dulce de leche

Have you ever made dulce de leche?

No, no, I don’t mean the hack version that involves sticking a can of sweetened condensed milk in a crock pot for a few hours. I’m talking about real dulce de leche from real milk that you got from the real cow that lives in your backyard. 

I made dulce de leche for the first time a few days ago, and then I made it twice more — the first time because I wanted to try it with white sugar instead of raw cane sugar, and the second time so I could photograph it for you. And this weekend I’m going to make it again so I can film it for YouTube because this stuff rocks and everyone needs to know about it, especially with Christmas coming up and all.

I mean, seriously. Think about it. A whole bunch of little jars of sweetness for all the teachers/neighbors/random service professionals in your life? BOOM. (That’s the sound of you nailing it.)

Also, consider this. Dulce de leche makes for a great cookie add-in and it’s a pretty darn knockout addition to hot boozy drinks. 

Sold? Good. Let’s get to it.

Put milk, sugar, and baking soda in a kettle and cook until thick.

thickening

thicker

THICK

Add vanilla and salt.

Pour it into a jar.

The end.

Okay, okay, so that’s not the end end — I’ve always got more to say — but it is that easy, no joke.

made with raw sugar, with white sugar, and rum-spiked

If you cook dulce de leche a little too long and it happens to get so stiff that you can’t even wrestle it out of the jar, congratulations! You just made milk caramels! Simply pop the jar into the microwave for 20 seconds to soften enough so you can dig out a scoop and then roll-press the glob into balls or squares, sprinkle with crunchy salt, and wrap in parchment paper. (If you have better self-control than me and don’t just pop it directly into your mouth, that is.)

To booze it up: heat the dulce until it’s stir-able, add the spirit of your choice, and mix to combine. Spiked dulce is yummy drizzled over ice cream or added to lattes or hot cocoa. (Eaten plain, I’ve noticed that chilled, spiked dulce is a little grainy — not sure why.)

the white sugar version, and so stiff (when chilled) I could barely chop it out with a knife

Need more ideas for dulce de leche? Well! 

When making an apple crisp, dollop globs of it all over the cut, spiced-n-sugared apples before topping with the oat crumbs and baking. The dulce creates wonderful little pockets of chewy caramelness. 

apple crisp with craters of dulce

You can add dulce to fruit pie filling, or drizzle warmed dulce over slices of apple pie, or sandwich the dulce between butter cookies, like the South American alfajores. Eat it with hard pretzels and apple slices. Sprinkle it with crunchy salt and eat it straight from the jar. 

browned butter shortbread with dulce de leche, coconut, chocolate, bacon, and pecans

And then there’s the whole world of dulce de leche inspired ganaches, ice creams, pies (banana cream has jumped to the top of my to-make line), cheesecakes, and caramel-cobbled brownies that I haven’t even begun to explore. 

with raw cane sugar, and spoonable soft

It’s a good thing I’ve got that cow out back.

Dulce de Leche
Adapted from Kate’s recipe at Venison for Dinner

Raw sugar makes a dark-golden dulce, and it has a more robust (better) flavor, I think. White sugar works just fine, though. Haven’t tried brown. Wondering if swapping in a little honey might be a fun variation?Try it and tell me. 

The milk can be raw or store-bought, whole or skim.

The degree to which the dulce is cooked is entirely the cook’s preference. The dulces in the photos above are pretty thick. If you want a more syrupy dulce, remove it from the heat sooner.

Recipes for actual milk caramels often call for the addition of corn syrup.

1 liter (4¼ cups) milk
1¼ cups raw cane sugar
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
crunchy salt like Maldon for serving, optional

Combine the milk, sugar, and baking soda in a kettle. The milk will rise considerably, so pick a kettle with high sides. Heat the milk until boiling, reduce the heat, keeping the milk at a manageable rolling boil (“manageable” = without the constant threat of overflow) and stirring occasionally. (Note: dulce de leche doesn’t burn nearly as quickly as one might imagine, but I like to stay close anyway. This morning I read a book while stirring my burbling pot of delicious sweetness. There are worse ways to spend one’s time.)

Once the milk reduces and thickens, stir steadily. Markers to look for to tell if it’s getting done: the bubbles are less frothy and move more slowly. A spoon leaves a  trail behind it in which you can see the bottom of the kettle. The mixture starts to get some dry spots in it, like scabs (sorry) or bubbly patches. If you want, drop some of the dulce on a cold plate to test the true consistency. 

Towards the end, I’ve noticed that little lumps form in the dulce and it’s not all the way creamy-smooth. I’ve stirred it extra hard, but that hasn’t seemed to help much. It might not matter, though, since the lumps have always disappeared after chilling. Don’t worry about it too much. 

Call it quits whenever the dulce reaches the consistency you want. Thin and syrupy for pouring into coffee or eating on waffles? More like a thick glaze for drizzling over cake or ice cream? Lightly spoonable for a dip-able treat? Stiff for individual milk caramels? Remember that the dulce will thicken considerably in the fridge. (I think I’ve been cooking mine a few steps beyond the ideal dulce de leche stage but I keep doing it anyway because I like it.)

Store the dulce in a jar in the fridge. It should last for weeks and weeks, if not months and months. One batch yields 1½ to 2-plus cups, depending on how much it was reduced.

This same time, years previous: chai tea concentrate, a hallowed eve, egg bagels, sour cream coffee cake, old-fashioned apple roll-ups, cinnamon pretzels, 2015 garden stats and notes, stuffed peppers, chatty time, cheesy broccoli potato soup.

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