them that love. I got that growing up from my grandmother, so I wanted to carry on that tradition.”
Sally Quinn is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
Traditional Dulce de Leche
1 gallon whole cow's milk
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups granulated pure cane sugar
1 vanilla bean, split with seeds scraped
Combine the milk and baking soda in a heavy 12-quart pot with a candy thermometer inserted and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon or a flat wooden spatula, until the milk is warm, about 150 degrees. Gradually add the sugar, stirring constantly to keep the milk from sticking to the sides and bottom of the pot, until fully dissolved, about 5 minutes.
Put a heaping tablespoon of the milk mixture into a small bowl and stir in the vanilla seeds until dissolved, then stir the vanilla mixture into the pot and continue to stir to keep the milk from sticking to the bottom and sides of the pot.
As the milk begins to boil, it will foam and rise. If it appears that it will overflow, lower the heat as you continue to stir. Once the milk settles down, maintain a steady boil over medium-high heat and pay close attention, stirring every few minutes to keep the milk from sticking to the pot, for approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes more.
When the dulce de leche mixture coats the wooden spoon, is a deep golden color, and reaches an approximate temperature of 215 degrees, test for doneness. Place a spoonful of dulce de leche on a cold plate, let it cool for a minute, and tilt the plate. If it doesn't run, it is done. If it is still runny, continue to boil for 5 minutes more, then test again.
When the dulce de leche is done, remove the pot from the heat and immediately transfer the mixture to a metal bowl to keep it from sticking to the pot. Prepare an ice bath in an extra-large metal bowl.
Place the bowl of dulce de leche into the ice bath, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes to prevent over cooking or crystallizing. When the ice is melted, transfer the bowl of dulce de leche to a cooling rack and let cool for about 1 hour, or until it reaches room temperature.
If the cooled dulce de leche is not as smooth as you would like, press the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into another bowl. Spoon the dulce de leche into mason jars with good seals, or any container with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator for 1 month.
Makes 6 cups.
Confectionary Dulce de Leche Shortcut
There are many varieties of dulce de leche. This one is a much thicker type of dulce de leche that will not run.
2 tablespoons corn starch
1½ tablespoons whole milk
2 cups traditional dulce de leche, homemade or from a jar
In a small bowl, whisk together the corn starch and milk until the corn starch is completely dissolved. In the top of a double-boiler, gradually bring the traditional dulce de leche to a slow boil, stirring occasionally, just until it begins to boil, then stir in the corn starch mixture. Boil for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken. Immediately transfer the dulce de leche to a bowl and let it cool completely before using. It will continue to thicken as it cools.
If the cooled dulce de leche is lumpy, press through a fine-mesh sieve into another bowl.
Dulce de Leche and Mascarpone Cheese Cannoli
3 (6-piece) boxes prepared Sicilian-style, hand-rolled cannoli shells
16 ounces mascarpone sweet cheese
6 ounces confectionary dulce de deche (See recipe)
11½ ounces 60-percent cacao bittersweet chocolate chips
Decorations: semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, toasted coconut, chopped pistachio nuts, sprinkles
Over a simmering water bath, slowly melt chocolate chips in a metal bowl. Remove from heat and stir. Dip one side of cannoli shell into melted chocolate. Place on a cooling rack and allow chocolate to set for at least 3 hours. It can be done the day before.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, mix together the confectionary dulce de leche and mascarpone cheese until blended. Put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set. With a pastry bag, fill cannoli and decorate to your liking. Cover and serve with toppings of your choice.
Makes 18 large cannoli.
Dulce de Leche-Stuffed Chocolate-Covered Strawberries
Chocolate-covered strawberries are the ultimate indulgence. The dulce de leche is a subtle surprise, as it is gloriously tucked inside a layer of thick semi-sweet chocolate, and completely unexpected!
Confectionary dulce de leche (See recipe)
Bittersweet 60-percent cacao chocolate
Cleaned, dry strawberries
Using an offset spatula, generously spread confectionary dulce de leche over cleaned, dried strawberries. (You can clean my strawberries the night before to let them dry completely overnight.) This is never perfect; just try to keep the dulce de leche somewhat even.
Place the strawberries on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate or set in a cool place for half an hour to set; then melt dark and white chocolate in a double boiler, and dip away. Your family and friends will love the golden surprise waiting within each strawberry!
Dulce de Leche-Stuffed Chocolate-Covered Pretzels
16 Snyder's of Hanover Old Tyme Pretzels, or another brand of medium thickness
½ cup confectionary dulce de leche (See recipe)
12 ounces bittersweet 60-percent cacao chocolate
4 ounces white chocolate
Arrange pretzels with flat side facing up. On the flat side, spread a thin layer of confectionary dulce de leche over the entire pretzel.
In a double boiler, melt dark chocolate. Remove bowl from the heat. One by one, dip each dulce de leche-covered pretzel into the bowl and thoroughly cover with chocolate. Lift and allow excess chocolate to fall back into the bowl. Lay on parchment paper, flat side down. With a spatula, pour a tiny bit more chocolate over the pretzel to remove any finger markings. Repeat with all 16 pretzels and allow chocolate to set.
In a double boiler, melt white chocolate. Put in a pastry bag and pipe zigzags over the dark chocolate pretzels. Allow to set for at least an hour prior to serving.
Makes 16 pretzels.