I’ve always said that I don’t have a sweet tooth. For the large part, that’s true. I’ll take a handful of salty pretzels over chocolate almost any day.
Dulce de leche might be my undoing. It’s seriously so, so, so good.
I found myself tiptoeing over to the fridge with a spoon in hand. “I’ll just, um, taste it again to make sure it’s good enough to post on The Hungry Mouse.”
So, hello, sweet tooth. You might just be a baby, but I’m afraid you’re definitely here to stay. At least, as long as I have a jar of this dark brown, caramel-y goodness in the fridge.
What is dulce de leche?
Dulce de leche is a popular Latin American sweet that translates roughly into something like milk jam or milk candy. In French, that’s confiture de lait, which sounds way more appealing (or maybe I just like saying “confiture”).
Dulce de leche is a caramel spread that’s made by reducing milk, sugar, and vanilla until the concoction is so thick you can stand up a spoon in it or slather it on bread.
How to make dulce de leche
I made my dulce de leche from Alton Brown’s recipe. You need about 3 hours and precisely 4 ingredients: whole milk, sugar, a whole vanilla bean, and a little baking soda.
I think next time, I might try David Lebovitz’s method, which has you nestle a pan of sweetened condensed milk in a water bath, then bake it in the oven for an hour and a half.
You know, strictly in the interest of science.
What can you do with dulce de leche?
Drizzle it on ice cream. Add dollops of it into brownie batter. Swirl some into coffee or hot chocolate. Top cakes or pies. Spread it on toast. Heck, eat it with a spoon, standing in front of the fridge with the door open. It’s that good.
Don’t use skim milk
I know that there are a lot of people who balk at the idea of whole milk, and will always substitute skim milk or 2%.
Don’t do that with dulce de leche.
The fat in the milk makes this silky, sultry, and sumptuous. Plus, I honestly don’t know if this recipe will work with low-fat milk.
Oh! As with most things with only a few ingredients, use the best ones you can find. I used whole milk from one of our local dairies, Richardson’s.
Homemade Dulce de Leche
Recipe from Alton Brown
1 quart whole milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split & scraped
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Yields about 1 cup of dulce de leche
Scrape the vanilla bean
Grab a medium-sized, heavy bottomed pot. I used a 3-quart pot. Don’t use a lightweight pot for this (you know, like those fabulous, but thin, aluminum grandma pots), because you really risk scorching the milk mixture.
Toss the sugar in the pot.
Next, take your vanilla bean. I’m doing this on a white paper towel just so there’s a lot of contrast to help you see the vanilla seeds.
Split him carefully down the middle with the tip of a sharp knife.
You’ll see the vanilla seeds snuggled inside the pod, like sweet, fragrant caviar.
Run the backside of your knife (i.e. the side that’s not sharp) carefully along one half of the vanilla pod, scraping out all those glorious seeds.
Scrape the seeds into the pot with the sugar.
Don’t worry if you don’t get them all out. You just want to get most of them. Toss the vanilla bean husk into the pot with the sugar, too. (Want more fun with vanilla beans? Did you know you can make your own vanilla extract at home? All you need is vanilla beans & vodka.)
Give it a quick whisk to break up the bigger lumps of vanilla.
Add the milk.
Whisk to incorporate.
Set on the stove over medium heat. Whisk frequently until the sugar dissolves.
When the sugar has dissolved, toss in the baking soda.
Whisk to incorporate. When the mixture *just* starts to bubble, knock the heat down to low, so that it barely holds a simmer. Cook like this, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
(Warning: If your heat is too high, the milk can start to boil rapidly, which means that it can bubble up and possibly over onto your stove. Keep an eye on the pot until you’re sure that the heat is right.)
As it cooks, you’ll notice that it will start to slowly turn a lovely golden color. The surface of the mixture will also get a little frothy. That’s just fine.
You’ll also get some build up on the sides of the pot. Leave that there, don’t stir it back in.
Remove the vanilla bean after 1 hour
After the pot’s been on the stove for about 1 hour, remove the vanilla bean. Toss it. It’s done its job (and all of its little seeds are still in your pot).
Continue to cook for another 1 1/2 – 2 hours
Once you toss the vanilla bean, continue to cook the mixture (still on low heat, still uncovered), stirring occasionally, for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
As it cooks, it will continue to deepen in color.
When it’s almost done, it will be thick and syrupy.
When is it done?
To test what your dulce de leche will be like when it’s chilled, stick a small plate in the freezer for about 15 minutes. (This will be familiar to all you jam makers out there.)
When you think your dulce de leche is done, put about a teaspoon on the cold plate. Stick it back in the freezer until the dulce de leche is cold. Then, taste it and see if you’re happy. The consistency of the dulce de leche on your plate represents about how the entire pot will be once it’s chilled.
If you like it, take the pot off the heat. If you want it thicker, simmer it for another 5 minutes, then do the cold plate test again.
Strain the dulce de leche
When the dulce de leche is done, take the pot off the heat. Pour it through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium-sized bowl.
The strainer will catch any odd, clumpy bits of milk solids.
Cool & bottle
Leave the dulce de leche on the counter to cool to room temperature.
It will thicken up considerably as it cools (which is why the cold plate test is always a good idea).
When it’s cool, bottle it and stick it in the fridge. It will keep for about a month. If, of course, it lasts that long.