Have you ever tasted something and thought, “this is so amazing, how have I never heard of it until now?”
That’s exactly how I felt about cajeta. It is one of the most incredible food stuffs you’ve (probably) never heard of, unless you’ve spent some time in Mexico, where it is basically a candy staple. Okay, so maybe you have heard of it, but I hadn’t, so let’s go with that.
For those of you in the same boat I was, cajeta is like a cross between sweetened condensed milk and caramel. Basically, dulce de leche. The twist is, it’s made with goats milk, which, when cooked down for a couple of hours until the sugars begin to caramelize, becomes one of the richest, most complex caramel flavors you could ever imagine.
Don’t worry, that weak-in-the-knees feeling is totally normal.
Traditionally, cajeta is cooked for hours and hours in large copper pots, until the milk has reduced and the sugars have started to caramelize. While it cooks, it gets stirred with huge wooden paddles, and once it’s finished? Well, that’s where things get interesting. The mixture can be left exactly as it is, or things like vanilla, fleur de sel, rum, or other flavorings can be added to make it even more complex and tantalizing.
Making cajeta at home is just like that, only minus the giant copper pot and wooden paddle. Instead, you can use just about any pot you have, provided it’s big enough to accommodate the bubbling mixer, and a long handled wooden spoon to stir as it reduces. When it’s done, the consistency is like warm honey or maple syrup, and as it cools, it thickens into a rich, creamy, dreamy caramel sauce.
In an effort to make my cajeta more or less traditional, I opted for some piloncillo in place of regular sugar. Piloncillo is an unrefined brown sugar, made by reducing the sugar cane juices until they begin to crystallize, then solidifying them into a block or cone shape, without filtering out the natural molasses and minerals. Sugars here in the US are strictly regulated, and even sugars labeled “raw” have actually been put through quite a bit of refinement in order to meet the FDA standards. (Regular brown sugar, for instance, is made by fully refining the granules into white sugar, then mixing a small amount of molasses back into it.)
Because the piloncillo retains some of the natural, unfiltered molasses, it has a slightly more complex flavor than the average brown sugar. It’s a product I’ve wanted to play with for a long time, and this cajeta gave me the perfect excuse to order some. And when I say some, I mean a huge case, because let’s face it, this is going into everything from now on.
Because piloncillo is like the ultimate in hard-as-a-rock brown sugar, it requires a little extra elbow grease to work with, either in the form of grating on a rasp, or smashing it to bits with a hammer. (I’ve heard that Mexican households that use piloncillo keep a brick or stone in the kitchen for this very purpose.) If you have any pent up aggression, now is the time to let it out.
If you can’t get your hands on piloncillo, or just don’t feel like it’s worth the bother, you can always sub in another kind of sugar. Regular dark brown sugar will work, or turbinado, muscovado, or even coconut sugar. Whatever you use, it’s guaranteed to make for a delicious cajeta.
Here are just a few of the ways I’ll be using up my batch (assuming I can keep from eating it all straight off the spoon):
- Spooned over ice cream
- Sandwiched between cookies
- Drizled over cake, pie, cobbler, bread pudding, etc. (best mud pie ever)
- Poured over pancakes, waffles, crepes, etc.
- Swirled into hot coffee for the most insane caramel latte ever
- As a dip for fresh fruit
- Layered into these individual caramel apple tartlets
First up? Dip spoon into cajeta, drizzle with chocolate, sprinkle with flaked sea salt, devour.
Many spoons to share with friends, plus a couple extra for The Husband and myself. Added bonus: I get to feel like the Jackson Pollock of chocolate.
Have you ever had cajeta, or made it at home? If so, what are your favorite ways to use it? I’m taking notes for my next batch!
