• Pastel Gloria is just one of the many Colombian desserts that feature arequipe. (Macondo)Source: Macondo
Richer. Thicker. And down-right delicious.
Kylie Walker

21 Aug 2018 - 1:51 PM  UPDATED 28 Jun 2019 - 12:20 PM

Think of it as next-level dulce de leche. Colombia’s arequipe is made in a similar way – milk and sugar, stirred for a long time – but it’s thicker, richer, darker.

“It was like the daily sweet. We used arequipe all the time,” says Colombian-born Jaime Gomez Ordonez, who now runs Brisbane’s Macondo  café with his wife, Miriam Taylor. “My ma used to do it in the kitchen little by little, cooking the milk, stirring and stirring the pot until it becomes a caramel. It takes a long time.”

The Macondo menu features the slow-cooked caramel in several desserts, including the obleas – the flat wafers that are sold, smothered in caramel, on street corners across Colombia.

“It’s very flat, thin, flour mixed with water, which has no taste at all, but they mix it with arequipe, which is the main ingredient, and with strawberry jam, cheese, cream, whatever, and pineapple they put sometimes, fresh cut pineapple. The base is the oblea … but it’s about the caramel, and the jam and cream and cheese,” says Gomez, who grew up in Bogota, the Colombian capital, and came to Australia in 199.

“My mum used to make it [obleas], but you can buy it anywhere so it’s not really worth it to make it yourself, you can buy it nice and crunchy on the street.”

“The arequipe, it’s not just in Colombia, it’s in Equador and Venezuela too, but Colombians pride themselves on how long they cook it,’’ say Taylor. The Colombian caramel, she says, is similar to dulce de leche, or Mexican cajeta, but darker, thicker and richer. As well as the cooking time - it usually takes several hours -  the other secret to a good arequipe is the sugar.

“The trick is that they add panela, which is a burnt sugar cane that is another principle of Colombian cooking. Again, it’s a very long process – all the offcuts of the sugar cane industry, at a very village, regional level, go into a crusher and then the fluid is cooked and cooked and cooked until everything is boiled down to its essence and you get this very hard, almost black sugar.”

Arequipe is used in all kinds of desserts. At Macondo, which opened 18 months ago in the Brisbane suburb of Salisbury, it appears on the menu with obleas, sandwiched with blackberry jam, cream and a house-made fresh white cheese; in cocadas de arequipe (oven-baked coconut and caramel balls, typical of the coastal regions of Colombia); tortilla de arequipe; milhojas (a layered pastry with custard and caramel); and pastel Gloria, a delicious crunchy golden pastry encasing caramel and guava paste, another Colombian staple.

Obleas slathered with arequipe are also one of the (man, many) things Action Bronson chows down on in the new series of F-ck That’s Delicious. In episode one, Bronson and his buddies are exploring Queens and one of the most delicious stops is at Rico Pan, a Colombian bakery, where the team eat cheesy rolls, empanadas and many sweet things; later they top up the sugar levels with arequipe wafers from a street stall.  

“It's like the ice-cream cone at the bottom...,” says one of Bronson’s eating buddies, the Alchemist.  A caramel-lined waffle cone, perhaps?

If all this discussion of dark, rich caramel has sparked a craving, you can find arequipe at a few specialist Latin American suppliers, such as Latin Deli and Tierras Latinas, which sells panela and obleas - or head over to SBS Food's caramel recipe collection to answer your craving with kitchen DIY. 

Lead image of caramel from pxhere; pastries from Macondo. 

All the caramels
Homemade cajeta (Cajeta casera)

Cajeta, one of the most irresistible of Mexican sweets, is a caramel-like concoction, yet more milky and silky, and with a deep, rustic and almost nutty flavor. It’s Mexico’s version of dulce de leche - although we tend to make ours with goat's milk and ours has a richer taste. 

Caramel sauce

This caramel sauce starts off dry and with the addition of cream is a great topping and accompaniment for cakes.

Mexican chocoflan

This rich, decadent cake is also known as pastel impossible (impossible cake) and for very good reason – the moist chocolate cake and creamy custard layers swap spots (completely!) during baking. The caramel topping traditionally used is cajeta (Mexico’s sugary goat’s milk caramel), but I have used dulce de leche (caramelised sweetened condensed milk) in this recipe, which is far easier to find outside of Mexico!

Chocolate caramel slice

This has to be the perennial favourite... biscuit base, gooey caramel centre and chocolate topping is a combination made in heaven. This chocolate caramel slice has been given a little makeover with a feather-patterned topping.

Creme caramel (flan con dulce de leche)

This rich Argentinian dessert uses lemon juice and vanilla bean to make the caramel. Serve cold with the dulce de leche (milk caramel) for extra indulgence.