Making Dulce de Leche: Fast, 10-Minute Cheat Sauce

Dulce de Leche Cheat Sauce

So, a fast dulce de leche cheat that allows you to make dulce de leche in less than 10 minutes…

Intrigued yet?

Well, don’t get too excited. This is not real dulce de leche. Sure, it has that same caramelized, milky flavor to it and the same pudding-like texture, but still, this just isn’t the same.

It’s a nice cheat, though! Perfect if you don’t have a lot of time but are desperate for a quick dose of dulce de leche! Or… well… fake, but fast dulce de leche!

There’s nothing wrong with a good fake, right?

Dulce de Leche Cheat Sauce

And this stuff is good!

I came up with this recipe, because all of the methods for making dulce de leche that I’ve tried take a long time, ranging from 2 and a half hours to 7 (!) hours! I figured that there must be some way around the long wait. There had to be a way to make dulce de leche a little faster, right?

Right?

Wrong! And yes, saying that did make me feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Commando’.

Anyway, guess what I found out recently when I was trying to make dulce de leche from scratch: caramelizing sugar is one thing, but caramelizing something else, be it milk, meat or bread, is something else entirely! Just a little heads up, things may get a little nerdy from here on. If you can’t handle nerdy, go straight to the recipe instead!

Still with me? Good!

A few days ago, I tried making dulce de leche from scratch. I used a number of different recipes for this, aiming to come up with the perfect method. However, I noticed that all of the batches of ‘dulce de leche’ that had been cooked over a flame, instead of in a water bath, were considerably denser and a lot more sticky than the dulce de leche you get from cooking sweetened, condensed milk in a water bath.

As we all know, water can’t get hotter than 100°C/212°F. Most sugars (with the exception of fructose) only start caramelizing at a temperature of 160°C/320°F. This means that when you’re cooking sweetened, condensed milk in a water bath, the sugar in the sweetened, condensed milk doesn’t actually get hot enough to caramelize, as when you’re making a dry or wet caramel.

But hey, if the sugar doesn’t caramelize, where does the brown color come from?

I’ll tell you. There’s another browning process involved. The Maillard reaction. Sounds pretty scientific, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is! Whereas ‘caramelization’ only refers to the browning of sugars, the Maillard reaction occurs when sugars and proteins are heated together. As the sugars react with the proteins, a complex mixture of different molecules responsible for a range of flavors and odors is formed.

In other words: sugar + protein = deliciousness!

Like actual caramelization, the Maillard reaction also browns the food and both caramelization and the Maillard reaction require heat. However, whereas caramelization only occurs at temperatures over 160°C/320°F, the Maillard reaction also occurs at room temperature. It is, for example, responsible for the ripening of cheeses. At lower temperatures, it may take a while before the effects of the reaction are noticeable, though…

This is why it takes so ridiculously long to make dulce de leche! It is not the sugar in the milk that caramelizes, it is the sugar and the proteins in the milk that react together to create delicious molecules!

So that’s where the brown color and the complex flavor comes from when you cook sweetened, condensed milk in a water bath!

Dulce de Leche Cheat Sauce

But what about the texture? Like I said, as I was making dulce de leche over a flame, I noticed that it turned out a lot denser and stickier than the dulce de leche I had cooked in a water bath. Not pudding-like, but more like chewy caramels instead!

By the way, how does a closed can of sweetened, condensed milk change from thick but very runny to pudding-like? I mean, if the can is closed, and water can’t evaporate, how can it thicken so much? And why doesn’t this change occurs when I make dulce de leche in a pan over a flame?

I think I know… Like I said, when you’re cooking dulce de leche in a water bath, it cannot get hotter than 100°C/212°F, or maybe a little hotter when you cook it in a closed can. As a result of this, the sugar doesn’t caramelize. However, this doesn’t mean that the sugar doesn’t change!

I have a book about cooking with sugar. ‘Sugarbaby’, by Gesine Bullock-Prado. From reading this book, I learned that when sugar is combined with proteins (such as milk), sugar “delays the coagulation of the protein structure” and allows things such as custard to thicken properly. It also stabilizes the mixture by “dispersing the proteins”. In other words, sugar acts as a stabilizer and a thickener when you cook sweetened, condensed milk in a water bath. This ensures that the resulting dulce de leche turns out beautifully thick and puddingy!

