Dulce de Leche
One of my favourite food items I have discovered here in Argentina is Dulce de Leche though popular in many parts of Latin America, Europe and even Asia I had never seen it before in my little old New Zealand.
The History of Dulce De Leche
Legend has it that Dulce de Leche was discovered by accident in Argentina by the seemingly forgetful maid of Manuel de Rosa. The story goes she was cooking milk and sugar when she was unexpectedly called away. On her return, she discovered the milk had transformed into the thick brown sweet goo that is Dulce de Leche. The first historical reference to the Argentinian dessert comes from a peace meeting between Juan Manuel de Rosa and his political enemy, Juan Lavalle, in 1829.
Dulce de Leche varies from country to country in ingredients and consistency. In Argentina, the traditional recipe usually consists of milk, sugar, a little vanilla and a little baking soda. In Uruguay, however, the simplicity of just milk and sugar is preferred. In the Dominican Republic, it is usually made with equal parts milk and sugar, a little vanilla and cooked down to an almost fudge-like consistency. Puerto Rico has a version with unsweetened coconut milk while central Mexico may opt for goats milk. Dulce de Leche is used for so many things, here in Argentina I have had the pleasure of trying it in pastries, ice cream, yoghurt, cookies, tarts, cheesecakes and my personal favourite: on a spoon. I have fallen in love you this gooey sweet treat and now I know there is no going back. Which lead me to wonder what I will do when I return to New Zealand, how will I live without Dulce de Leche! So I decided I need to learn how to make it for myself. And this most recent weekend I had my first attempt at making dulce de leche, and it worked great!
Preparing Dulce de Leche (Argentine Recipe)
- 4 cups milk
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
Combine the milk, sugar, vanilla bean in a large saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the baking soda and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered at a bare simmer. Stir occasionally, but do not re-incorporate the foam that appears on the top of the mixture. Continue to cook for 1 hour. Remove the vanilla bean after 1 hour and continue to cook until the mixture is a dark caramel colour and has reduced to about 1 cup, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to a month.
So firstly, I couldn’t find a vanilla bean and was forced to settle with vanilla essence. I also didn’t have a strainer so I skipped this step without terrible consequences. This recipe requires a lot of time, and some attention so as to not burn the sugar in the mixture (despite the fact it was more or less discovered due to inattention). I did find I wasn’t completely tied to the stovetop however and left it for 5-15 mins at a time without disaster. The only dicey moment I had was at one point I needed to quickly reduce the stovetop temperature as the mix was about to overflow. Hint: they are not kidding about a large pot. I guess this happened as the mix reduced there was less of it to heat so the same level of heat as at the beginning was now causing more of a boil than a simmer. The fun in making Dulce de Leche is watching it transform in front of your eyes, from milk to what looks and smells a lot like condensed milk to finally Dulce de Leche. It turns out it was harder than I thought to recognise when it was done and in the end, I ended up overcooking it. I was aiming for the soft and sticky Argentine version, however, the result was closer to fudge. This is such an easy mistake to make, and it is similar to making jam, that Dulce de Leche thickens (a lot) as it cools so the trick is to take it off the heat before it is at the consistency you want and while it is still very much runny. So all in all this was a really fun experience and even though I overcooked it a smidge and didn’t bother finding a strainer it still tasted fantastic. I used my homemade dulce de leche in a banoffee pie which went down a treat with my Vamos Spanish Academy classmates. I will certainly be trying this again!