Dulce de Leche is a form of condensed milk made in Latin America
It is called “Dulce de Leche” in Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico; “manjar blanco” (“blanc mange”) in Chile and in Panamá, and “arequipe” in Columbia and Venezuela.
It is usually made from cow’s milk, and is a tan or a deeper brown colour. It may be flavoured with vanilla, cinnamon or lemon.
To make it, the volume of milk is reduced down to ¼ of its original volume. The process caramelizes the milk, giving it a highly desirable flavour, and makes it thick enough to act as a spread, as a pie filling, ice cream topping, or a filling for layer cakes and in pastries.
You can make it runnier for sauces, or more solid.
You can buy cans of Dulce de Leche already made and ready to use, in both liquid and solid forms. Popular brands are La Serenísima, Gándara, San Ignacio, Chimbote, Poncho Negro, La Salamandra, Lapataia, Conaprole, Nestle, and La Paila.
A Mexican version is made from half cow’s, half goat’s milk, and has a stronger flavour. It is called “cajeta de leche” or “cajeta de cabra” / “cajeta de leche de cabra.” The best cajeta is considered to be from Guanajuato, Mexico.
17 cups (7 pints / 4 litres) of milk
9 ½ cups (2 ½ pounds / 1.1 kg) of sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 vanilla pod (optional)
Mix all the ingredients together in a pot, ideally copper or aluminum. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently particularly to stop it boiling over. Lower to a simmer, and simmer for several hours, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about ¼ of the original volume. It’s done when you put a spoonful on a plate, draw a line through it with a knife, and the two parts don’t flow back together. Once removed from the stove, you can let the pot cool a bit, then put it in cold water to help it all cool faster.
Makes 4 cups (almost 2 pints / 1 litre)
Making it from a tin
The tinned method is not advised. We note it here simply to acknowledge that this is common practice — common enough that the lawyers of canned sweetened condensed milk manufacturers are onto this fact and put all over the can not to boil the tins.
In this method, you remove the label from can. Put a wire or heat-proof rack on the bottom of the pan, put can on rack. Add water until the can is about 2 inches (5 cm) under water. Put pot on stove, turn on the burner on high, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Allow to simmer 1 ½ to 2 hours for a runny dulce de leche sauce; 4 hours for a solid dulce de leche.
Watch the pot, add water as it evaporates, and always keep the top of the can covered in water. If the can shows any sign of expanding, remove from the heat and abandon the attempt.
Let cool for several hours before opening can. Once you open the tin to have a look, you’re committed to having your Dulche de Leche at that stage.
Some braver souls cook the tin in a pressure cooker for 3 hours.
Safer methods involve removing the top of the tin entirely, covering with tin foil, and baking in a water bath in the oven for 3 to 4 hours, or emptying contents of tin entirely into the top of a double boiler for 3 to 4 hours.
Attempts have been made to credit the creation of Dulce de Leche to a specific person, but there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason to hunt for 1 person who discovered what leaving milk with sugar in it simmering too long could achieve.
In 1997, Häagen-Dazs introduced its Dulce de Leche flavoured ice cream
A debate between Argentina and Uruguay started in April 2003 when Argentina declared Dulce de Leche a traditional Argentine product, and started lobbying UNESCO to get it recognized as such. Uruguay was afraid that if it went through, they would no longer be able to export it. Uruguay counter-proposed that it be recognized as a traditional product of both countries. There was no resolution as of 2006.
Dulce de Leche literally means “milk jam.” It is pronounced “dulsay day lechay.”
Ness, Carol. Argentine dulce de leche clobbers the competition. San Francisco, Californa: San Francisco Chronicle. Wednesday, 22 December 2004.