Just as no self-respecting American household would be without a jar of peanut butter floating around the pantry, you're almost guaranteed to find some dulce de leche stashed in the fridge of a typical Argentine kitchen. Dulce de leche is a thick, rich caramel spread that has a multitude of uses—all of them delicious.
- Spread it on bread or toast
- Drizzle it over ice cream
- Use it as a dip for sliced apples, peaches or other fruit
- Make dulce de leche brownies [these are incredible!]
- Fill crepes with it aka panqueques de dulce de leche
- Use it as a filling for cakes or pastries
- Just eat it off of a spoon [come on, you know you want to]
Remember: if food x tastes good with caramel, rest assured that it will taste even better with dulce de leche. You're only limited by your imagination.
In Argentina, few people make dulce de leche from scratch because it's so widely available, but in the U.S. it's much harder to find. Making your own dulce de leche is also a rather time-consuming process. If you're not feeling inspired to spend hours in the kitchen, go ahead and order it online or poke around a gourmet food shop; however, I promise you won't be disappointed with the results should you decide to make it yourself.
This recipe for dulce de leche comes from a lovely blog called La Majuluta. If you enjoy food blogs and you read Spanish, I highly recommend it. Here's the recipe, translated and converted to the English system for your cooking convenience.
Dulce de Leche Casero | Homemade Dulce de Leche
1 half gallon plus 2 1/2 c. [a total of 10 1/2 c.] whole milk
2 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 of a vanilla bean [cut lengthwise to expose the seeds]
a pinch of baking soda
Combine the milk, sugar and vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat. The most traditional and ideal method would be to use a copper pot. Stir the mixture occasionally with a wooden spoon.
Once the milk comes to boil, add the baking soda. Stir frequently.
After about an hour and a half, the mixture will begin to thicken—it reduces considerably and develops an almost cinnamon-brown color. You'll also note a caramelized aroma. Remove the vanilla bean. At this point you really have to pay attention and stir continuously.
When you begin to catch glimpses of the bottom of the pot while stirring, the dulce de leche is almost ready. Test the consistency of the mixture by placing a bit of the dulce de leche on a cold dish [it thickens as it cools]. Remove the pot from the stovetop once the dulce de leche has reached the consistency* you desire and allow it to cool.
If the dulce de leche will not be consumed immediately, it can be preserved in sterilized jars just like jam. [Yeah, like that's going to happen! You'll be lucky if this stuff hangs around for more than two or three days.]
*Note that a thicker consistency is more desirable if you want to use the dulce de leche as a filling or dip. In this case, the cooking time could be considerably longer than two hours.
* * * * *
Ok…you're thinking that sounds delicious but I don't want to stand over the stove forever, stirring this stuff until my arm falls off.
Well, there is another way…but there is an element of risk involved. With this method you won't have to slave over the dulce de leche, but that doesn't mean you can leave the house to play tennis or take a nap.
Dulce de Leche (The Alternative Method with Sweetened Condensed Milk)
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
Remove the label from the can. Submerge the unopened can in a large pot filled with water—the water should completely cover the top of the can by several inches. Allow the water to come to a rolling boil on the stovetop, and then lower the flame a bit to a slow boil anywhere from 2 to 4 hours [the longer you boil it, the thicker and darker the resulting dulce de leche will be]. If need be, add more water during the process to keep the can covered. Allow the can to completely cool before attempting to open it. Open the can, and there you have your dulce de leche!
Warning: Do not let the water boil away or the can could explode. Not only will you have an absolute mess in your kitchen, but you or someone else could be injured. With that said, people have been successfully making dulce de leche with this method for years—you just have to be attentive.
[Photo credit: gillian's indigo blue]