What is dulce de leche? Well, by definition, dulce de leche is a creamy caramel made from sweetened and reduced milk. However, that doesn’t begin to describe the impossibly creamy sweetness and soft bitterness that this caramel possesses.
Most often in our house, our dulce de leche sauce is used as a pool for crisp, tart apples — the ultimate caramel dip. But, either recipe also makes a great base for ice creams, the perfect filling for tarts or cookies and can be whipped up into a sweet, caramel frosting.
You can buy dulce de leche at some grocery stores, but I’m going to teach you TWO methods for making dulce de leche at home for a caramel sauce that simply can’t be beat.
Method #1: Making dulce de leche the death-defying way
Let’s start with what I’m calling “the death-defying way.” Sounds exciting, right? It’s really not life threatening BUT there are some horror stories of cans exploding when using this method.
Let me explain myself: First of all, I’ve never had a can explode on me. You see this method turns a regular can of sweetened condensed milk into a rich, copper colored caramel just by boiling in a pan of water for about 3 hours. What causes the risk of explosion is when the can is not full submerged in the boiling water.
What does this mean for you? Every so often you have to meander back to the pot and pour in a bit more water to make sure the can is well submerged. I used to use this method at the restaurant I worked at making it dozens and dozens of times with no exploding cans.
There’s something so magical about transforming a creamy white can of condensed milk into a caramel sauce with very little work.
I go ahead and make at least a couple cans at a time when I use this cooking technique.
Makes 1 cup
- 1 can of sweetened condensed milk
- Large pot of boiling water
1. Bring a large pot 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.
2. Remove the label from the can of sweetened condensed milk and carefully submerge it into the boiling water using a pair of thongs 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).
3. Cook the can for 3 hours, making sure the can is covered with water at all times. Add more boiling water if necessary.
4. Using a pair of thongs, 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.
5. Cooled dulce de leche can be stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks
Method #2: Dulce de leche the low and slow way
The next way is so satisfying, in a very Little House on the Prairie sort of way. What I mean by that is, making it yourself from milk, sugar, salt and a bit of baking soda. I guess if I was really living on the prairie, I would have milked the cows myself!
Here, milk boils with the sugar, a whisper of salt and a bit of baking soda, which causes a lot of frothing but is intended to keep the lumps at bay. You want the milk to boil steadily the entire time — not too fast that it boils over and not too slow that the process takes all day, just steady.
And, not before too long, you’ll have a rich, truly copper colored caramel that has reduced to a fraction of what it was before but transformed into a miraculous mixture that tops ice cream, coffee, cakes and a spoon so beautifully.
Makes 1 1/2 cups
- 3 cups whole milk, divided
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Scant 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1. Combine 3 cups whole milk, sugar, salt, and baking soda in a large sauce pan. Bring the mix to a boil and watch it carefully; baking soda will make the mixture bubble up.
2. Lower the heat to medium low and simmer until reduced to 1 1/2 cups of copper colored caramel, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
3. Strain the dulce de leche through a mesh sieve.
4. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Try one or try them both and then come back and tell me how much you loved it and what you did with it!
Put your homemade dulce de leche to good use and…
Bake blue-ribbon worthy pies! Find out how to create unforgettably flaky & flavorful crusts. Plus “wow” with lattice tops, punch-outs & appliqués in the online cooking class Perfecting the Pie Crust. Sign me up! >>