As a child, I remember watching Julia Child and Jacques Pepin on PBS (it aired after Arthur), wondering how they managed to get the bones out of chicken. Nothing rubbed off on me, of course- last year, I made pasta that tasted exactly like toothpaste, and it didn't even have any mint in it. I've come a long way since then, but I still get self-conscious when French people come to dinner. The point of my telling you all this is as follows: On Monday, my husband invited some friends over- Monday, before any decent marché volants- and since one of them already tried my go-to dessert (crème anglaise with mint and seasonal berries), I had to master another gluten-free French recipe tout de suite. Please note: My dietary restrictions aren't governed by whim. I was celiac in the 80s, before it was trendy.
Confiture de lait is France's answer to dulce de leche. A quick search on Pinterest turned up a dozen vegan versions using coconut milk and brown sugar, but I figured modifying a French recipe was asking for trouble, and used milk from Carrières-sur-Seine instead. Combine 1 1/2 cups brown sugar (traditional recipes use granulated sugar), one vanilla bean, and 1 liter milk in a four liter pot; simmer over medium heat. Once the sugar dissolves, stir in 1 teaspoon baking soda. Reduce heat and cook one hour, uncovered, on a low setting. Remove the vanilla bean and cook another two hours, until thick and custardy. Strain mixture through fine mesh or leave as is- I like the little fat morsels that melt in your mouth, so I skip this last step. Store in an airtight jar and serve hot or cold.
As with dulce de leche, confiture de lait is too sweet to enjoy on its own. It's delicious on shortbread tartlets with shaved chocolate and mascarpone, but one of the most impressive serving methods is also the simplest- mixed with crème fraîche and fresh fruit. To make real crème fraîche, you need lait entier. Set in a parfait jar with the lid slightly ajar, 2-5 days. As for where you should keep it, I've heard conflicting things: some crèmeries say a windowsill, others say it needs to be warm, but out of direct sunlight. My whole apartment is sunny, and I leave it on the kitchen counter. Spoon the cream off the top (if you shake this a long time, you'll make butter)- it should be nice and tangy, thick but still light on the tongue, like eating a sassy cloud.
For my tastes, equal parts confiture de lait and crème fraîche work really well. I read somewhere that you're supposed to serve strawberries with this, but the texture and flavor of nectarines are a perfect complement. If you're in the US, you'll have to simulate crème fraîche: according to Julia Child, use sour cream for a foolproof substitute. Blend 1 tablespoon into one cup heavy cream, and allow to ferment and thicken at room temperature, or whisk together equal amounts sour cream and heavy cream until thickened.