Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tutorial: Dulce de Leche

Dulce de leche.  Sweet.  Sticky.  Creamy.  Full of rich caramel-y dairy goodness.  Translated literally, this "candy of milk" or "milk candy" is a staple in many Mexican, Latin American and South American countries--most notably Argentina.  According to the Argentina Travel Blog, it's something of a national obsession:

"If beef is the national dish of Argentina, dulce de leche is undeniably the country’s sweet treat -- the average Argentinean eats 6 pounds each year.  Dulce de leche is a creamy, silky dessert made from sweetened milk.  It tastes something like caramel, without the syrupy aftertaste.  The texture is smoother and fuller than caramel but not grainy or dry like peanut butter." (Link)
Six Pounds???  With stats like that, you KNOW it's gotta be some good stuff.  If you've ever had dulce de leche, you already know how heavenly it is.  Dulce de leche may be found in specialty stores or on the shelves of many grocery stores in areas with a large Hispanic population, but it's pretty simple to make at home yourself.  There are many methods to choose from:

+ Cooking down milk & sugar, with constant stirring
+ Cooking down condensed milk over a double boiler, again with stirring
+ Baking condensed milk in a pan set in a water bath until caramelized
+ Boiling unopened cans of condensed milk, covered in water for several hours**
+ Boiling unopened cans of condensed milk in a pressure cooker (yikes!) 
+ Heating unopened cans of condensed milk overnight in a slow cooker

** This one can be extremely dangerous if not done properly.  The water level must be constantly maintained, lest it drop too low...potentially leading to a HOT & sticky explosion.  With shrapnel.  Of course, dulce de leche has been prepared this way in some homes for many years without incidentBut why take your chances?  If you choose this method, please do so at your own risk :(

This tutorial will cover the last method listed: The Slow Cooker Dulce de Leche Method.  I found it on A Year of Slow Cooking and chose this method for the following reasons:

+ No stirring involved
+ It can cook while you sleep
+ Much safer than boiling
+ You can make as many cans as your slow cooker will hold (yes!)

To get started, you'll need some cans of condensed milk.  I hit a great sale on store brand condensed milk: 99 cents a can!  Generic or store brands may be your best bet here.  I've heard that some of the name brand cans have a plasticky coating on the inside, which may or may not melt during the cooking process.  If you're unsure, open your can and pour the condensed milk into a canning or Mason jar.  Cap it tightly and proceed as usual.  (A benefit of doing it in the jar is being able to see how far the milk has caramelized.  The downside?  Shelf life is much shorter, while dulce de leche cooked in its own can will last at least as long as the expiration date on the can.)

Remove labels from the cans.  Place a piece of foil in the bottom of your slow cooker insert (to avoid getting any rust rings or scratches), and place cans on top.  



Fill slow cooker insert with water, making sure to cover cans completely.  Place the lid on top and turn the switch to the LOW setting.  Set an alarm clock for 8 hours.  You might hear some gurgling during this time--don't panic.  Bubbles are trying to escape from under the piece of foil.  If you're only making one can and your piece of foil is large, the bubbles can knock the can on its side--that's okay too, as long as the entire can is under water.



To safely remove the hot cans from the hot water, you'll need to make some grippy tongs ( a trick I learned from Alton Brown) with a pair of tongs and two rubber bands:




Once 8 hours have passed, get ready to remove the dulce de leche from the hot water.  Have a hot pad ready on your counter.  Hold your grippy tongs in your dominant hand, and have an oven mitt on the other.  In case of slippage, you can catch the can before it splashes back into the HOT water or falls onto your foot.  (Do as I say, not as I do:  I am NOT left-handed, but I needed my right hand for picture taking.  So...weaker hand holding grippy tongs, with no protected hand for back-up.  Not the safest situation but I'm doing it for you, dear readers!)   

Very carefully get a firm grip on each can and remove from slow cooker, placing on hot pad to cool:



Now the hard part: letting them cool.  Leave. Them. Be.  Open them now and you'll have hot dulce de leche oozing out faster than you can say "melted fingers."  This will take several hours, so go to the mall, read a book, take the kids to a movie--whatever will distract you long enough to keep you from breaking into those cans before they're ready!  With this method you can set the cans to cook overnight, then remove them in the morning before you head out.  They'll be completely cooled and ready to go when you get home from work!  