- 4 cups (1 quart) whole goats milk, pasteurized*
- 1 cone (8oz by weight) piloncillo, or 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick (or other whole spices -- optional)
- ¼ tsp. baking soda, dissolved in ½ TBSP goats milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- OPTIONAL ADD-INS: splash of rum, bourbon, or other liquor (added at the end, once the cajeta is removed from the heat) // a whole vanilla bean (split and seeds scraped out), or other warming spices (added at the beginning of cooking, then removed once the cajeta has cooled slightly) // pinch of sea salt, or smoked sea salt, to taste (added at the end, I suggest starting with just a little and tasting as you go)
- Place the milk, piloncillo, and cinnamon stick in a large saucepan (larger than you think you'll need), over medium to medium-high heat, reserving a small amount of goats milk to be mixed with the baking soda. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar.
- Once simmering, remove the pot from the heat and carefully add in the dissolved baking soda and goats milk. The mixture will froth up violently, nearly doubling in volume. Once the bubbling subsides, return the pot to the heat, and bring it back to a steady simmer.
- Cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has reduced and thickened (mine took about 1½ hours, but your time may vary depending on your stove and pot). Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot as you stir, and adjust the heat if necessary as the sauce reduces to avoid scorching. The cajeta is ready when it is the consistency of warm honey or maple syrup, and a rich golden color. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- Stir in the vanilla extract, and any other add-ins, if using. Pour into a jar or other sealed container, and store in the fridge for up to a few weeks.
- (The cajeta will thicken significantly as it cools, and once refrigerated will become quite firm. It can be softened again by placing the jar, without the lid, in the microwave for a few seconds, or in a shallow pot of simmering water.)
Some of the goats milk can be replaced with cows milk for a slightly less tangy flavor, or all of it can be replaced to make a decadent cows milk dulce de leche.
Piloncillo is a form of unrefined brown sugar, and adds a little extra depth of flavor. It can be purchased in some specialty stores or online, or it can be substituted one-for-one with regular dark brown sugar, or other types of brown sugar like turbinado, muscovado, or even coconut sugar.
This recipe makes about 1½ cups of cajeta, which is great for someone like me with no willpower. If you want a bigger batch, the recipe can easily be doubled or trippled -- just keep in mind that the bigger the batch, the longer it will take to reduce.
Recipe adapted from Rick Bayless
This sounds INCREDIBLE! And if someone gave me a spoon of that stuff? I’d be their friend forever. And ever.
Truth: it is just as incredible as it sounds. If a spoonful of cajeta had any chance of surviving the mail (or, frankly, the car ride to the post office), I would send one to you immediately.
here’s what i know about cajeta: like a year or more ago, i remember BraveTart said she made it and then there was some sort of outcry via Facebook (i know, what a shocker!) about how you can’t call cajeta cajeta without very specific ingredients, or something about how it’s made, and so on and so forth forever until it degenerated into some sort of gangland massacre of words. This is all to say that i give ZERO CRAPS about that, because this looks fanstasmic. that would mean “fantastic” plus…well, you know. :)
i really should try this. and piloncillo! you are a girl after my own heart. i see p-cil every time i go to the int’l market, and i haven’t picked any up, but i mean to: a not-too-weird weird ingredient, if ever there was one. i’m going to have to make this.
Wow, that’s crazy! It’s so rare to see people get up in arms with food bloggers. I mean, not really, but in the scheme of things on the internet that people get up in arms about, it’s not high on the list. I’ve seen professionals make cajeta with cows milk and white sugar, so go figure. Anywho, you should definitely try piloncillo! I’ve only ever seen it in a grocery store once, so you’re lucky to have easy access to it. I’m excited to try using mine in place of brown sugar in other recipes now, too!
I had a book for this recipe but lost the book. This caramel is the best ever. I also eat it by the spoonful but have never put any salt on it. I am off to milk my goats to start a batch right now!
How cool that you have your own goats! I’m jealous of your fresh milk!
Did you use 8 oz. by weight or by volume for sugar? I bought the little cones which each weigh 5 oz. I was not sure if I needed to grate it and come up with a one cup measuring amount or if I needed to weigh it out and get 8 ounces.
Hi Tori, sorry for the confusion there! I used 8 oz by weight (which happened to be the size of my cones). I just smashed the cajeta into small-ish chunks, then let it dissolve in the pot. Will update the recipe to be more specific about the amount!
Great, thanks! I think I may just increase the recipe to use all of the Piloncillo rather than weighing it out. It’ll give me more caramel to enjoy!
