This post was updated on 03-27-2017. The previous version didn’t stress enough that this cheat sauce DOESN’T resemble real dulce de leche.
If you’re looking for a quick caramel sauce, this recipe for salted caramel sauce tastes waaaay better than the 10-minute cheat sauce and is also a lot easier to make. It’s made with cream instead of evaporated milk 😉
Hmmm, a fast dulce de leche cheat that allows you to make dulce de leche in less than 10 minutes. Is it possible??
Well, I tried 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! ← Very wrong!
- (Yes, saying that did make me feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Commando’.)
- This recipe DOES NOT make dulce de leche. There is no fast way to make the stuff. My experimental dulce de leche cheat sauce was not quite an epic fail, but it sure as hell wasn’t dulce de leche.
So NO, it’s not possible to make a fast dulce de leche. And here is why…
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.
Still with me? Good!
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? 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 occur 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 very different end products.
In this experiment, I simply caramelized sugar in a pan and added evaporated milk, thinking that, as sweetened condensed milk is just evaporated milk and sugar, it ought to work. As a result, all of the sugar in this sauce has been caramelized and did not have a chance to react with any proteins. Which means that 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 kitchen experiment 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!
So this ‘cheat sauce’ is basically a simple caramel sauce, but with evaporated milk instead of cream, and a little butter. I’ve included the recipe so you can make it at home and find out for yourself that no, there is no such thing as a fast dulce de leche cheat.
And I wouldn’t make this if I wanted an ordinary caramel recipe for drizzlign over ice ceram or something either. I’d much rather use a delicious cream-based caramel, such as this one, for that.
So if you want to make this, by all means go ahead. Just don’t come crying to me when it’s not the dulce de leche miracle you were hoping for 😉
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- 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 heatproof 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.