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Anyone with a serious sweet tooth will discover that heaven really does exist on earth in the form of a French treat called confiture de lait. Technically, it is a sauce that can be spooned onto ice cream or used to top cakes or seal stuffed sandwich cookies together, but most devotees admit that a homemade confiture de lait usually makes it into their mouths riding nothing but a spoon just as soon as it's cooled enough not to burn. Whether or not the whole batch lives long enough to sauce up a dessert depends upon the cook’s willpower or the number of children who’ve been lured into the kitchen by the other-earthly aroma.
A lot of sugar mixed into cream or whole milk and cooked at a very low heat for a very long time transforms into a soft, caramelized sauce with a texture that smoothly spreads with a knife or clings to a spoon. It may be tempting to try to create a diet confiture using skim or fat-free milk and sugar substitutes; however, anything less than full-fat milk will burn, and real sugar caramelizes in a way that substitutes cannot. Some home cooks put a unique stamp on their confitures by adding a little vanilla, hazelnut, or other flavor extracts; most agree that the extracts should not be cheaper, less-tasty imitations. In addition to adding glory to pudding or acting as a creamy shelf between layers of cake, creative eaters spread confiture de lait on toast or bagels or even dollop a small bit on savory meat such as ham.
This milky jam originated in Normandy, and while some cooks point to a kinship with the Spanish dulce de leche, there are differences. The Spanish sweet cream is created by boiling canned sweetened condensed milk; the trick is pulling the can before it explodes but after the sweetened milk has cooked enough to transform into something that is no doubt a staple on the dinner plates of angels. Fans of confiture de lait rightfully point out that dulce de leche requires no particular talent other than boiling a can of premixed ingredients, while confiture is a true home-created delicacy the success of which depends upon measurements, additions, and loving attention.
While thicker confiture is cooked for a number of hours, that length of time is shortened if the intended results need to be thinner and easier to pour. Other than shortening the cooking time for this specific reason, there are few shortcuts to creating a praiseworthy dish. During the lengthy cooking time, it must be stirred every few minutes and the foam skimmed off. It’s especially important that the completed dessert not be allowed to scorch because that burned taste will quickly permeate the confiture and ruin it.