This past weekend I went to Philadelphia to visit my brother. My friend and I were in the car maneuvering in the freshly fallen snow without much progress. Only about an inch of snow is needed to turn my humble little car into nothing more than a child’s sled, skidding and sliding from one side of the street to the other. A funny thing happened while waiting for someone to let us into the warm house, I opened the door to my car and in jumped a stray cat. This little guy must be very intelligent for a feline because he knew enough to read the big sign that said “sucker” across my forehead. “That girl will totally fall for my sweet charms” it must have said to itself before it jumped in to escape the cold. Today it is still at my brother’s house in Philadelphia waiting as we search for a new home for him.
After the cat debacle, we finally made our way into the house, carrying lots of culinary goodness. I’m a good sister I humbly admit. My brother benefits from the fits of creativity in the kitchen and he gladly abides to being my taste tester. I had an extra jar of dulce the leche that I was meaning to bring with me but I conveniently “forgot” it. I didn’t forget it on purpose exactly, but I’m sure there was a small voice in my head whispering to me to leave it at home.
I have many weaknesses, especially when it comes to food, but some are more potent than others. Who would think that sweetened milk could be so overwhelming, so addicting, so delicious? But that’s exactly what it is for me. If given the chance I can eat a big spoonful of dulce de leche maybe wash it down with a small spoon of peanut butter straight out of the jar. Gross? Perhaps but it doesn’t make it any less tantalizing. I need help I tell you!
I’ve made dulce de leche many time already, enjoying the process despite the constant stirring that is needed to turn milk and sugar into caramelized greatness. There have been a few duds before this. Once I left the stove one too many times and the dulce de leche became slightly grainy because I hadn’t stirred it to keep it smooth. The past couple of times it has been perfect however, completely magic in fact. The recipe I usually use yields a very large quantity, about enough to fill two large jars with dulce de leche. The great thing about dulce de leche is that it keeps, as long as you keep it in an airtight jar. You don’t have to keep it in the refrigerator either. I feel it’s better to make more and save it rather than going through the trouble of standing in front of the stove for hours again and again.
Dulce De Leche
Adapted from grandmothers everywhere.
1 gallon whole milk (or about 4 liters)
4 cups of sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tsp baking soda
You are going to need a large pot in order to fit all the milk. I would also make sure there is room at the top to allow a bit of room for boil. First things first add the milk to your pot and let it boil at medium heat. Slowly add all the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved. Now add the tablespoon of vanilla. You can also use a vanilla pod and later strain the mixture.
When you add the baking soda you will get a surprise similar to the science experiments you did as a child when you added baking soda to your homemade volcano. For this reason you may need to lower the heat a little once you add the baking soda. Continue to stir and you will notice a foam that forms at the top of the milk. With a small strainer remove the foam off the top. Lower the heat slightly until it reaches a slow simmer.
Many recipes say that you should keep it on a low simmering heat for a couple of hours however I find that not to work so well. Leave the mixture simmering for a little longer than an hour until the milk starts to turn a light tan color. You have to make sure you stir the mixture often at this point in order to prevent the milk from burning at the bottom of the pot. When you notice the milk starts to change color and get slightly thicker I would raise the heat and bring it to a slow boil. Be very careful of course not to burn the milk and stir it constantly. I found that if you left the milk simmering on a low heat it would take literally hours in order for it to do anything. After awhile you will notice the mixture start to thicken. You know you are close to finished when the dulce de leche starts to coat the spoon.
A little trick to know when the dulce de leche is ready is to take a bit of the mixture and drop it into a bowl of cold water. It will cool the dulce de leche and give you a better idea of the consistency it will have. It should be thick enough where it doesn’t slide around on its own but soft enough to squish between your fingers.