I’ve got a bag of apples that are just dying to take a dip in caramel sauce! :)
I just weighed the cones, and they actually weigh 8 oz each, not 6 oz, like they are labeled. Sweet!
Now that the weather is too cool to make chevre, I’m giving this a shot…the day before Thanksgiving! What was I thinking? HA! My parents make maple syrup and a variety of maple products and I used a block of their maple sugar (grated, much as you would do with the Mexican sugar, I’m guessing) instead. It tastes marvelous! Not that it wouldn’t *anyway*, but… Thanks for a really useful recipe!
You’re welcome, Christian! Using the maple sugar is a great idea!
I live in Ecuador and people here say “panela” instead of “piloncillo.” I’m looking forward to making this recipe with goat milk from my goats. I’ll tell you how it turns out.
Thanks Francesca! Good to know the Piloncillo has different names in different places. I hope you like the Cajeta!
great thanks for sharing the recipe and your humor. I enjoyed it all.
I’ve made cajeta before. I am Latina (born in US but parents are from central and south am), and live in Central California US, my family calls it Little Mexico, so ALL our groceries have Pil. But i have used reg brown sugar because i don’t care for Pil.
I wanted to clarify something however. The term “caramel,” i believe is specific and reserved for a melted *sugar based concept where milk, butter, cream, vanilla is later added. Whereas dulce de leche, cajeta, and manjar (different names for different parts of Latin America but basically same deal tho not always w goat’s milk), is a *milk based deal that is sweetened and as your recipe shows, is simply cooked down.
There is a caramelization that occurs tho it’s not technically a caramel. Neat stuff! And for the record i don’t usually major on any of these things because i see many foods across geographic boundaries that are the same concept and are merely tricked out per those people’s tastes and availability of product/history of tastes and products. Anyway! I’m making some tonight.
By the way, funny and annoyingly, Latinos tend to be lactose intolerant and i thank God someone made up Lactose pills so we can enjoy milk products periodically!
Thanks for sharing your wonderful recipe and insights and humor.
Rachel Rivero de Posey
Thank you, Rachel! And thanks for sharing what, exactly, the difference between a caramel and a dulce de leche is. I didn’t really think about it when I titled this post, was just thinking about the caramelization of the sugars, but I love knowing those little details. And thank GOODNESS for lactose pills, haha! I feel really lucky to not be lactose intolerant. I don’t know what I’d do without dairy!
Thanks to you too and yes inhate being lactose intolerant! So sad! :-D
I know, it is now a year and a half after this comment thread, but…. for those who arrive here later, like I did, goat milk is a great substitute for those who are lactose intolerant. No need for the dairy relief pills!! ?
My own 4yo daughter is extremely lactose intolerant, discovered just after her 1st birthday.
Her intolerance soon became a journey in dairy substitution for all my family’s favorite meals. Eventually that journey led to me getting our first dairy goats, with the goal being that everyone is drinking the same milk and using the same milk products such as yogurt, “sour cream” and “cream cheese” (quotes because I just strain my yogurt longer to thicken more for these).
Anyway, 2 products I haven’t been able to exchange yet were caramel and sweetened condensed milk. Which is how I ended up here. So…. Thank You!!! ?
Taste and color spot for on! Cansistency is way off. Full of small chunks with a texture of dry or spongy cottage cheese.
Hi Chad — my apologies that the texture was off for you! I’ve never heard of that happening before. Mine always comes out smooth and creamy like dulce de leche. The only thing I can think of is maybe something curdled your goats milk, which might give it a lumpy texture. Just a guess, sorry I can’t be more helpful!
That is what I would call it. Curdled milk. I’ll try again another day.
I first made Cajeta when I was trying to figure out how to use up my excess goat milk. It is by far our favorite dessert/spoon topping. I make it in huge batches (couple gallons of milk at a time) and it freezes really well. My goats were dry and I was cleaning out the fridge and found a jar in the way back, it was like Christmas!
I’m off to make a large batch now!
Happy cajeta to you!