Here's how the finished product looks.  For comparison, I put one of the cans back into the slow cooker and continued to cook it for another 2 hours, for a total of 10 hours.  The longer you cook dulce de leche, the darker and richer it will become as its caramel flavor intensifies.  



I liked both versions equally.  The 8-hour can was smooth, creamy, with a nice dairy caramel flavor.  It was spreadable but definitely not pourable.  I would imagine a 6 or 7-hour cook time would produce dulce de leche with a more sauce-like consistency. The 10-hour can was thicker and stickier, but still creamy and intensely flavored.  So there you have it, folks!  Dulce de leche, made easily (and in large quantities!) right at home.  If you give this a try (or if you're a dulce de leche veteran and have any pointers for me), please let me know how it turns out!  Be sure to return on Thursday to see what how I used up that 8-hour dulce de leche :)

34 comments:

  1. Thanks for that! I made some last year but only knew the really dangerous way so was nervous the entire time. I'll definitely have to try this!

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  2. Great tutorial! I love me some dulce de leche. I think I need to grab my crockpot and give it a try. Maybe 6 hours b/c I want it to be more pour-able. PS- Way to take one for the team taking a picture and using the tongs at the same time :)

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  3. Hey Dorothy! I use the boiling method when making mine. I always make sure I run cold water over before opening the can so that it won't explode on me. It's good for using as a cake filling and I recently used it for snow cones. When it snows, scoop some fresh, clean snow on to a bowl, pour strawberry syrup on top followed by some of the dulce de leche. It's soooo yummy.

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  4. This post makes me so happy.

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  5. Thanks for this! I have been wanting to try this method for a while, but I was a little scared...now, I'm totally doing it! Awesome :)

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  6. Great job and wonderful explanation! This is a must try and so easy:D Bet it would be really good over some ice cream.

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  7. I enjoyed how you explained the process so well kept me captivated!I am not a very good baker but I love your blog and will be back to see what you make with your dulce de leche.
    dropping by from SITS

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  8. Sounds really good. You make it seem very easy! Thanks for sharing with us!

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  9. Sounds good! How does this compare to homemade caramel?

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  10. It is very Mexican too..... My grandfather grew up in a town that I've often visited where you see ladies cooking the milk until it is like that.... it is delicious! isn't it? In Mexico they also sell it in "ice cream cones" (just the cone with dulce de leche inside) delicious! My dad makes it the way you show it... He makes great empanadas with it! Thanks a lot for sharing something so delicious with us!

    Paloma.

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  11. Wow that is cool how that comes just from a can of condensed milk! I will be interested to see what you can make out of it. I will return later to see.

    Thanks for sharing this & stopping by my blog♥

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  12. Thank you for the kind words everyone! I'm glad I made the tutorial, and I hope to do a few more in the future.

    Paige - I DO hope you try this method; it's so easy!

    CB - I'm going to try the 6-hour cook too, so I can have a sauce to swirl into some ice cream...

    Miti - Thanks for the tip! I'll have to try that next time to speed up the cooling process. I wish we had snow here so I could try that; it sounds delicious, especially with the strawberry!

    Ms. Humble - Always glad to make people happy :)

    Lady Bubble Pop World of Joy - Thanks. Love your name!

    cookies and cups - Don't worry, I was nervous too. I was hoping I wouldn't be awakened by the sound of a can propelling out of my slow cooker LOL. All was well; the cooking is very gentle.

    Kim - Thank you! It is wonderful over ice cream. I only have coffee ice cream at the moment, but I'm sure it would pair well with many flavors. The cold from the ice cream firms it up a bit and gives it a wonderful, softly chewy texture. Yum!

    MONICA-LnP - Awww...ANYONE can make this, even if you're not a good baker :) Try it over ice cream, as a dip with apples, etc.

    Me, Myself and Pie - Thanks! But I didn't really make it SEEM easy--it truly was! Give it a try.

    Farenheit 350° - I don't have much experience with homemade caramel, so I can't help much here. If I had to guess, the DDL is more scoopable and more dairy flavored.

    bakingblonde - You won't be sorry once you make it!

    Paloma - Oops. Sorry I didn't do my homework very thoroughly before writing this post. I didn't mean to exclude Mexico! I've updated the post to reflect that :) DDL empanadas sound amazing, as do the DDL ice cream cones!

