While Argentina certainly cannot claim a monopoly on dulce de leche (known elsewhere as manjar, arequipe, cajeta or confiture de lait), it’s undeniable that this rich caramel spread is inextricably linked with Argentina. An indispensable ingredient when it comes to Argentine desserts, dulce de leche turns up in ice cream, as a filling in cakes, cookies and pastries, in candies, and as a topping for toast.
As local legend tells it, the birth of dulce de leche can be attributed to a culinary accident that occurred in 1829. With the hope of ending a period of civil war in Argentina, the leaders of opposing political and military forces, Juan Manuel de Rosas and Juan Lavalle, decided to call a truce. Rosas invited Lavalle to sign the Cañuelas Pact at his headquarters on a large ranch called La Caledonia. Lavalle arrived at the ranch tired from the journey, and he decided to rest a bit before meeting with Rosas. He lay down on a cot in the tent where Rosas normally slept.
Meanwhile, one of Rosas’ servants was busy preparing the lechada—hot milk with sugar—that was drunk as an accompaniment to mate during that period. When the servant went to take some mate to Rosas, she found Lavalle in Rosas’ tent and panicked. Unaware of the planned meeting between the two leaders, she alerted the troops to the presence of the “enemy,” leaving the lechada unattended on the stove in the chaos. When she finally returned, she discovered that the contents of the pot had turned into a thick, gooey (and delicious!) spread—what we know today as dulce de leche.
One of the country’s best loved desserts and a standard on the dessert menu at many an Argentine restaurant, panqueques de dulce de leche (otherwise known as crepes filled with dulce de leche) positively ooze with sweet, sticky caramel goodness. They’re an elegant and relatively simple dessert to prepare. Give them a try!
Combine the first five ingredients and beat the mixture until smooth using a blender or whisk. Add the melted butter and blend just until smooth. Don’t over-beat the batter, as the panqueques will turn out rubbery. Refrigerate the batter, covered, for a minimum of 1 hour. Strain the batter if it looks lumpy.
Heat an 8-inch non-stick frying pan (or crepe pan, if you happen to have one) over medium heat. Lightly brush the pan with melted butter.
Pour ¼ cup of batter into the center of the pan, and then tilt the pan to evenly cover the bottom. Cook about 1 minute, or until lightly browned and lacy on the bottom. Flip the panqueque with a spatula, and cook briefly on the other side (it will look speckled). Remove the panqueque to a wire rack or plate to cool as you continue making the rest, stacking successive panqueques one on top of the other. Don’t get discouraged if the first (or second!) panqueque turns out badly—this is common.
Spread an even layer of dulce de leche over the panqueque. Use room temperature dulce de leche, or warm it in the microwave for a few seconds to make it easier to spread. Fold the panqueque in quarters [or roll it up] and then sprinkle it with powdered sugar, if desired. Serve warmed or at room temperature.