Thanks Davi — good to know it freezes well! Happy cajeta to you, too!
I’ve tried this recipe twice now and both times my milk has curdled before the sugar even reduces. I’m using fresh goats milk straight from my dairy goat and I make custards, yogurt, and ice cream all fine, no curdling.
I’m not sure what it is I’m doing wrong….? Are you using a double boiler or just put yours straight on the burner?
I really want to make this, please help!!!
Hi Danielle, I’m sorry to hear you’re having trouble with the recipe! I haven’t personally experienced my cajeta curdling, but I understand that making cajeta or dulce de leche of any kind can be a tricky business (especially when brown sugar is involved, as it has more acidity than white sugar and can sometimes cause the milk to curdle — however, because cajeta is traditionally made with piloncillo, I don’t think that’s the problem here). It may have something to do with the type of pot you’re using — I cook mine in a heavy bottomed saucepan, so the heat is evenly distributed. If the milk gets too hot at the bottom, it is possible that this is what’s causing the curdling. I suggest stirring slowly but constantly to help prevent it from getting too hot (I don’t recommend using a double boiler for this, because it would take a very, very long time to reduce). Also, make sure the pot you’re using is non-reactive (stainless steel or nonstick), as metals like aluminum or cast iron can sometimes throw things off. If the pot isn’t the issue, I have heard that high-heat pasteurized goats milk is less prone to curdling, so perhaps that plays a roll. The only other thing I can think of is that milk naturally has some acidity to it, and it’s possible that the milk you’re using has a higher acidity than the store-bought variety I used. Obviously that’s not enough to be a problem on it’s own, since you’ve successfully cooked with it before, but in combination with the acidity from the piloncillo, it’s possible that that’s causing the curdling. If that’s the case, I would suggest trying to heat the milk on it’s own, without the sugar, for a while until it reduces some. Heating the milk will act as pasteurizing does, and will evaporate some of the water from the milk leaving it with a higher fat content, and thus less likely to curdle once the sugar is added. Once the milk has reduced a bit, then you can add the sugar and go from there. As a last resort, you could try the recipe with white sugar, and see if the piloncillo isn’t causing a reaction with your raw goats milk. Again, these are just guesses on my part since I’ve never encountered this issue myself, but I hope those suggestions help! Please let me know if you have any other questions — I’d love for this recipe to work for you!
Thank you for the recipe. I’m making a batch as I type. I’m using raw milk and noticed the same curdling mentioned in a couple other comments. Before it had been cooking long (so it was still pretty thin), I strained out the solids. If only I’d read to the end of comments about 30 minutes earlier, I might have seen your excellent suggestion about heating the milk prior to adding the sugar! Anyhoo, thank you so much. I’m looking forward to seeing how it tastes.
Thanks for you comment, Naomi! That’s really interesting that your raw milk curdled too.I think we might be on to something here. I believe that heating the milk separately will act as pasteurizing would, so that would definitely be worth a try — but since I don’t have access to raw goats milk myself, I can’t test it to be sure. If you try it out, please let me know how it goes. And in the meantime, I hope this batch turns out! :)
I’ve read elsewhere that raw goat milk would curdle but really wanted to make my milk work for making this deliciousness. I tried cooking the milk for awhile first but it still curdled… perhaps I should cook it longer. What I did find works wonderfully is an immersion blender. I got it nice and creamy while cooking by running a stick blender thru it. It recurdled but I just left the blender in to stir with and occasionally blended the chunks out. I’m sure you could just wait till it was all cooked down too. I ditched the cinnamon stick so it didn’t end up blended in. Turned out wonderful! And an extra tool means more surfaces to lick clean :)
That is a really great solution, Ishbel, and I’m glad to hear it worked out so well! I’m really glad you were able to (finally) enjoy the cajeta after all your hard work. Thanks for sharing your genius little trick!
I tried this and it worked well. I think it still comes out a bit grainy- actually grainy is the wrong word, but it still feels as though it is not clean on the tongue. In any case it is really delicious. Suggestions on others flavors that I’ve added and seem to work well. Cardamon, cayenne, sea salt. Yummyness. thanks for the easy recipe.