But what does that mean? That means that dulce de leche – at least the way I like it – cannot be cooked faster, because exposing the sweetened, condensed milk to higher temperatures would simply result in a different end product. 

Dulce de Leche Cheat Sauce

This is one of those different end products.

Because all of the sugar in this sauce has been caramelized and did not have a chance to react with any proteins, the brown color of this sauce and the complex caramel flavor all comes from regular caramelization. Not from the Maillard reaction.

This also means that this sauce doesn’t have the same pudding-like consistency actual dulce de leche has, because all of the sugar in it has been taken up to a temperature of 160°C/320°F and has lost its thickening and stabilizing properties.

Apparently, when it comes to dulce de leche, you don’t want to rush it, otherwise it just won’t work!

However, that doesn’t mean that the end product can’t be good if you do rush it! This cheat sauce is basically a simple caramel sauce, but I used evaporated milk instead of cream, because dulce de leche is made of sweetened, condensed milk. And sweetened, condensed milk is just evaporated milk with sugar. I also added a little butter, because it keeps the caramel sauce velvety and smooth and ensures that the sugar and milk bind together.

The result is a delicious, rich caramel sauce with milky flavor tones and a custard-like texture that stays soft and spreadable even if you keep it in the fridge! Perfect to drizzle over cookies, desserts or ice cream! Personally, I love this stuff on freshly toasted bread with my morning tea!

Enjoy!

And just so you know, I never cheat at cards!

4.0 from 1 reviews
10-Minute Dulce de Leche Cheat Sauce
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
This is not actual dulce de leche, but the texture and taste of this caramel sauce reminds me of dulce de leche in many ways. Plus, unlike real dulce de leche, this sauce stays soft and spreadable, even when kept in the fridge!
Ingredients
  • 120g (or ½ cup + 1 tablespoon) granulated sugar
  • 45g (or 3 tablespoons) salted butter, cut into 3 pieces
  • 185ml (or ¾ cup + 1 teaspoon) evaporated milk
Instructions
  1. Add the sugar to a large saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat. At some point, you will notice that the sugar around the sides of the pan will start to melt. Start stirring with a rubber spatula at this point.
  2. As you stir the sugar, it will clump together. Keep stirring and eventually the sugar will melt into a golden caramel. Try squashing any remaining sugar clumps against the bottom of the pan with your spatula at this point. You want all the sugar to melt.
  3. Once all of the sugar has melted, gently add the butter. As soon as you add the cold butter to the hot caramel, the mixture will start to bubble. Stir as the butter melts.
  4. Once all the butter has melted, add the evaporated milk in a slow drizzle while stirring with a rubber spatula. Again, the mixture will start to bubble as soon as you add the cold milk.
  5. Stir until incorporated, then allow to cook for 3 minutes. The sauce will rise up in the pan as it cooks. In the meantime, prepare a shallow water bath in your kitchen sink by filling your sink with an inch of water.
  6. Take the sauce off the heat as soon as it has cooked for 3 minutes and carefully dip the bottom of your saucepan in the cold water. Stir with a rubber spatula to cool the sauce, then pour it in a heatproof container. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  7. This fake dulce de leche sauce stays soft and spreadable, even if you keep it in the fridge. Can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

 


Comments

  1. says

    I’ve been told that the real deal – starting with milk and sugar, not condensed milk – tastes even better. I just don’t have the patience to make it.

    • says

      Hi Kelster, I’ve tried to make dulce de leche from whole milk and sugar about 7 times over the past couple of weeks, but each of those batches turned out very disappointing. They either didn’t brown properly (not even after 7 hours of cooking!) or they had a different texture and taste than the dulce de leche you can make by boiling a can of sweetened, condensed milk. And like you said: it takes a lot of patience! Especially the 7 hour method!

      Guess i just have to book a flight to South-America for a little study trip ;)

      • Kelster says

        7 hours?! Geez. I would certainly burn it. I wonder if it would work in one of those new-fangled slow cookers that has a stirrer. Hmm

        Let’s go to South America!

        • says

          Yeah, 7 hours of cooking time is way too long! But you don’t need to stir it all the time, so that was a plus. I just left it slowly cooking and thickening for a day without worrying too much about it. Too bad the results were so disappointing. As far as the slow cooker goes, I don’t think it will work, because you need to cook it in a water bath to keep it from burning and you don’t want to heat it to the point where the sugar starts to caramelize. Maybe it will work if you can somehow make a water bath in the slow cooker or something, but I’m definitely not an expert on slow cookers…

          I guess you’re right: time to learn from some authentic South-American madres!

