So, the first post of a new series: Making Dulce de Leche!
I know, I know… Not much of a creative title (especially compared to ‘Battle of the Buttercreams‘!), but I wanted the title of this series to be descriptive. I like descriptive. It helps me remember things!
Having said that, I realize that the name of the sugary, sweet spread we’re making today probably isn’t very descriptive at all. At least, for anyone who doesn’t speak Spanish. Like me. I do speak a little French, though! Un petit peu, to be exact… In French, this stuff is called confiture de lait, which is not very helpful either if you don’t speak French.
So I’ll just explain to you what dulce de leche is… (Oh, and for those of you who already know what dulce de leche is – I’m sure everyone who’s been on Foodgawker knows about this stuff: just skip this part and look at the yummy pictures instead.)
Dulce de leche means something like ‘sweetness of milk’ and confiture de lait roughly translates into ‘milk jam’. Yes, this stuff is made with milk. Sweetened milk, to be precise, but more often sweetened condensed milk is used, just because it’s convenient. And no, sweetened condensed milk is not the same as evaporated milk. Evaporated milk is basically milk that has been dehydrated (aka: water has been taken out), while sweetened condensed milk is dehydrated milk with a ton of sugar added to it.
And magical things can be done with sugar!
Remember how I’ve been going through a caramel phase lately? Well, I thought that the best way to get caramel out of my head is by doing a series about it. A dulce de leche series. And yes, from that you can conclude that dulce de leche is, in fact, caramel! Caramel with a lot of milk in it!
To make Dulce de Leche, sweetened milk is gently heated (for a very, very, very long time) and continuously stirred (also for a very, very, very long time) until it thickens and the sugar and the milk solids in the mixture caramelize. However, there are other ways of making dulce de leche, and one of the easiest ways is simply plunging a can of sweetened, condensed milk in boiling water and allowing it to simmer for a couple of hours…
So yes, this post is literally about dulce de leche made in the can!
The great thing about this method is that it is easy. If you can make tea, you can make dulce de leche this way. Another plus is that you can simply forget about it once you’ve plopped the can of sweetened, condensed milk in a pan of boiling water. Just make sure to set a kitchen timer or an alarm or something so you know when to take the can out of the pan.
This method isn’t perfect, though. I, for one, don’t like the fact that you cannot see the milk as it cooks. So there’s no way of telling whether the milk has caramelized enough to your liking without opening the can. On top of that, you need to allow the cooked can to cool completely before you open it, otherwise the dulce de leche might squirt out like a fountain! Plus, it takes a really long time.
But that’s about it!
Oh, and the can can explode…
Well… Yes, apparently it can. None of the cans I’ve cooked ever exploded, but the Internet is full of interesting stories about exploding cans of caramel. If you’re interested (and keen to see pictures of the mess!) take a look at this guy’s story. It’s very funny and not at all disturbing.
Because yes, it’s entirely possible to create a spectacular can explosion and a corresponding mess in your kitchen if you overheat the can. However, it’s also entirely possible to just make yourself a beautifully closed can of delicious dulce de leche with minimal effort.
So what’s the difference between an explosion and a can of sweetness?
The water level. As long as you make sure that the can is covered with water at all times while it simmers, you’re little can of dulce de leche should survive the soak. However, if you’re careless and allow the water to boil away, the can will probably overheat, causing the dulce de leche inside to expand, causing the can to burst open, causing your ceiling and kitchen walls to be mucky and sticky, causing you to be unhappy and hungry.
So just make sure to keep the can covered with water. The water, in this case, acts like a double boiler. Because water cannot get hotter than 100°C/212°F, a submerged can will not be able to get hotter than this either. If the can somehow absorbs more heat from the bottom of the pan it’s resting on, this extra heat will in turn be absorbed by the surrounding water, which – as it absorbs enough thermal energy – will evaporate.
In other words, as long as you ensure that there is plenty of water surrounding the can at all times, the can likely won’t explode.
Still not convinced of the cooling properties of water? Check out this video of a guy boiling water in a paper cup. because the water absorbs the thermal energy of the flame, the paper “never reaches its kindling temperature”.
I took physics and chemistry in high school, you know…
Anyway, nothing to worry about.
So start making dulce de leche today! In fact, while your at it, make two cans. One for eating and one to make the delicious dulce de leche cake I will post about tomorrow!
Yes, tomorrow! I had been meaning to post about it today, but well… I didn’t. So tomorrow it is!
Please be aware that, even though cans are not likely to explode when fully submerged in boiling water, cans may be flawed in some way, causing them to tear or break. Boiling a closed can is always at your own risk, just like making ordinary caramel in a pan, taking a cake out of the oven and eating too much ice cream is.
- 1 can of sweetened, condensed milk
- Bring a large pan of water to a rolling boil. Make sure that you put enough water in the pan to completely cover the can you're about to cook.
- Remove the label from the can of sweetened, condensed milk and carefully submerge it into the boiling water using a pair of tongs or a slotted spoon. Make sure you place the can on its side, so it can roll around. If you place the can bottom or top-side down, the boiling water can cause it to bounce up and down, which is really annoying...
- Cook the can for 3 hours, making sure the can is covered with water at all times. Add more boiling water if necessary.
- Using a pair of tongs, a fork or a slotted spoon, take the can out of the pan and place it onto a heatproof surface to cool. Make sure it has cooled to room temperature before you open the can, otherwise the dulce de leche will squirt out like a fountain... Once cooled, stir until smooth.
- Cooled dulce de leche can be stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks
- Spread it on bread, drizzle over cookies, cake or ice cream or eat by the spoonful. Enjoy!