Dulce de leche is a thick, caramel-looking sauce or spread, which is made by slowly heating sweetened milk until it turns a golden brown and the sugar caramelizes. Dulce de leche translated means “sweet from milk”. First appearing in Argentina, it is popular in other Latin American countries, most notably Chile, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Columbia. In Brazil it is known by its Portuguese name doce de leite.
France also has a version called confiture de lait, which the French spread with butter on their morning baguettes . . . which are really the leftover dinner baguettes that have been toasted. Still, extremely yummy.
The most basic recipe calls for slowly simmering milk and sugar, stirring almost constantly, Just as the milk begins to boil, baking soda is added. Much of the water in the milk evaporates and the mix thickens; the end result is usually about a sixth of the volume of the milk used.
Although dulce de leche can be enjoyed simply on its own over toasted bread, it is also used to flavor foods such as candies, cakes, cookies and ice cream. For example, it works as a great middle between oatmeal cookies (a family favourite). A friend of mine enjoys making Banoffee Pie ( . . . and I enjoy eating it). You can also spread a thin layer on a cooled brownie cake and chilling it before spreading with a traditional chocolate frosting so that you end up with “chocolate-duce de leche-chocolate”. So sinful . . . so good.
Dulce de Leche
4 cups milk
1 vanilla bean
4 ½ cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
In a large saucepan, bring milk to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and strain through cheesecloth. Return to pan.
Cut vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds in the milk. Add the bean to the milk. Stir in the sugar and replace the pan on medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Just as the milk mixture begins to boil, stir in the baking soda. Reduce the heat to medium, stirring constantly until mixture thickens but do not re-incorporate the foam that appears on the top of the mixture. Continue to cook for 1 hour. Remove the vanilla bean after 1 hour and continue to cook until the mixture has reduced to about 1 cup, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When a wooden spoon drawn through the mixture leaves the bottom of the pan visible, and the mixture is light brown in color, remove the pan from the heat. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer.
Place the pan in an ice bath and stir constantly until the dulce de leche has cooled. Pour into sterile jars, and store in the refrigerator.
True, the process takes awhile, but the results are well worth it. You could search for a recipe that used store bought condensed milk to speed up the process, but the end product is not as nice. A bonus is that dulce de leche can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month, though it never seems to make it that long in our house.