Saturday, November 17, 2012

Dulce de Leche

The semester before I studied abroad in Ecuador I lived in the language dorm's Spanish suite. Technically you were supposed to speak in your suite's language as much as possible and do a lot of cultural things. We had a great language assistant from Argentina living in the suite with us and organizing activities, so one of our first cultural events was a long afternoon of making dulce de leche in the dorm kitchen. It was soooo good, and I think we just ate it on bread.

I wasn't feeling very well today so I thought it was a good time to devote a couple hours to dulce de leche-making. It has very few ingredients (whole milk, sugar, vanilla bean & a pinch of baking soda), and it is very easy - but it does take some time and you have to keep an eye on it.

You can find a nicely detailed and useful step-by-step recipe at the Hungry Mouse (I really like this blog, I've made a lot of things from it). The original recipe by Alton Brown is on the Food Network website.

A quart = 2 pints... useful reminder if you forget what a quart looks like and have to get one pint at Giant Eagle and then another one afterwards at the convenience store at the bottom of the hill...
Watch it carefully at first because it foams up a lot. When that happens you just lower the heat so that it gets down to a gentle simmer.
Once it starts simmering you don't have to watch over it so much, just check it out every so often. You don't need to stir it.
Still simmering... this is at about 1 hour in. At this point you take out the vanilla bean parts because evidently they start letting out a bad taste if they're left in too long.
Still simmering at about 1.5 hours, almost done. 
Dulce de leche is very tempting and you might want to just eat it all with a spoon - or maybe your hands - but there are many other things you can do with it. When I made my last batch a while ago I used it in coffee, on ice cream, spread on toast, drizzled on apples and swirled into brownies. The brownies were probably the best I've ever made, so I'm planning on making some for Thanksgiving. I also want to make some alfajores, shortbread cookies sandwiches with dulce de leche in between. If anyone has ideas, let me know.

Dulce de Leche
Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe

  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split length-wise and seeds scraped
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1. Combine the milk, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds in a pretty big saucepan and place over medium heat. Alton Brown and some other websites say you need a really big one, but I don't think you do if you're willing to keep an eye on things - you just don't want it to foam over and make a big mess.

2. Bring to a simmer and stir while the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the baking soda and stir to combine. I'm not really sure what the baking soda is supposed to do, but I used it anyway.

3. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered at a low simmer for a very long time. You shouldn't really need to stir but you can if you feel like it. Wonderful foamy stuff will form and you should definitely skim some off and eat it right away. Alton Brown wants you to not stir the foam into the leche, but I don't think you need to worry about it. And there won't be any foam left to worry about if you start eating it.

4. Remove the vanilla bean after 1 hour and keep on simmering. I consider it ready when it's caramel dark and just starting to thicken - it will thicken a lot more when removed from the heat. About 2 hours is a good estimate but it's a judgement call.

5. If you have milky chunks you can strain it through a colander, mesh strainer or whatever you have, but don't bother to strain if it's just foam. You can mix it in. 

6. You'll have a bit more than a cup of dulce de leche, which should be stored in the fridge if you don't eat it all right away.

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