Recipe: Mexican Caramel Tarts for Maria Esther

One of my more exciting finds at the Chocolate Festival on Sunday was Cajeta sauce.  This is a very rich, very sweet, goats’ milk caramel from Mexico, and it’s rather gorgeous.  My instinct is to put it over ice-cream.  In fact, it’s taking everything I have not to give into that instinct right now, because I love ice-cream with caramel sauce, and this is really, really good caramel sauce.  But apparently, it’s more common in Mexico to spread it on plain biscuits, and indeed the stallholder told me that when his mother used to make it, she would sandwich it between plain biscuits and he would then sell these to his schoolmates for $1 each.

My friend Maria Esther is from Mexico, so when I ran into her at morning tea yesterday I immediately started raving about Cajeta, and had she ever eaten it?  Only I couldn’t remember its name, and if I had, I wouldn’t have been pronouncing it right in any case, so I started describing it, and then I told the story about biscuits, and Maria Esther’s eyes lit with the expression of one who fully understands a caramel-biscuit-based economy as she told us that oh yes, she hadn’t had Cajeta in years, but it’s basically the Nutella of the Mexican world.

cajeta

This then diverged into a conversation about the virtues of eating Nutella on bread versus straight out of the jar, but it was clear that Cajeta on biscuits was something that needed to be investigated more fully.  Besides, it’s Maria Esther’s birthday today, and if one can’t indulge in one’s childhood favoourites on one’s birthday, then when can one do so?  I resolved to give this Cajeta-biscuit-sandwich thing a try.

Only there were a couple of problems with this.  First, I have no biscuits.  Second, due to the pantry challenge, I’m pretty much down to wholemeal flour and brown sugar.  And third, I’m not at all sure that, if put between two biscuits, this Cajeta sauce wouldn’t slowly leak out from between them and go *everywhere*.  Wholemeal biscuit tarts were clearly the solution – their sides would keep the caramel from getting too out of hand, and hopefully the slight stodginess and brown flavour of the wholemeal flour and brown sugar would complement and soften the extreme sweetness of the filling without competing with the caramel which was clearly the entire point of this recipe…

I’m glad to say that they did and do, and that, while I would roll the pastry out a little thinner next, these tarts are pretty close to perfect in my view.  But do they recapture the biscuits and Cajeta’s of Maria Esther’s childhood?  Well, you would have to ask her that question…

Your shopping list

90 g butter
90 g brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp golden syrup
300 g wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
3/4 tsp baking powder
60 ml milk
1 bottle of Cajeta sauce, or make your own, if you are feeling daring!
 
 

Now what will you do with it?

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C and lightly grease two 12-hole patty pans.

Soften the butter and beat it with the brown sugar until they are well combined.  Beat in the egg yolk and golden syrup, then mix in the flour, spices and baking powder.

Add milk, one tablespoon at a time, until you get a dough that is cohesive enough to roll into a ball or roll out.  I found that 60 ml was about right, but you may need more or less. Less will probably get you a nicer texture for your money.

Roll out the dough thinly (2-3 mm thick) on a sheet of greaseproof paper.  Using an 8cm circle or fluted cookie cutter, cut out the dough and re-roll until you have about 24 circles and have run out of dough.  Place each circle over a hole in the patty pan, and press down gently to make a tartlet case.  Prick the base with a fork.

dough

Bake at 170°C for 12 – 15 minutes, or until the bases are getting golden.  Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for a few minutes before removing to a cooling rack.  I found a dessert spoon was helpful for getting the pastry cases out of the patty tins, especially as I forgot to grease said tins (they were non-stick, but not 100% so).

When the pastry shells are completely cool and you are ready to serve, squeeze or pipe a teaspoon or two of Cajeta sauce into each, and serve.

Don’t forget to do a quality control test.

tastetest

The Cajeta will pile up and then slowly subside.

tartpiped

Mmm… shiny caramel goodness!

tart

Variations

This recipe is nut-free and vegetarian before you even start.  It would work well with a gluten-free flour mix, and I’d almost be inclined to use quite a heavy tasting one, featuring things like quinoa or chickpea flour, to get that nutty, wholemeal taste.  And then you’d be low fructose, too.  I suspect you could make the pastry shell very well without using any egg at all – I’d just up the butter a little for richness and add a bit more milk to get the dough to hold together.  Low GI?  I think not!

Going dairy-free on this recipe is more problematic, because the whole point of Cajeta is that it is dairy-based.  (And have I mentioned how strange yet good the goat milk flavour is?) However, having said that, I hear that one can make quite a remarkable caramel sauce out of coconut milk (which I have in my pantry… hmmm…), so this might be fun if you wanted to veganise the recipe.  And then, of course, it would just be a matter of using nuttelex and almond milk to replace the butter and dairy milk.

In terms of flavours, you could use these shells for any rich filling, really.  If you wanted a more gingerbread shell, you could add treacle instead of golden syrup, and double the ginger and cinnamon.  You could fill these tarts less full of caramel and top them with melted chocolate for truly evil caramel tarts, too.  You could also make the shells with white flour, which would be crisper and lighter, I’d think. You might also want to add the Cajeta before the shells are fully cooked, and let them finish cooking with the caramel inside, so that it gets baked into place a bit.  This will make it thicker and chewier, so it’s your call whether that’s something you want to aim for.

Or you could make the shells simply as biscuits – they are rather in the vein of a Granita, but with a little spice in the background, I’d think.  Just roll the dough into balls and press them flat or cut it into shapes and bake on standard baking trays.  And then you could make chocolate-coated Granita type biscuits by dipping them in melted dark chocolate, speaking of treats from *my* childhood!  Or spread them with jam.  Or Cajeta.  And so we return to the beginning…

tarts

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One year ago: Recipe: Unnaturally Blue Curaçao Tart for Eurovision
Two years ago: More thoughts on Roman cooking
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2 responses to “Recipe: Mexican Caramel Tarts for Maria Esther

  1. oh these look so good I almost long for a mexican childhood (except then I would have to give up my mum’s caramel tart) – they sound like digestive-style pastry. I would think some buckwheat flour might work well in the pastry too (perhaps because I really need to use some of mine)

    • Yes, I was aiming for a digestive / granita sort of texture. Buckwheat would definitely work, in my view!

      And yes, Cajeta beats Nutella absolutely hollow.

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