An Argentine Classic turns Tropical: Coconut Dulce de Leche with Caramelized Pineapple

It was my mother who first made me aware of dulce de leche. As young children growing up in Buenos Aires in Argentina, she and her siblings, Edward and Jane, would slather it on bread in the way children today slather on Nutella. Dulce de leche — literally translated as “sweet [made] of milk” — was the Lindsell children’s best-loved treat, and even now, over 70 years later, my mother remembers it in capital letters: “It was DELICIOUS!”

My maternal grandmother was Anglo-Argentine, while my maternal grandfather was English. As a young man, Ted Lindsell set out for Argentina to grow Yerba mate tea in Misiones, a province in the far northeast of the country, where he met his future wife. They married and had three children in quick succession, with my mother being the middle child. I have read what remains of my grandparents’ correspondence, and by all accounts, it was a close and happy union. But after war broke out between England and Germany in 1939, Ted Lindsell signed up as a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force and was posted to India. My grandmother, meanwhile, was instructed to move into Buenos Aires while waiting for his return from the war. Sadly he didn’t make it. In the last days of World War II my grandfather went missing in action while flying over Burma. Neither his plane nor his remains were ever found.

My grandmother had no choice but to take her family to England, where she eventually remarried another farmer, this time with land in Kenya. My mother was only 10 when she moved to East Africa, thus recollections of her young life in Argentina are vague … with the exception, that is, of the taste of dulce de leche!

The warmer weather is bringing on the pineapples ... yay!
The warmer weather is bringing on the pineapples … yay!

I’m often inspired by the New York Times food section. When recently I came across this recipe by Melissa Clark, I wanted to make it straight away. It’s easy and it’s simple, and I will always choose easy and simple over complicated. I will also always do my best to use what I have growing in the garden. While the warmer weather has hurried up the ripening of our pineapples, I was also in possession of a large stash of coconut milk after one of Livingstone’s grocery stores had a delivery from South Africa. The Gods were working with me on this one. I made the dessert for a supper party on Tuesday night, and given any excuse I would make it over and over again.

To quote my mother, it was DELICIOUS!

I jazzed up the dessert with edible violas.
A little viola flair to jazz up the dessert …

Coconut Dulce de Leche & Caramelized Pineappleadapted from Melissa Clark’s recipe in the New York Times.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 (400ml) cans unsweetened coconut milk
  • 145 grams dark brown sugar (about 1/2 cup, compacted + 1 tablespoon)
  • 20 grams unsweetened coconut chips or flakes, about 1/2 cup
  • 1 small pineapple, peeled, cored and diced into 1/2 ­inch pieces, about 4 cups
  • Sea salt for garnish (and edible flowers, if available)

 

Preparing the pineapple to be caramelized.
Preparing the pineapple to be caramelized.

Method:

  • In a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat combine the coconut milk and dark brown sugar, setting aside 1 tablespoon for caramelizing the pineapple. When the mixture starts to simmer, turn down the heat to its lowest setting and cook gently, stirring and scraping down the sides of the pan from time to time. (Keep an eye on the mixture, ensuring it remains at a low simmer. Try not to let it boil.) When the mixture is a deep caramel color and is smooth and thickened, remove from the heat, about 1-3 hours depending on your stovetop.

 

The coconut milk and dark brown sugar at the start of the cooking process.
The coconut milk and dark brown sugar at the start of the cooking process.
Coconut Dulce de Leche.
Coconut Dulce de Leche.
  • Scrape the mixture into a bowl or container and let it cool thoroughly. Chill for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight.
  • Heat oven to 170/325 degrees. Spread coconut flakes on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until golden around the edges, about 8-12 minutes. Cool and set aside.
  • Toss the pineapple pieces with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar. Let it stand until sugar dissolves, about 1-2 minutes.
  • Place the pineapple pieces in the oven on a rimmed baking sheet on the rack in the position closest to the heat. Grill for about 8-10 minutes. (My oven doesn’t have a grill so I heated up a cast iron skillet and caramelized the fruit on the stovetop instead, also about 8-10 minutes.)
  • Spoon the dulce de leche into individual ramekins. Top each one with warm pineapple and toasted coconut flakes. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and garnish each one with an edible flower.

 

Coconut Dulce de Leche & Caramelized Pineapple.
Coconut Dulce de Leche & Caramelized Pineapple.

Annabel Hughes is an award-winning chef and blogger, and the creator of “bush gourmet” cuisine.

19 Comments

  • Looks delicious! Amazing how far and how well tastes travel.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Georgie! In this instance, it’s almost worth going to the source to try it. One day I’m going to Argentina, that I know … 🙂

      Reply
  • I’m looking at the pineapple I bought today in a different way now! Love to your mum

    Reply
  • Hey hey, Jan! This is really delicious, so if you have the inclination give it a go. You won’t regret it! Will pass on your love to mum, thank you!

    Reply
  • Living in Spain we are well aquainted with Dulce de leche but I have also bought it in France at the deli counters.
    Can’t wait to try your recipe. All I need is a pineapple.

    Reply
    • Yes, Gillian … I read that dulce de leche was popular in Spain and France. Please let me know how it turns out for you … and if you like the coconut version! All the best to you, Annabel

      Reply
  • Oh my..yum..sounds like home made condensed milk a la gaucho! Can’t wait to try it..and cut with pineapple it has to be sensational. What a colourful upbringing your Mum had…clearly influencing your love of everything that’s out there. xx

    Reply
    • Thank you, Hellie, and lovely to hear from you again. It really is a scrummy, simple dessert, so give it a go when get the chance. xo

      Reply
  • Lovely recipe Annabel. Heap plenty pineapples here in Oz. My mother was born in Rio Los Gallegos in Patagonia in 1914. An Australian mother & an American father. Her sister ,Margery Goodmanson, was born in Buenos Aires in 1912. I wonder if the two families ever met. Have I got the timing wrong?

    Reply
    • I bet your mum knew my granny, Kathy. There couldn’t have been too many Anglo-Argentines in those days. By all accounts, it’s one helluva place, and I hope to visit Argentina in time. Lovely to hear from YOU! xo

      Reply
  • Such an interesting family story –

    Reply
    • Thank you so much! All the best to you, Annabel

      Reply
  • Besides the delicious recipe for Dulce de Leche Annabel, it is a fascinating piece of your family history – so sad that Ted or his aircraft were never found.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your very kind comment, Colin. Yes … it must have been very difficult for all those women whose husbands went missing in action during the war … and it happened to so many.

      Reply
  • I see you came by your peripatetic nature naturally! What a wonderful story. And what a delicious looking dessert.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Michelle! And that’s only half of it … the other half involves India!

      Reply
  • Enjoyed your story dear Annabel …what an innovative and creative girl you are with your foodie chats and beautifully presented dishes.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your really lovely comment, Helen. And how nice it is to hear from you! I feel so lucky to be here … and to be able to make all these recipes with what we have in our garden and surrounding bush. I hope you will come and visit us one day! xo

      Reply
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