How to Make Dulce de Leche - The Cheap and Easy Way

Image by Kai HendryImage by Kai HendryI know several people who consider dulce de leche to be the most sinfully delicious substance on earth.

I may or may not be one of them.

For those who don't know, dulce de leche is caramelized sweetened milk. It is thick and creamy and rich beyond belief. If you have never had it, you must. It is a moral imperative. (Trust me. I know about moral imperatives. I studied ethics in graduate school.)

What can you do with dulce de leche? You're probably going to want to just eat it with a spoon. That's perfectly respectable... and understandable. I've found, though, that also it makes a great pie filling along with some apples and pecans. If you have a favorite use for it, please let me know in the comments.

At least in the United States, you can buy dulce de leche in most grocery stores. It is usually in a can or jar in the "International Foods" section. Unfortunately, it is also usually somewhat pricey.

The good news is that you can make some from a can of sweetened condensed milk that will run you about $2.

The way I've always made it is easy, but time-intensive. I take an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk. Remove the label (not, strictly speaking, necessary... but definitely less messy). Put the can in a big pot full of water. Make sure that the water more than completely covers the can. Bring the water to a boil. Let it boil for about three and a half hours, always making sure that the can is fully submerged. Remove the can and let it cool before you open it. Eat.

Now, some people are afraid that this method will result in the can exploding. I've never had this happen, and I strongly suspect that it only will if (1) there was a problem in the canning process or (2) you don't keep the can fully submerged at all times. Still, consider yourself warned.

The problem with this method, of course, is that it takes hours. There are two other methods - the pressure cooker method and the microwave method - that I've heard of that cut the time dramatically. I haven't used either of them, though I plan to test one out this weekend. (Which one? I haven't decided yet. The microwave method is faster, but I have trouble turning my nose up at the steampunk aesthetic of the pressure cooker.)

I'll update here when I have some experimental results.

Update:
I tried the microwave method. My results are inconclusive, yet negative. The sweetened condensed milk boiled over and made a mess. The method I was using is here. From the recipe reviews there, others had mixed results as well. I strongly suspect it has a lot to do with the power level of the individual microwave ovens used.

Comments

There is another method:

Crock pot.

http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/03/dulce-de-leche-crockpot-recipe.html

It does involve waiting longer, but it doesn't involve checking on it and having a pot of water boiling for such a long time.

Stuart Broz's picture

Good idea. If time isn't an issue, that might be the best choice...

I get good results by boiling for "just" two hours.

My bigger problem with the DIY method is the grain. Lactose crystals are big enough to come across as graininess on the tongue. They get around this in commercial sweetened condensed milk and dulce de leche by seeding it with ultra-fine ground "nanocrystals". When you DIY, the lactose melts and re-crystallizes at its normal size.

Hack opportunity: According to the MSDS for lactose, its melt point is 202C/396F, and I'm not sure how it's getting to that temperature in boiling water. It may be that there's greater thermal transfer from the bottom of the pot to the can, and using a stand-off to keep the can and pot separate may eliminate or reduce the grain. I'll have to test.

Three hours in a boiling pot and it came out beautifully. I put it in a steamer basket (one of the ones that unfolds from the center) and had no problems with crystallizing at all!

I'm not sure I've ever had this before... it's amazingly delicious.

Stuart Broz's picture

Glad you liked it. It's one of my favorites.

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