This Cake Without Eggs and Flour Was Made for Those Times.
I try to avoid clichés about cooking, but, by law, it’s hard for me not to talk about my grandmother. This has been especially difficult lately because she has lived a life that this pandemic has hardly changed. She rarely left the house – due to mobility issues, we hired someone to shop for her – she didn’t care about the customers, and most of the food she liked was freeze-friendly or shelf-stable.
Jewel was the only child who thrived on her own, and she really didn’t want anyone in her (rather large) home. Her husband inherited her entire system, but he let her decorate and furnish every room exactly the way she wanted, and spent most of his free time mowing the lawn, watching football, or quietly reading westerns on the couch. My father, my sisters and I were of course welcoming, although I believe she enjoyed us the most one at a time and for a limited number of days. She felt a little guilty about it, but I understand. (Three days is the longest time I can stand if there is one more person in my apartment, even one with whom I am deeply in love.)
Jewel hated cooking and grew up in poverty, which made her something of a culinary hacker even before the term even coined. Grandma’s Gem Recipes is full of condensed soup, jelly, and cake mixes, save for a few anomalies such as filled eggs (called stuffed eggs for some reason) and meatloaf. But the vast majority of recipes – this pie, for example – will not be affected by a panic-induced shortage.
Many of you may recognize this cake for what it is – dulce de leche, poured into a confectionery shell – and this is what makes it a very “gem”. It’s flawlessly simple, painfully sweet and completely devoid of subtlety. He looks at you, daring to question its legitimacy, while at the same time giving you permission to put a whole can of caramelized dairy products right in your mouth. “Should you really avoid the sip of dulce de leche?” it requires.
If all this seems too much, indecent, sweet to you, you can throw it into caramel. I remember my maternal grandmother (Rita) making a banoffi version of this banana slice pie, but a fresh apple would work too. Sliced Snickers will not diminish the sweetness, while salty peanuts will. I didn’t add anything to the filling, but sprinkled on individual pieces of pretzel crust along with a little Maldon. You can also add some vanilla or liquor to the filling, if you have one.
You can boil a can of sweetened condensed milk, as Jewel did, or use an instant pot.
To make this cake you will need:
- 1 crust, cooked and chilled (dough, pretzel, and salt are great options)
- 1 can of sweetened condensed milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla or your favorite alcohol (I used Applejack)
- Any add-ons you like, like banana slices or chopped chocolate bars.
If you are cooking dulce de leche on the stove, simply immerse the sealed jar in a pot full of water and simmer for three hours, checking from time to time to see if it stays submerged. If you are using the Instant Pot, open the can, wrap it tightly with aluminum foil, and place it on the metal stand inside the Instant Pot. Add water to the insert until it reaches the middle of the can, close the instant pot and cook under high pressure for 50 minutes. When the cooking time has elapsed, manually release the pressure, open the pot and carefully remove the jar with tongs. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes, then transfer to a bowl, add extracts or rubbing alcohol if using, and stir until smooth.
If you’re adding fruit, place it in the cooled pie shell, then pour the caramel over the fruit. Smooth the top if necessary, let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cool. Slice, serve and enjoy a large glass of milk (if milk is available).