The secret is out! For the past few years, Dulce de Leche -- a sticky, sweet, caramelized milk-and-sugar sauce found in almost every pantry in Argentina-- has been swirling its way around the US, from Haagen Dazs ice cream, to Yoplait yogurt, to Starbucks Frappuccinos.
According to legend, Dulce de Leche may have been invented by Napoleon’s soldiers burning milk and sugar while in the field, or by a housekeeper who forgot the milk on the stove. Whatever the origin, the flavor is legendary. Rich, milky, smooth, it can be used as filling in facturas (pastries), to drizzle over ice cream or fruit for dessert, on toast or waffles for breakfast, or as the filling between the layers of a layer cake. Or, as my three-year-old nephew prefers it, spooned straight out of the container. Yum.
Most people now buy Dulce de Leche , preferring the convenience of a packaged product. Making Dulce de Leche is not difficult, but it is time-consuming; the mixture takes hours on the stovetop to reach the right consistency, but all the chef has to do is give it a stir now and again.
You’ll love having Dulce de Leche in your own pantry, just like my husband’s family does in Argentina. It’s easy and fun to make your own. Really. Just try it.
Dulce de Leche Recipe
There are a few ways to make Dulce de Leche, and they all give you the same basic result. I think it’s just good to know how to make from scratch in case of emergency-like when your local market runs out, or some other natural disaster. I’ve declined to include one way to make Dulce de Leche, which is boiling the can of sweetened condensed milk directly and which runs the risk of exploding.
4 cups milk
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
Bring the milk to a boil in a heavy bottom sauce pan. Add all other ingredients, being sure to stir the sugar with a whisk until it’s completely dissolved. (Otherwise, your Dulce de Leche will have a gritty consistency--not so good.) Cook on medium low until it turns into caramel, about 2-3 hours. It should have a rich tan or brown color and smooth texture when done. Consistency is a matter of taste-some like theirs runnier than others, but test it by spooning some onto the center of a plate. If it stays without running and making a puddle, it’s ready.
Fill the bottom of a double boiler halfway with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium for an active simmer. Pour a 14-oz. can of sweetened condensed milk in the top of the double boiler and set it over the simmering water. Don't cover. Every 45 minutes, check the water level and give the milk a stir. Replenish the simmering water with hot water as needed. When the milk is as thick as pudding and is a rich, dark caramel color, 2 1/2 to 2 hours, remove from heat, cool thoroughly, cover, and refrigerate or use immediately.