    Sue - Yes, it's very cool! I was amazed when I opened the cans too, even though I knew what to expect. Kitchen magic is truly amazing, isn't it?

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  13. Oh my goodness, I NEVER knew how easy it was to make dulce de leche! I am going to try this pretty much as soon as I can get my butt to the store!

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  14. Thanks! I see it now! I didn't think you made a mistake before though! we are Latin-american so I felt included anyway! ;) I was happy to see such a delicious recipe... that brings so many good memories ;)

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  15. Eating this straight from the warm can right now (I risked opening it early, I live dangerously) and it is oh so good.

    My hips are never going to forgive you for showing me how easy this can be with a crockpot.

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  16. My apologies, Ms. Humble! I have often been accused of being an enableer ;)

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  17. This is fabulous. I have to try this!

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  18. After its been cooked and the can that is left unopen do you store it in the frig. or can it sit on the shelf?

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  19. pam - As long as the can hasn't been opened, you can treat it the same way as a can of regular condensed milk. It should keep in your pantry, up until the expiration date on the can.

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  20. Sounds fantastic! Do you know if there are any problems with this method at high altitude? I live in Denver and altitude is always a consideration. Thanks, Patty

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  21. Hi Anonymous! I don't have any experience with high-altitude cooking, so I don't have any pointers here. Sorry. I would imagine you'd just make the same adjustments you would normally make when cooking in your slow cooker, but I'm not 100% on that.

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  22. I just tried this today and absolutely nothing happened to the condensed milk :( I cooked it on low for 9 hours and it was still just plain ol' condensed milk so I put the other cans back in for 5 more hours on high and still nothing happened. what am I doing wrong??

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  23. Joy - I'm not sure what's going on there :( 14 hours in the slow cooker should have caramelized the milk to a very dark color! I don't think it's anything you're doing wrong...is your slow cooker old, or running cooler than normal? It could also be a strange fluke in the brand of milk you bought. Was it Eagle Brand, or a store brand? In either case, try switching brands to see if that helps. I'm sorry your time got wasted, with no dulce de leche to show for it! :(

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  24. Mmmmm I love dulce de leche. I've made it twice with the dangerous method and all has been well. I just poked a small hole on top of the can to keep it from exploding, otherwise maintaining the water level wasn't all that difficult. You just check on it once in a while and have a pitcher of water nearby for quick pouring.

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  25. I made this the other day and wrote about it here: http://tomatoesforapples.blogspot.com/2010/02/i-didnt-blow-up-kitchen.html

    Thanks for the idea to put some in a canning jar. Mine had not changed color after 8 hrs on low. I think my cooker runs cold. 4 more hours on high did the trick!

    Thank you for making this seem not so scary!

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  26. I made this last night, it was all I could do not to open them immediately. I opened the cans and transferred the contents to some small jars. What is the shelf life on it now? Should I put it in the fridge or leave them at room temp?

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  27. Glenda: The wait was difficult, wasn't it? Since you've opened the jars, definitely keep it refrigerated now. Not sure on the shelf life once the cans have been opened--just treat as you would a can of opened sweetened condensed milk. The dulce de leche is fine to store unopened and unrefrigerated in their original cans, so if you haven't opened them all yet, you can keep those in your pantry.

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  28. I must say that if you cook dulce de leche with regular milk (very pasteurized) you don't really get a good result, and it's a lot of work....thanks god I live in Argentina and you can buy it in every corner!

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  29. Thanks for the recipe and the info on shelf life. I have three cans in my crockpot on low as I type this. I can't wait! How many hours does it take to cool a can?

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    1. Hi Lauren! Sorry for the delay in this reply. I don't exactly know/remember how long it takes to cool the can...I didn't time it and I should have!

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  30. I've tried the boiling method and the Crockpot method. The Crockpot method definitely wins. However with both the dulce de leche has a graininess to it. I don't like crunching my dulce de leche, I like it creamy and smooth. Does anyone else ever have this problem? What am I doing wrong?

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    1. Hello! The dulce de leche shouldn't end up grainy, so the only thing I can think of that would make it end up that way is that the condensed milk was grainy to start with. I've had a can or two of condensed milk over the years that was grainy, but that is very rare. I don't think you're doing anything wrong, just maybe a grainy batch of milk? Anyway the grainy milk is proabably just due to crystallization of the sugars during the canning process.

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