You’re welcome, Annie! The goats milk does have a less smooth quality than regular cows milk, but as long as it isn’t grainy in texture it sounds like it came out right. So glad you liked it!
Any chance this would stick to apples? To make carmeled apples? I don’t eat cow milk, so I am looking for an alternative to the traditional kind. Should I bring it to a higher temp? Thank you!
Hi Julia! That’s a great question. The Cajeta is more of a sauce-like consistency, so while it would work amazingly as a dip for apple slices, I’m not sure it would stick to the apple the same way a firmer caramel would. You *might* be able to cook the cajeta longer, and reduce it to a thicker consistency so that it would be stickier, but since I haven’t tried it personally I can’t say for certain how well it would work. It would definitely be worth a try, though — worst case scenario, you can cut the apples up and have a tasty caramel dipping sauce. Hope that helps!
Ok, Thank you! I will try cooking it longer, and let you know. Thanks for replying!
Could you Preserve this? I want To make this and send some to my brother but he is 14 hours from me so it won’t be refrigerated.
Hi Amy — great question! I’ve never tried preserving cajeta so I’m not sure how it would go. I’d suggest searching google to see if anyone else has done it, or possibly looking at canning forums for information from the pros. Sorry I can’t be more helpful with this one!
Hello, I was wondering if anyone had experienced their caramel sauce being grainy and lumpy kind of like the milk separating into very fine curds and whey? I’m pretty disappointed because It was not smooth like in the picture. I did use frozen/thawed goats milk.
A couple other commenters have had issues with curdling, and the common cause seems to be using raw or unpasteurized goats milk. I’ve never had a problem using store-bought pasteurized milk. I keep meaning to get my hands on some raw milk so I can play around and try to find a solution to this issue, but unfortunately I haven’t yet. Another commenter who ran into this problem found that straining the cajeta through a fine mesh sieve removed the lumps, and the flavor was unaffected. That’s definitely worth a shot if you’d like to salvage this batch. I hope that helps, and I’m sorry you ran into this issue!
Love this! I grew up on cajeta lollipops. My grandmother would buy them in rolls. I never knew how to make cajeta from scratch but definitely interested. Great recipe.
Thanks! I’ve never tried cajeta lollipops, but that sounds amazing. This particular recipe stays soft and pourable, but I’m sure you could try cooking it down longer to the point where it would harden. I’ll have to give that a try sometime myself, thanks for the inspiration!
Is there a reason my cajeta still has that strong goat milk after taste? I used the pasteurized goat milk you can find the dairy section, but I am wondering if canned goat milk will have a less strong aftertaste. I have had cajeta before, but the aftertaste was never this strong.
Hi Samia, thanks for the question. If the goats milk flavor is stronger than you’re used to, it’s hard to say what’s causing it. It may have to do with the specific variety of goats milk you’re using. My experience has been that cajetas does have the flavor of goats milk, but since I can’t taste and compare mine to yours it’s hard to say if there’s a difference or not. For a milder flavor, my suggestion would be to try using 50/50% goats milk and cows milk. I hope that helps!
For a to-die-for recipe that uses cajeta: mix ≈ equal parts of cajeta and Nutella® in a bowl. Stir for about 20 seconds until firm and the sides of the bowl are clean. Make a tablespoon or a cup. This recipe works every time.
I call this recipe “Hobo Fudge” and it’s fun, delicious, smooth, safe for children to make and almost magical how it works. NOTE: Dulce de leche made from cow’s milk will NOT work. The proteins in the goat’s milk are what cause the magic. Enjoy!
I have used peanut butter and cashew butter in lieu of Nutella® and made wonderful variations.
Ooh, this I will have to try! Thanks for sharing!
How many hours does this take to cook?
Hi Ashley, that depends a lot on the pot you use, your stove, etc.. Mine usually takes about 1 1/2 — 2 hours. I hope that helps!
Thank you for this wonderful recipe absolutely delicious. I have made this w times bow. My second batch much bigger ?.
