So, a fast dulce de leche cheat that allows you to make dulce de leche in less than 10 minutes…
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?
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?
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!
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.
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!
And just so you know, I never cheat at cards!
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.