From The Food of Argentina: Asado, empanadas, dulce de leche and more by Ross Dobson and Rachel Tolosa Paz. Photography © Rachel Tolosa Paz | Food styling © Vanessa Austin (Smith Street Books, November 2018 – AU$ 49.99, NZ$ 59.99)
Authors note: Dulce de leche is eaten with almost everything in Argentina. It’s spread on toast for breakfast, used to fill ‘facturas’ (pastries) and ‘alfajores’, eaten alongside flans, pancakes and cakes, and is a ubiquitous flavour for ice cream, but at its most basic you can enjoy it with a spoon straight from the jar! Of course, Argentines claim dulce de leche as their own invention and it is the one thing that Argentines living outside of Argentina miss the most.
The milk is the most important ingredient in dulce de leche and the fresher it is, the better the end result. If you can source raw milk (unpasteurised and still containing all the essential fats and cream), you will be rewarded.
Dulce de leche is traditionally made on the stovetop in Argentina. It is a labour of love that must be watched at all times. As odd as this may sound, not all stovetops are alike. If the lowest setting on your stovetop isn’t low enough, you may have to use a heat diffuser to avoid the mixture from catching and burning. Constant stirring towards the end of cooking will produce a thick and rich coffee-coloured dulce de leche.
Alternatively known as the cheat’s version, oven-baked dulce de leche requires only one ingredient and it is more convenient to make. Cooking a tin of condensed milk in a hot water bath maintains a constant temperature and allows the milk to caramelise and thicken to that distinctive texture and colour.
STOVETOP DULCE DE LECHE
MAKES 410 G (14½ OZ/1½ CUPS) (stovetop)
1 litre (34 fl oz/4 cups) full-cream (whole) milk
300 g (10½ oz) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
pinch of salt
To make stovetop dulce de leche, heat the ingredients in a heavy-based saucepan over high heat. Just before the mixture comes to the boil, reduce the heat to very low, ensuring that the mixture maintains a very gentle simmer (you may need to adjust the heat accordingly). Cook, stirring often, for about 1 hour, in which time the mixture will darken and thicken. From this point, stir the mixture frequently to avoid it catching and burning. Continue stirring for 20–30 minutes, until the mixture is thick and toffee-coloured.
To test if the dulce de leche is ready, place a spoonful on a cold saucer or plate. Allow it to cool and thicken, then run your finger through the centre of the dulce de leche. If the mixture doesn’t pool back, it is ready. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool completely.
OVEN-BAKED DULCE DE LECHE
MAKES 550 G (1 LB 3 OZ/ 2 CUPS)
2 x 395 g (14 oz) tins sweetened condensed milk
To make oven-baked dulce de leche, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
Pour the condensed milk into a 1 litre (34 fl oz/4 cup) baking dish and cover with foil. Sit the baking dish in a larger dish and pour enough boiling water to come half way up the sides of the dish with the condensed milk. Cook in the oven, topping up with boiling water to maintain the level, for 2 hours, or until the condensed milk is toffee-coloured (the top will be darker).
Carefully remove from the oven and stir to combine while still warm. Set aside to cool completely.
Transfer the dulce de leche to a very clean and dry glass jar. It will keep in the fridge for 2–3 weeks.