Servings per batch: 1-2 bottle-fulls
Total preparation time: Approximately 3 hours
Most of you probably know Dulce de Leche as an ice cream flavor or something that's in a cake or whatnot, but the actual Dulce de Leche itself can be described most accurately as a jam. It's basically like a jam that tastes like caramel, only less sweet.
Make no mistake about it, it might taste similar, but Dulce de Leche is not caramel. The big difference is basically the presence of milk in Dulce de Leche and a little something called the Maillard reaction. Now go and look up the Maillard reaction on Wikipedia since explaining here would be much too boring and off topic.
Dulce de Leche is a simple thing to make, the only thing about it is that it demands patience - lots of it. The total cooking time for this will take at least 2 1/2 to 3 hours, sometimes even longer.
To make Dulce de Leche you will need:
- 1 quart (.95 liter - which is basically one liter all the same) whole milk
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 vanilla bean (with the usual treatment: split, scrape seeds)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Just combine the milk, sugar, and vanilla in a pan and bring it to a simmer until the sugar has fully dissolved. After the sugar's fully dissolved, add the baking soda and continue to cook at a bare simmer. Just leave it be and stir occasionally.
Now, I suppose you can substitute 1 tsp. of vanilla extract if you can't get your hands on vanilla beans or if you're too lazy to have to go and buy some (Santis Delicatessen sells vanilla beans and they have stores in Makati and in Quezon City).
For those using vanilla beans, make sure to remove it after an hour because it will start releasing some funky flavors if you cook it any longer than that.
As I said, this will take at least 2 1/2 to 3 hours because you have to reduce the whole quart/liter of milk down to about a cup of stuff; and that's a whole lot of reducing. A laptop with series of Simpsons episodes worked pretty well for me to stave off boredom.
You want it to reach the consistency of say... melted chocolates. So just wait it out and remember to keep it at a bare simmer. If it still has liquid consistency, don't worry too much because it does get much thicker once you put it in the refrigerator. Even if you do screw it up, don't worry about it because you can just try again. We learn best from our mistakes after all. Believe me, the hours you spend slaving over this only makes it all the more satisfying.
After you're done cooking, pour it through a strainer to remove clumps that might have formed. Store them in appropriate containers. It'll keep for a good while; it's got a lot of sugar anyway, so that should keep microorganisms at bay.
Now you can do pretty much anything with your Dulce de Leche. You can put it on toast, eat with bananas, ice cream, pancakes, cupcakes, whatever you can think of, really. Enjoy!