Caramel is my favorite thing, especially combined with chocolate, but I like it unadulterated, too, in all of its many forms.
Dulce de leche, Spanish for “sweet milk,” is on my list of must-have condiments. I always have a jar or two in my over-crowded fridge because it’s very versatile and great for last-minute desserts. Sometimes I’ll treat myself a spoonful right from the jar if there’s nothing else on hand to satisfy a sudden caramel craving.
Gourmet specialty shops generally stock dulce de leche (it’s fairly trendy these days), but it tends to be expensive. Ethnic markets also sell canned dulce de leche, but I find this product exceptionally flat tasting, lacking the depth of flavor and intensity of high-end products.
I’ve long made my own version, having learned the trick while working in safari camp kitchens in Zambia. We used the dulce de leche to create a concoction called Banoffee Pie, which alternates caramel with layers of Marie biscuits, sliced bananas, and whipped cream. If you’re interested in that recipe, let us know and we’ll post it.
But first, here’s how to make your own dulce de leche.
Making your own dulce de leche will not only save you money, but your sauce will be superior in taste and quality. And it’s so very simple! The slow, even heat of the sous vide machine is perfect for caramelizing the milk, and eliminates the possibility of scorching. The milk slowly transforms into a thick and luscious dessert sauce.
I’ve specified making the dulce de leche in glass jars (canning jars are perfect), but some people might make it in the original condensed milk packaging (remove the labels first). Beware, however: tin cans are coated with a protective liner that contains bisphenol A (BPA). Although the EPA reports that human exposure to BPA from can coatings is minimal and poses no known health risk, some consumers find it a concern. Also, some condensed milk brands warn not to heat the cans, so why take a chance?
The sous vide technique works perfectly well with either form, but it takes a few hours longer to caramelize in glass, because glass is a better insulator than metal.
Dulce de leche makes a perfect hostess or holiday gift, so think about filling your machine with 6 or more jars when you make this recipe. For a quick dessert, mix dulce de leche with crème fraîche and use it as a dip for strawberries. But for one of the best desserts imaginable if, like me, you’re crazy about the chocolate-caramel combo, you’ve gotta try our decadently addictive Dulce de Leche Brownies. Be prepared for rave reviews.
Makes about 1⅓ cups per can
- Preheat the water bath to 185°F (85°C).
- If desired, open the cans and transfer the condensed milk to sterilized ½-pint glass jars, leaving a ¼-inch head space, and seal with tight-fitting lids. Alternately, remove the labels from the cans and leave them sealed.
- Place the jars or cans in the water bath (I add them while the machine is still preheating). Once the water reaches 185°F, cook the cans for 13 hours, or until you hear no liquid sloshing when the can is shaken. Cook the glass jars for 15 hours, or until the dulce de leche is thick and golden brown. (If the jar is only partially filled, the caramel will be cooked in less time. The jar will also float in the water bath, but that is not a problem.)
- Remove the jars or cans from the machine and let them cool for about 20 minutes, then refrigerate the sauce. The dulce de leche will keep, chilled, for up to 3 months.