Dulce de leche: a secret no longer

Dulce de leche is a wonderful, milk-based Latin caramel sauce. In case you haven’t been to a restaurant, read a magazine or grocery shopped recently so that you could notice yourself, it’s one this summer’s newest mainstream flavour trends.

While just a few years ago dulce de leche was the sweet, rich secret known only by hardcore food lovers and the Latin community, today it’s widely available to consumers. Heck, even Smuckers has a dulce de leche topping now.

About 5 years ago though, it was impossible to buy dulce de leche in Toronto so I learned to make my own. I was surprised to find out that it’s made by slowly cooking sweetened condensed milk until it is caramelized. It seemed like there should be more to it. This sauce was gourmet; it was special. Could it really be made by cooking a can of goo until it turned brown?

Turns out the answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Although most people do make dulce de leche using sweetened condensed milk, you can start with whole milk and a whole lotta sugar but in the latter case you need to simmer it gently for many, many hours.

While I used a double boiler to make my dulce de leche, I’ve since seen methods for using the oven and a pressure cooker. (I’ve seen a few recipes that use these methods on closed cans of sweetened condensed milk; however, the manufacturers and other smart people strongly advise against this idea.)

I’ve summarized each method for you below and hope that if you’ve tried more than one of these techniques that you’ll tell us which one you preferred and why.

Double Boiler Method: Fill the bottom of a double boiler or a saucepan with a couple of inches of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Scrape sweetened condensed milk from can into the top of the double boiler or a metal bowl. Place over the simmering water. Cook, stirring often, for 50 to 60 minutes or until sweetened condensed milk is caramel coloured. Cool completely before covering tightly and refrigerating.

Oven Method: Remove labels and lids from cans of sweetened condensed milk. Cover each can tightly with foil. Place cans in a deep roasting pan. Pour in enough boiling water to cover the bottom 5/6 of the cans. Cover with lid for roaster and transfer to an oven preheated to 425 °F (220° C). Bake for two hours, adding more water to the roaster occasionally. Cool completely before transferring the caramel to a container with a tightly fitting lid. Refrigerate.

Pressure Cooker Method: Proceed as directed in the oven method but place cans into a pressure cooker instead of a roaster. Add water as directed above and cover with the pressure cooker lid, securing closed according to manufacturer’s instructions. Bring to a boil over high heat. When pan begins hissing, depress pressure valve and lower heat to medium-low. Simmer for 30 minutes.


16 Responses to Dulce de leche: a secret no longer

  1. I could be wrong but I believe I had this dessert in Portugal, only its name didn’t translate to “sweet milk”. It translated to “camel mouth” or “camel spit”. The dessert was so good I ate it anyway. I was told it was caramelized condensed milk but had no idea how to make it. Now I do…

    I might need your leftover Slim Cleanse…

    • hi lady.

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  2. danamccauley says:

    I’ve thrown the slim cleanse away. It is not even fit for a camel, even one who spits.

  3. Back in my college days, a.k.a the late 1960s, we would boil cans of sweetened condensed milk for about 30 minutes to make this as a snack. We never had a can blow open. I always thought that high heat was part of the canning process. Of course what we were smoking probably altered our judgment as well as our taste buds.

  4. Cheryl says:

    Dulce de leche rocks my world. If I had to choose between it and hot fudge I think my head would explode from the pressure.

  5. courtney says:

    I would be afraidto try this in the pressure cooker.But its looks so good. I need to try the double boiler method perhaps.

  6. danamccauley says:

    I’m a double boiler gal myself courtney. Pressure cookers are, oddly, scary!

    Peter, I think you’re right but every once in a while a can that has had a hard life can explode and take out the window on an oven.

    Cheryl, no worries. I’ll never make you choose!

  7. giz says:

    hmmmm… HMmmmm – so simple – who would have thought. But I’ll bet you’ll find it at Pusatteri’s and it’ll be $22.00 – I mean, isn’t everything $22.00 there?

  8. Just the cheap stuff is $22 there.

  9. Ivonne says:

    Pressure cookier = VERY SCARY! I adore dulce de leche and often make it using sweetened condensed milk. Great post, Dana!

  10. Thanks Ivonne! Which method do you prefer –double boiler or oven?

    I like the double boiler since you can see what’s happening.

  11. Cakelaw says:

    I love dulce le leche, so appreciate learning new ways to make it.

  12. Maverick says:

    Dulce de leche, a typical Argentinian’s topping, is now found at Loblaws / No Frills / Superstore where the jams and the peanut butter is located. It is now fully available in Canada.
    The next step is to learn how and where to use it.
    I haven’t every seen a Danish or croissant filled with dulce de leche so far, as it is used in Argentina. This just one of the thousand ways to use it.

  13. danamccauley says:

    Maverick, you had me at Danish but croissant?!? If you want to share a recipe, please do so – sounds great. : )

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