I use fresh goats milk as I milk my goats here. I haven’t had the issue with the curdling. Possibly because I warm the milk very slowly. Making cheeses from their milk is very similar in how I treat the milk. Delicate touch as the milk is precious to our family.
Mine both times has been absolutely amazing. Thank you very much for sharing this recipe
So glad you liked it, Alicia!
If I wanted to use a gallon of milk, would this recipe work well simply quadrupled or would there be some differences with the sugar, vanilla, or baking soda? I’m quite excited to make it!
Hi Amanda! Great question. I’ve never tried it scaled up that much, so I honestly can’t say. My guess is it would take a lot more time, but otherwise it should work without a hitch. I’d love to hear how it goes if you try it!
Ms. Willow this recipe is excellent as is. It’s simple the difficult part is stirring continuously. I had to walk away to my sink for a couple of seconds and realized that it was thickening in areas, curdling I quickly stirred and it was smooth again. This is not something you can walk away from while cooking. It’s worth every 1hour and 10 minutes of stirring. Thank you for staying authentic to the recipe. I can’t wait to see what else you have in store. God bless.
This recipe is incredible! I haven’t been this happy after making something in a while! I can’t wait to make some other recipes to use this with… I just know it’s going to make whatever it’s paired with that much better. Btw I used fresh, raw goat milk from a friend’s farm and I didn’t have any problems with curdling. All smooth!
My experience with my cajeta curdling was because the milk wasn’t fresh. I was trying to use up month-old milk, it was the only time I’ve had the curdling issue. One week old milk worked fine.
Trying this for the first time as I’m typing. I added 1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon since I didn’t have a stick on hand. My casein-allergic (among other things) son is turning 2 and we are having a taco 2sday party. I’m an so excited about trying this cajeta for his cake! We have goats that we milk so I’ll be trying raw milk later if I like this test run with Meyenburg milk from the grocery store. 😉 thanks so much for the recipe! 😍
I just made this, using fresh goats milk, and delish! The only ‘issue’ I had was that it became waaaaay harder than a pourable sauce, more like a chewy caramel candy (I’m not complaining, I love caramel candy, except I put it into a jar so now I have to chisel it out 😆) and I would say it was on the stove 1.5 hours or less! I don’t know why mine thickened up soooo much, except maybe that I only had about 3/4 of a quart of milk and adjusted the amounts of the other ingredients accordingly.
Thanks for the great recipe!
I have to say, the photos you snapped for this post are great! I really love them! I also loved that you used piloncillo in your recipe. Thank you for sharing, I’ll definitely be making this!
Really good recipe I’ve made often with raw milk freshly “squeezed” from my own herd of goats. Curdling has never been an issue. I imagine that is an issue using too high of heat.
Really good recipe I’ve made often with raw milk freshly “squeezed” from my own herd of goats. Curdling has never been an issue. I imagine that is an issue using too high of heat. Could do without all the pop-up ads.
Willow I came across your recipe when looking to replace paper copy for cajeta I lost.
DO NOT spend time and physical effort pounding/grating the piloncillo. Start with half the amount of milk. Put in the piloncillo over medium heat and cover. The warm milk and steam in the pan will make the piloncillo behave like hardened brown sugar and it will soften. You can easily break it apart with a wooden spoon. When it has melted in, stir in the rest of the milk. This is why traditionally the cones come in different sizes.
Just made this with my goats’ fresh milk (milked three hours before), so delicious! ( only learned about it a week ago when I told someone I was milking two goats and they said have you made goats milk caramel?). So, mine is very smooth – I think probs with grainy may be to do with how quickly the goats milk is cooled and how fresh it is as these things affect the cheeses I make. I am addicted to this now!!!!
Just tried to make this with pasteurized, 7-day-old (refrigerated the whole time of course) goat milk. It curdled before I could add the baking soda. I tasted the milk before I used it and it still tasted good and normal, not particularly sour. I don’t know what went wrong. I guess I must have let it get too hot? I’m really disappointed, this wasted 4 cups of milk.
If there’s any way to fix it after it curdles, that would have been nice to have. I tried to strain it but of course it continued cuddling anyway. Had to throw everything out.