  2. renee says

    Thank you for posting the different methods you’ve tried!

    Are you able to share how “different” or “similar” this 10 mins version is when compared to the pressure cooked one?

    I’m quite keen on trying this 10 min one due to the fact that it stays soft! :)

    • says

      Hi Renee, nice to meet you! The 10-minute dulce de leche version is actually quite different than actual dulce de leche. As I explain in my series on dulce de leche, when you’re making dulce de leche the right way, the sugars in the sweetened condensed milk react with the protein of the milk. This is called the Maillard reaction and it gives the dulce de leche that typical caramelized milk flavor. I’m also under the impression that this reaction causes the mixture to thicken.

      The 10-minute cheat sauce is made by adding evaporated milk to a basic caramel. This obviously gives the caramel cheat sauce a milky flavor and a thicker texture, but because the milk is never allowed to caramelize (the Maillard reaction doesn’t occur) it is just not the same. Real dulce de leche is almost as thick as pudding, whereas the cheat sauce is quite thin. It’s definitely thick enough to coat a spoon and hold its shape, but it has a more custard-like consistency. It stays soft and spreadable even when stored in the fridge, whereas real dulce de leche tends to become too thick to spread easily if you keep it in the fridge. Flavor wise, the cheat sauce is not as good as real dulce de leche. Ihave to be honest about that… Don’t get me wrong, it tastes great (milky caramel) but it lacks the deep caramelized milk notes of real dulce de leche.

      However, like you say, it’s a great alternative if you don’t have time to make the real stuff!

      Hope this helps :)

    • says

      Hi Izzie, I don’t think you can use powdered sugar instead of the granulated sugar. I haven’t tried it, so I’m not 100% sure, but my guess is that the powdered sugar will burn against the sides of the pan the minute you start heating it. Not only because the sugar crystals are too small, but also because most powdered sugars contain an anti-caking agent, such as cornstarch.

      Hope this helps! ;)

    • says

      Hi Karen! No, I wouldn’t use this to fill macarons. It’s a lot softer than real dulce de leche. It’s really more of a sauce. Try drizzling it over ice cream or eat it on toast!

  3. Jaroslaw says

    Hi Nila – your dog Lucy is adorable. I noticed on most of your other recipes you put approximately how much it yielded. I guess it isn’t real important for this but I cook for a large group sometimes and it is nice info to have. I might add that the photos above make this look pretty thick. Not photos of the actual 10 min dulce de leche? thx

    • says

      Nice to meet you, Jaroslaw! Thank you so much! I’m so proud of my little puppy!

      Anyway, to answer your question: the pictures in the post actually are pictures of the 10-min cheat sauce. It’s quite thick for a sauce, but not nearly as thick as real dulce de leche. Real dulce de leche (like dulce de leche made in a can) is almost as thick as pudding, and the texture and thickness of this cheat sauce is more like that of a basic custard.

      About the yield, this recipe yields at least 200ml of cheat sauce, so if you’re cooking for a large group, I’d say: make some more :)

      • Jaroslaw says

        Well Nila I have made this four times now, with different friends. I came up with the perfect recipe for me. I use 1 cup of sugar so I can use the entire 12 oz can of evaporated milk (no leftovers) 6 T of butter of course. I like 1/4 tsp sea salt mixed in after the sugar liquefies. I also like 2 Tbsps water mixed in to the sugar before it is heated up – It gives me less lumps. The sugar gets pretty hot so I like a long handled wooden spoon. It is much longer than my silicone spatula handle. Of course a double recipe is a little harder to stir at the end. I’ve also discovered that if the sauce is not thick enough after it is cooled to room temperature, I can return it to the stove for several minutes more with no harm done. Everyone raves about how good this is which i cob\ncur, but I like how much better AND cheaper it is than any store bought caramel sauce. Thanks so much.

        • says

          Hi Jaroslaw, it’s so nice to hear back from you! I’m so glad you like the recipe so much and took the time to make it your own! That’s awesome :) I also love that you’ve found out that you can thicken the sauce on the stove after it has cooled to room temperature. I’ll make note of it in the recipe!

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