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December 28, 2006

Dulce de Leche — How sweet it is

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Oliver Schwaner-Albright's December 24, 2006 New York Times magazine article on the delicious concoction got me so excited I went and made some.

Here's his piece, followed by recipes that appeared along with his story.

    Got Leche?

    My first memory of dulce de leche was when a can of it exploded in the kitchen.

    This was in Los Angeles in 1979, six years after my father fled Chile, and the only way for him to have dulce de leche to spread on toast was if he made it himself. What had once been a labor-intensive process of stirring milk and sugar over a low flame for half a day until it thickened to the consistency of butterscotch had by then been reduced to a one-step recipe with the introduction of sweetened condensed milk: just boil an unopened can for three hours. The only trick is to make sure the water level doesn’t drop too far. But scrubbing the walls occasionally was a small price to pay. A batch never lasted more than a day, and after a while my father would stop bothering with the toast and wander off with the can and a spoon.

    In Chile, dulce de leche is better known as manjar, and on a recent trip there I was reminded of its built-in nostalgia. Children eat it sandwiched between cookies and dipped in chocolate, called an alfajor, or slathered in a sugar donut, called a Berlin. So at a recent meal at Agua, the sophisticated Santiago restaurant, it was a surprise to see a dulce-de-leche semi-frío on the menu. Called a “Nifty,” the semifrozen dessert had a creamy buoyancy that gave it an unexpected delicacy. While diners danced to a Cuban band on the patio, the chef, Cristian Correra, came over to say that even this was a homage, named after a Nestlé ice-cream bar from the ’80s. “I would wait until it almost melted, then I would eat it,” Correra said, explaining that the semi-frío recalled that texture.

    Dulce de leche’s two essential ingredients are milk and sugar, though now almost every brand adds fructose (for shine) and sodium bicarbonate (for color). Unfortunately, most of Chile’s offerings also use chemical preservatives, and they taste like it. Even the most patriotic Chilenos I spoke to admitted that it’s different across the Andes, and if I was to taste something pure I would need to go to Argentina, where they are far more serious about their dulce de leche.

    This is true at La Paila, in the heart of Argentina’s dairy country, which uses only milk from its herd of 700 Holsteins. Twice a day cows are led to the milking shed, which is attached to the plant; the milk slowly caramelizing in the vats upstairs was pasture just a few hours before. When I told the owner, Leslie Widderson — a first-generation Anglophone with the bearing and the Barbour jacket of an English gentleman — that the sweet, steamy air pouring out of the stainless-steel vats was intoxicating, he said, “If you really want a jolt, stir some dulce de leche into your morning coffee and add a shot of brandy.”

    In Uribelarrea, a village settled by Basques a century ago, Horacio and Regina Martinez make Cabras del Salado, a dulce de leche with milk from their small herd of Anglo-Nubian goats. Goat’s-milk dulce de leche — which has a cleaner flavor than cow’s milk — is common in Colombia, where it’s called ariquipe, and in Mexico, where it’s called cajeta, but it’s a novelty in Argentina. After tasting the Martinez’s velvety dulce de leche, we visited the animals, which came when called and soon were trying to eat the buttons off my jacket. It was like visiting a petting zoo that makes dessert.

    Horacio Martinez is an instructor at Don Bosco, an agricultural school where dulce de leche is part of the curriculum. The students pack what they prepare in waxed cardboard containers, which has the same wholesome association as milk in a glass bottle, and sell it in the school store. They also have homey alfajores, each wrapped by hand and tied with a string.

    But the most celebrated alfajores in Argentina are from Havanna bakery, which opened in the beach resort Mar de Plata in 1947; you always brought back a box after a trip to the coast. Their great innovation is the Havannet, an alfajor with only one cookie and three times the dulce de leche. It looks like a gigantic Hershey’s Kiss, and as with a peanut-butter cup, it divides the world into people who attack it top to bottom or nibble around the side.

    Today there are Havanna Cafés all over Buenos Aires, and their colorful display is the first thing you see at the airport duty-free shop. They also sell jars of dulce de leche, which I carefully packed in my carry-on. And when I got home, I didn’t even try to make toast; I just opened a jar and grabbed a spoon.

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Dulce de Leche

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (containing only milk, sugar, glucose and sodium bicarbonate), label removed.

Place the can in a saucepan and cover with water by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for 3 hours, adding water as needed to keep the can submerged. Remove from the water and let cool for at least 1 hour before opening. Stir until smooth. Makes 1 ¼ cups. Adapted from Oscar Schwaner-Bonvallet.


Nifty (Dulce de Leche Semi-frío)

2 teaspoons (about 1 ¼ -ounce envelope) unflavored gelatin powder
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
1cup dulce de leche, at room temperature
½ cup toasted almonds, finely chopped.

