The first time I ever tasted dulce de leche was at Star Anise restaurant in Shenton Park, Perth some years ago. As a post dinner treat, you get served a ice cold stone plate of dulce de leche filled chocolates which went down delightfully with coffee. It was love at first bite.
I next came across dulce de leche at Kakulas Sister Grocer in Fremantle where small plastic containers of the golden coloured stuff of dreams were waiting for me to snap up. I remember serving some of that dulce de leche in a dessert for friends and it did go down a treat.
I’m not sure what spurred me on to try making my own dulce de leche other than the fact that I am a proud new owner of a Thermomix and it can literally make anything. I also enjoy making things from scratch so after surfing through a number of recipes for dulce de leche, I decided on trying Thermomixer’s recipe even though I was a little unsure of the much lighter colour of his resultant dulce. The dulce I was more familiar with had a much deeper, honey coloured hue. However, as I had seen a number of other online foodies’ dulce with a similar lighter colour, I figured I’d give it a go, albeit using brown sugar which seemed to be the key ingredient in some other dulce recipes.
I set my beloved Thermomix onto its task and after about 30 minutes I ended up with dark, dreamy dulce but it was rather lumpy and grainy in texture. I wasn’t sure where I had gone wrong but once I tasted it, I figured I didn’t go too far off course. It was sweet, milky and addictive. I ended up using it with my Portuguese custard tarts by layering the pastry with some dulce before adding the custard. My first dulce was good to taste but not so pretty! I let it do its magic from the inside :)
As I looked up more and more recipes for dulce, I became a little flustered by the number of methods to make it. David Leibovitz and Not Quite Nigella both cooked up dreamy looking dulce with the sweetened-condensed-milk-in-oven recipe but I was still a little concerned about the lighter colouring. I was also still determined to utilise my Thermomix so I experimented by throwing in some sweetened condensed milk into my TMX and cooking it on Varoma temperature for 20 minutes at speed 3. Disaster! I really needed to have removed the mixture from heat much earlier. I ended up with hard, milky candy which, while very tasty, formed a super hard material not dissimilar to concrete. It took a good overnight soak before I could remove the last traces of it from my Thermomix. I’m so sorry!
I nearly abandoned all hopes of cooking up some homemade dulce de leche until I put my researching hat on and found some sites that explained a few facts to me as well as shared a few other methods of cooking. As much as I wanted to use my Thermomix, I was a bit excited to see a slow cooker recipe for dulce at Gluten Free Turtle’s blog. I lugged out my trust slow cooker and threw in some fresh milk, sugar, vanilla and bicarbonate of soda. Baking soda is the ingredient that makes the dulce darker and supposedly stops the milk protein from forming into clumps which is important if you’re not constantly stirring the milk in your recipe.
The recipe called for 10 hours of slow cooking on high which meant that the milk mixture only started to become caramel in colour after three hours. I am not a patient person so if you’re similar in temperament, I don’t recommend this recipe! While the colour did change, the milk still appeared to be milk; very liquid while the sides of my slow cooker pot amassed scorched bits of milk protein (I think that’s what it is?).
After seven hours, the mixture became browner in colour but no less liquid. I made the call and deemed the slow cooker method a failure. The milk kept forming horrible skin on the surface and after many half-successful attempts to skim it off, the pot was dotted with lumpy bits of scalded milk. I probably should have had more faith and let the process run its course without any interference on my part, but again, perhaps this recipe is for a different personality!
Absolutely sure that I wanted no more milk (condensed or otherwise) to be wasted, I got out my mighty TMX and strained the content of my slow cooker pot into the TMX bowl. I spun the milk around at speed 4 and cooking on Varoma temperature for around 15 minutes. It’s a good idea to check on your progress while you do this, as I learnt from my second attempt.
I remembered reading a tip about dulce becoming thicker once cooled down so even though the mixture was still liquid in the TMX bowl, I chose to turn off the TMX and poured the mix into a heatproof bowl. I did the spoon test and voila! The dulce stuck to the spoon but was still malleable. Success! The dulce de leche was smooth, gorgeously coloured and wonderfully tasty. Hooray!
Dulce de Leche Recipe (or more correctly, what I did lol)
I put 1 litre of fresh milk, one cup of sugar (white), half a vanilla pod and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda into my slow cooker pot and mixed well. I let the mixture cook on high for seven hours until the milk took on the colour of strong cafe au lait (say two shades lighter than the final dulce). Remove vanilla pod and pour mix into TMX bowl. Cook on Varoma heat for roughly 15 minutes on speed 4-5. Do place a light cloth over the TMX lid as the milk will froth up if the speed is not high enough, especially in the early stage. Adjust speed accordingly. Once the mix has darkened and is still swishing around freely in the bowl, remove from heat and pour into another container. You should notice that the hot mixture is runny but already becoming a little thick as it cools.
I suspect that I could have got the same result just using the Thermomix but I do think that the Varoma heat is a little too much for the milk in the initial stages. Milk doesn’t like intense, direct heat so while the TMX throws and heats the milk around evenly in the beginning, as the dulce gets heavier, the bottoms layer of the mixture doesn’t move around as much and gets scalded. It may be best to lower the temperature once the milk is suitably caramel in colour to finalise the process. I’ll certainly give it another go one day :)
Have a look at the recipes and tips given at wikiHow and choose a method of your liking. Many involve heating condensed milk in the can but I’m not too game to try.
What makes the dulce de leche happen is called the Maillard reaction. It is different to caramelisation so scientifically, dulce de leche is not a caramel :) You’ll also find that while burnt sugar or caramel can be easily removed by soaking it in hot water for a short period of time, burnt or overcooked dulce requires a lot more effort! If you do end up with hardened dulce in your Thermomix, do not do anything other than remove the bowl from the base and soak the hardened dulce in hot water. You may need to repeat this process a few times depending on how much dulce is stuck to your bowl and blades.