Making dulce de leche has long been on my cooking bucket list. I add a twist to this lusciously thick caramel with a little salt.
Dulce de leche or ‘sweetness of milk’ has its origin in Latin America. It’s a divinely thick caramel sauce made from milk and sugar. There is a relatively fast and simple way to make it by carefully boiling the content of a can of sweetened condensed milk for a few hours .
It’s a key ingredient in many Latin American desserts and pastries and pairs well with chocolate, fruit or nuts. Also known as ‘confiture de lait’ in French cuisine, it is making more and more of an appearance on the shelves of delis and supermarkets.
Once you have a jar in the pantry, this rich caramel sauce will become your go-to ingredient to melt and drizzle over ice cream or pancakes, add to frosting, spread on brioche, jam between biscuits or add to cakes… It also makes a fabulously sweet edible gift. Your friends and family will love you for it!
So, why not make it yourself? It’s incredibly easy. All you need is a can of sweetened condensed milk, a big pan of water and some time on your hands. It is really as simple as that. I’m certain that you’ll adore the end result.
Follow my step-by-step tips below so you don’t end up with hot caramel all over your kitchen walls. I promise you… if I didn’t end up with a kitchen disaster, you should be fine! Boiling water, hot liquid and pressure in a can is technically a recipe for disaster if you’re not careful.
Divine sweetness in a can
Get started by preparing your can of sweetened condensed milk, removing the label and placing it in the largest heavy-based pan that you can find. This is so it can simmer easily and that you can safely cover it with plenty of water.
You may need to top up the quantity of water during the cooking process. Keep the boiled kettle nearby to pour over extra water when needed. It’s very important to bear in mind that you will need to check that the water always fully covers the can by 3-4 centimetres. I also found it was best to place the can on its side in the pan. It’s better than placing it straight up and stops it from bopping around while cooking.
When you are ready, place the pan filled with water on the hob and set it initially to a high heat and allow it to come to a simmer. Once the water is happily simmering away, you lower the heat and leave it to cook for two to three hours.
In my experience, the longer it cooks the better. When you open your cooled can, the caramel will be much darker and richer. It’s up to you to experiment on this. I have made it several times and leave a bit longer to simmer as I like a richer colour and taste.
Then it’s really just a question of letting it gently simmer. Set the timer and take the opportunity to relax but keep an eye on the pan. Don’t let it boil dry or overflow.
When the time is up, carefully remove the can from the hot water using a pair of tongs and allow it to cool down to room temperature on a wire rack, wooden board or in the sink.
It’s especially important to watch out for the heat at this stage. Don’t be tempted to open the can while it’s still hot, as the hot dulce de leche may spit out because of the pressure inside the can.
Once the can is completely cool, I usually like to empty the content into a clean jam jar that I previously washed with hot soapy water and dried slowly in the oven to make sure it’s completely sterile.
It’s also at this stage that I add about half a teaspoon of sea salt to give the caramel a sweet and savoury twist. Mix well and then pour into the jar.
Finally, it’s time to get creative and add this amazing concoction to desserts and pastries! When you need it, the dulce de leche can easily be reheated in a double boiler to a spreadable or drizzle-able consistency. The possibilities are endless.