1. Pour the gelatin into a bowl. In a saucepan, heat ¼ cup of the cream until steaming and add to the gelatin. Mix and let stand for 5 minutes.

2. Place the dulce de leche in a large bowl and whisk for 1 minute. Strain the gelatin mixture into the dulce de leche and whisk to incorporate.

3. In a medium bowl, beat the remaining cup of cold cream with an electric hand mixer until it holds soft peaks. Fold a third of the beaten cream into the dulce de leche to incorporate and fold in the remaining cream. Pour into 6 -cup ramekins or muffin cups and freeze until solid.

4. To release, dip the bottoms of the molds in hot water. Place each semi-frío on a plate and garnish with almonds. Serve immediately or leave out for 15 minutes for a softer texture. Serves 6. Adapted from Agua.


Panqueque

1 cup flour
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 ¼ cups milk
1 tablespoon butter, more as needed
1 ¼ cups dulce de leche
Sugar for sprinkling
1 pint vanilla ice cream.

1. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and salt. In another bowl, beat together the eggs and milk. Stir in the flour mixture until smooth. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes.

2. Place a 7-inch crepe pan or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Melt 1 teaspoon butter to grease the pan; then ladle in 3 tablespoons batter, tilting the pan as you pour to coat the bottom. When it starts to brown, after about 30 seconds, flip and cook just until firm, 10 to 15 seconds. Use butter as necessary to keep the batter from sticking. Transfer to a plate to cool.

3. Spread 1 tablespoons dulce de leche two-thirds of the way from the bottom to the top of each crepe. Fold the left and right sides over by 1 inches and then loosely roll up the crepe from bottom to top, finishing with the top flap of the crepe tucked under. The rolled crepes can be covered and refrigerated for up to 8 hours.

4. To serve, preheat a broiler and arrange the panqueque on a broiling dish. Sprinkle with sugar and heat until caramelized. Place 1 or 2 crepes on each plate and top with vanilla ice cream. Serves 6 to 12.

NOTE: Good-quality dulce de leche, like La Salamandra [top], can be purchased at Dean & Deluca or at www.artisansweets.com.

December 28, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Inkless Pen

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Say what?

From the website:

    Inkless Pen

    A stainless steel pen, 8cm long.

    However, when you unscrew the top, the 'nib' is a solid piece of metal.

    There is no ink, yet this pen will write on virtually any type of paper.

    This is what it looked like when we tried it on a piece of normal paper:

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    How does it work?

    In the Medieval period, artists and scribes often used a metal stylus in order to draw on a specially prepared paper surface.

    Generally known as Metalpoint, or Silverpoint when the stylus was made of silver, artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Dürer and Rembrandt all used this technique.

    www.silverpointweb.com gives a lot of information about how it works.

    The pens we sell are a modern version (and do not use silver).

    The solid metal 'nib' consists of a metal alloy that leaves a mark on most types of paper.

    If you use the sort of paper typically used in printers and photocopiers, the pen leaves a mark that looks as if it was made by a pencil.

    However the line will not smudge, and cannot be rubbed out.

    Since there is no ink, there is nothing to dry out, so the pen will work just as well in 25 years time as it does today.

    And of course it never needs sharpening!

    I would guess that in time the nib would begin to wear down, as you are leaving a small amount of metal on the page.

    However, this has got to be a much slower process than with a pencil, which wears down pretty quickly.

    If you are planning to write the definitive 21st-century novel, I would recommend a regular pen.

    However as a scientific curiousity, we like this pen a lot.

    The pen comes in a very smart, circular, silver-coloured metal presentation tin, and would make a very unusual gift.

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£14.99 ($29.38;€22.36).

[via Dave Donohue and davedonohue.com]

December 28, 2006 at 02:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bungee Cord Backpack

From Dr. Lawrence C. Rome and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia comes a redesigned backpack which suspends the load via bungee cords from a rigid frame, such that the pack remains in a more or less constant position rather than moving up and down while the wearer walks or runs.

The video above demonstrates the pack in action.

Rome has started a company called Lightning Packs to bring his invention, the "Suspended-Load Ergonomic Backpack," (below, shown in a schematic) to market.

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A report on the device appeared in the December 21, 2006 issue of Nature magazine.

December 28, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Assouline Skull and Crossbones Stationery

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"10 black note cards and envelopes lined in red with skull embossing and a skull notebook with glossy leather cover and 96 silver-edged ivory pages."

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$170.

December 28, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: A brief history and geography of the brain

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It appears in the current (December 23, 2006 print edition) Economist, in a special supplement entitled "A Survey of the Brain."

This is the best brief description of the mysterious three pounds of wetware oftimes called "the most complex thing in the universe" I've ever come across.

