What is dulce de leche, you ask? That is an excellent question. It’s basically caramel, but made from milk and sugar instead of just sugar. Literally translated it means “milk candy”. It’s gotten pretty popular up in the states in the last 10 or so years, but it’s a South American candy. I actually grew up with it, because my mom’s family is from Argentina and they have a dulce de leche recipe that is passed down from oldest child to oldest child on her father’s side of the family. My grandfather, Nono, is the oldest child in his family, and I am the oldest of mine. So when I was around 10 or 12 he taught me how to make dulce de leche.
My brother, sister, cousin and I were in San Diego visiting my grandparents. We were playing in the back yard and my Nono came to get me and bring me inside. I remember being a little annoyed because I wanted to be outside playing, but he brought me into the kitchen and told me that because I was the oldest he was going to teach me how to make his dulce de leche. He told me that his mother had taught him when he had been around my age (at the time) and so it was my turn to learn. I still remember that day, the kitchen tiles against my feet, the cool darkness of the kitchen. I didn’t try making it on my own until years later but that was one of the only afternoons I ever spent learning something from my Nono.
My grandparents used to eat dulce de leche on toast in the mornings. My grandparents ALWAYS eat toast for breakfast-toast with butter, cream cheese, jam, honey, dulce de leche, and sometimes a combination of the above! I always preferred cream cheese and honey, but someone always ate their pan con dulce de leche.
This being my second year as a poor-ass grad student, I wanted to give christmas gifts but could not spend much money. I also didn’t want to give crap gifts. Then I remembered that pretty much everyone in the whole world likes caramel, my friends probably haven’t eaten much dulce de leche in their lives, and gosh darnit it just sounds so exotic. Duuuulce de lechhhhe. Mmmmmmm. Also, when you tell your friends that you spent six hours in front of the stove stirring they are very impressed and think you are the best friend ever. Which I am.
Dulce de Leche
Ok, now, here’s the thing. I can’t actually give you my family recipe. Well, I could but I’ve been instructed not to. Seriously. So I’m giving you Alton Brown’s instead. Rest assured, though, I have checked it for accuracy and it is basically the same, but this will only make you 1 jar and mine made 8. Also, I’m taking out some of his totally unnecessary steps. Like, straining the finished product. Um, Alton? You really don’t need to do that.
1 quart whole milk
12 ounces sugar
1 vanilla bean, split with seeds scraped out
1/2 tsp baking soda
Mix everything together. Grab your vanilla bean, split it lengthwise and scrape all of the seeds into the milk sugar mix, then throw the vanilla pod in there as well.
Now. Keep the heat at about medium low so that you achieve a very gentle simmer, and stir constantly for the next 2 hours. You really have to stir frequently otherwise the bottom of the caramel will burn. At some point take out the vanilla bean pod.
This is about what the dulce de leche should look like-a medium brown caramel color. This picture is terrible because it was late and I had no natural light. The batch I made was huge so I was stirring for six hours, not two.
Allow to cool and then pour into jars.
You can serve dulce de leche:
on ice cream
as a cookie topping (alfajores, anyone???)
on pretzels (enthusiastically suggested to me by a friend the day after I gave him his jar).
on apples (pears, whatever)
as a cake filling
or you can just eat it from the jar.