White Space and Milk Jam (Confiture de Lait)
White. In all directions. White.
I’m adrift in a sea of white. My empty porcelain mug. The blanket of snow covering the herb garden that only a week ago was offering me fresh mint and thyme. The milk and sugar simmering in the pan on the stove. The blank page before me, full of promise of what might be, of what I might be. The snow too is making its own promise, a permission slip to go slow and to stay inside. A need to venture out to the market is replaced by a longing to raid my pantry and fridge.
I stare at the falling snow and then the page, then back again at the snow. A black cat approaches from the alley. I scurry to the door and rapidly tap the cold glass with my knuckles to frighten him away, not wanting anything to mar the pristine blanket just outside my door. My warm chair welcomes me back. The blank page is still waiting. I’m reminded of my favorite Viktor E. Frankl quote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I’m lingering now in that space. It feels like a long, deep inhalation.
The garage door opens, and Greg slowly makes his way from the garage to the house. His six-foot frame looks small amid the snow drifts. With each step he perforates the lovely blanket. It’s time now to exhale. I fill my mug with hot coffee; its contrast against the white porcelain is unsettling. I plop a vanilla bean into the simmering pot of milk. I pick up my pen and put it to the paper.
Confiture de Lait (Milk Jam)
Confiture de Lait or Milk Jam is a French confection hailing from the region of Normandy. It’s often confused for and compared to the Latin American milk caramel dulche de leche. Both are made with sweetened milk, but confiture de lait is made with vanilla.
Do pardon the hyperbole, but this stuff may be the single best spoonful of anything you ever put into your mouth. As the silky caramel melts across your tongue, every receptor in your brain will flash, “more, more, more.” Spread it on bread or a fresh from the oven vanilla scone. Drizzle a warm ladleful over a bowl of butter pecan ice cream. Drown your poached pear in it. Or simply enjoy it by the spoonful right from the jar. The downside to all this deliciousness is that it’s an excruciating exercise in patience. A “quick” batch can take two hours and will likely be lumpy though every bit as satisfying as a “slower and lower” batch.
4 cups whole milk
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, slit lengthwise
- Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.
- Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then immediately reduce heat to the lowest setting–just below a simmer. The lower the heat, the longer the cooking time, and the smoother the caramel. (If the heat is too high, a shiny skin will form on top of the caramel. This skin will make the jam lumpy. If this happens, don’t despair; simply give the finished jam a quick whirl in the blender to eliminate all signs of your impatience.)
- Stir every 20 minutes for the first hour or two. Each time you stir, press the vanilla bean against the side of the pan and scrape the vanilla seeds that accumulate there back into the milk.
- Once the jam begins to thicken, stir every 5-10 minutes to prevent scorching.
- When the caramel is the consistency of melted chocolate turn off the heat. The caramel will thicken as it cools. (If it’s thicker than you prefer after it cools, simply reheat it and thin it with milk or bourbon or any spirit that pairs well with caramel.)
- Remove the vanilla bean. Scrape it with a knife and stir the remaining vanilla seeds into the milk jam.
- Whisk or blend until smooth and glossy.
- Spoon into sterile jars. Cover when completely cool and refrigerate. The milk jam will keep for several months in sealed jars.
Makes about 2 cups.