"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 incident. But 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 :)