    Brainbox

    The reason that people have brains is that they are worms. This is not a value judgment but a biological observation. Some animals, such as jellyfish and sea urchins, are radially symmetrical. Others are bilaterally symmetrical, which means they are long, thin and have heads.

    Headless animals have no need for brains. But in those with a head the nerve cells responsible for it—and thus for sensing and feeding—tend to boss the others around. That still happens even when a long, thin animal evolves limbs and a skeleton. Bilateralism equals braininess.

    A healthy human brain contains about 100 billion nerve cells. What makes nerve cells special is that they have long filamentary projections called axons and dendrites which carry information around in the form of electrical pulses. Dendrites carry signals into the cell. Axons carry signals to other cells. The junction between an axon and a dendrite is called a synapse.

    Information is carried across synapses not by electrical pulses but by chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. One way of classifying nerve cells is by the neurotransmitters they employ. Workaday nerve cells use molecules called glutamic acid and gamma aminobutyric acid. More specialised cells use dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine and a variety of other molecules. Dopamine cells, for example, are involved in the brain's reward systems, generating feelings of pleasure.

    Many brain drugs, both therapeutic and recreational, work either by mimicking neurotransmitters or altering their activity. Heroin mimics a group of molecules called endogenous opioids. Nicotine mimics acetylcholine. Prozac promotes the activity of serotonin. And cocaine boosts the effect of dopamine, which is one reason why it is so addictive.

    Apart from specialised nerve cells, there is a lot of anatomical specialisation in the brain itself. Three large structures stand out: the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the brain stem. In addition, there is a cluster of smaller structures in the middle. These are loosely grouped into the limbic system and the basal ganglia, although not everyone agrees what is what.

    Most brain structures, reflecting the bilateral nature of brainy organisms, are paired. In particular, the cerebrum is divided into two hemispheres whose only direct connection is through three bundles of nerves, the most important of which is called the corpus callosum. (Many parts of the brain have obscure Latin names.)

    This anatomical division of the brain reflects its evolutionary history. The brains of reptiles correspond more or less to the structures known in mammals as the brain stem and the cerebellum. In mammals, the brain stem is specialised for keeping the heart and lungs working. The cerebellum is for movement, posture and learning processes associated with these two things. It is the limbic system, basal ganglia and cerebrum that do the interesting stuff that distinguishes mammalian brains from those of their reptilian ancestors.

    The limbic system is itself divided. Some of the main parts are the hippocampus, the amygdala, the thalamus and the hypothalamus. The largest of the basal ganglia is the caudate. The pineal gland, which lies behind the limbic system, is the only brain structure that does not come in pairs. The 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes thought it was the seat of the human soul.

    Descartes, however, was wrong. It is in fact the cerebrum's outer layer, the cerebral cortex, that is man's true distinguishing feature. The cerebral cortex forms 80% of the mass of a human brain, compared with 30% of a rat's. It is divided into lobes, four on each side. The rearmost one, called the occipital, handles vision. Then come the parietal and temporal lobes, which deal with the other senses and with movement. At the front, as you would expect, is the frontal lobe.

    This is humanity's “killer app”, containing many of the cognitive functions associated with human-ness (although that most characteristic human function, language, is located in the temporal and parietal lobes, and only on one side, usually the left). Man's huge frontal lobes are the reason for the species' peculiarly shaped head. No wonder that in English-speaking countries the brainiest of the species are known as “highbrow”.

December 28, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Fruit Tea Light Candle Corer

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Now, wouldn't you agree this oddly-purposed tool deserves a nomination for "Strangest Object of the Year?"

Considering what's made its way up here this past year, that's saying something.

From the website:

    Candle Carver

    Fruit Candle Corer turns fruit and veggies into unique candleholders!

    Carves out niche just the right size for your tealight candle.

    Great to use for centerpieces, place setting decorations, or home decor.

    Metal.

....................

$14.98.

No – the fruit is not included.

Nor are the tealight candles.

Or the matches to light the candles.

Gimme a break, already.

December 28, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

gifninja.com — 'Because not everything can be flash'

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motter from acronymskateshop emailed me last evening, saying, "make your animations at gifninja cause it's the OG. you can also make gifs from video there :)"

If you have a clue you can do all sorts of cool things with the site's tools.

Stuff like:

• Convert video to gif

• Split an animated gif

• Create an animated gif

Anyone who creates something on gifninja and sends it to me might find it up here in a zeptosecond — along with their name in lights.

December 28, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Personalized Photo Tissue Box

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    Photo Tissue Box

    Photo tissue box cover is a real pick-me-up when you're feeling under the weather.

    Just add a favorite picture of a family member, friend or pet.

    Tissues dispense humorously through the snout, making it easier to "face" colds and allergies.

    10" x 5-3/4".

    Plastic.

$9.98.

December 28, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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