Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Dulce de Leche - How a Sweet Mistake by an Argentinean Maid, or a Night Watchman at a Dairy, Produced the World's Most Popular Caramel Sauce

Dulce de leche means "milk candy," and it's basically a thick caramel-like syrup made from slowly cooking milk and sugar. It is extremely popular throughout Latin America, and pound for pound, it's the world's most popular caramel confection.

Legend has it that a maid was making "lechada," a traditional boiled milk and sugar drink, and she forgot all about it. A few hours later she returned to find the pot bubbling with a thick caramel-colored syrup…dulce de leche was born. I'm sorry, but there is nothing worse than a boring "how this recipe was invented legend." Here's my version.

In 1836, an Argentinean dairy caught fire when it was hit with a bolt of lightning, during a terrible thunderstorm. The night watchman, Juan Manuel de Rosas, ran next door to the general store, "Walmartes" to grab a sack of salt, which in those days was commonly used to smother and put out fires. He accidentally grabbed a bag of sugar and began throwing handfuls everywhere. But, he was too late and the fire ended up burning down half the dairy. He panicked, stole a horse, and road out of town, never to be seen again (although rumors circulated that he moved to Peru and opened a shoe store).

When the firemen entered the building they found several pots of sugar-dusted milk that had slowly cooked near the fire. As the pots where being moved to start the clean-up, some of the mixture splashed on someone's hand, was licked off, and dulce de leche was born. Now that's a legend! I hope you try this simple and amazing sauce. Enjoy!

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

yes, your story version is far superior! ;)

ghanima said...

"...just to pour on *pause for dramatic effect* people..."

You crack me up.

Anonymous said...

I recently saw a shot of Nigella's knees where she was photographed at book signing. I can't explain it, but her photo reminded me of this sauce. Maybe because the top is very smooth and captivating, but closer to the bottom it gets lumpy.

Anonymous said...

LOL 'pour it on people'... i love you!!

msand said...

I love to make 'burnt milk'. I don't make it to often because I would get much fatter. I love to use it on a chocolate cake under the chocolate frosting. It makes a nice surpise.

Jairus said...

can i use this as a condiment in place of ketchup?

Steffen said...

I would really like to know what sweetened condensed milk is.. I have never heard about anything here in Denmark, that would translate to that..

But I think it would be asking too much, to believe that you speak both languages.. :P

milkshake said...

Not everyone is a convert. Here is one particularly funny denunciation:

"...There is a more serious kind of confectionary panic that goes beyond glazing, and it brings us to the true dark side of Argentine cooking. I am talking about dulce de leche.

Dulce de leche is a culinary cry for help. It says "save us, we are baffled and alone in the kitchen, we don't know what to do for dessert and we're going to boil condensed milk and sugar together until help arrives". This cloying dessert tar is so impossibly sweet that you wish you were ten years old again, just so you could actually enjoy it. It is everywhere. There is a special dulce de leche shelf in the supermarket dairy case, and the containers go up to a liter in size. Even the churros are stuffed with it - the churros, Montresor!

For anyone who has had pastries in Europe, the added horror is that dulce de leche is identical in color, texture and consistency to a number of much less sweet, tasty fillings, like the earthy chestnut material the French call crème de marrons, or the tart kind of plum butter popular in Eastern European bakeries. You see a thick layer of dark brown jam-like material and think, this couldn't possibly be caramel, there's just too much of it. And so worldliness leads you to great giant bites and then disaster."

http://www.idlewords.com/2006/04/argentina_on_two_steaks_a_day.htm

Chef John said...

steffen,

my Danish is a bit rusty, but I believe it's "yndig sammentrængt malke" You can also use milk and sugar and cook slowly.

Chef John said...

instead of ketchup?? of course you can.

Ronnie said...

Thanks again Chef John! I lived in Buenos Aires years ago and I've always missed their beef...and dulce de leche..now I can at least have one of the two...!!

dooznik said...

I love dulce de leche. I prefer to leave it in longer to thicken, and spread it on crusty bread. Either that, or eat it by the spoonful. Or, skip the bothersome cooking and just dip the bread in the milk. My poor teeth.

Anonymous said...

OMGsh! On people! Who'd a thunk it? That must be your April fools joke for the day, huh?

I laughed so hard I 'bout burst a lung.... Thanks, I needed that. :o

CJ

Jonathan said...

here we make it on a pressure cooker with water for about 40 min without any holes then let it cool off and open it

Chef John said...

Que rapido!

milkshake said...

We have been using this Dulce de Leche (made from sweet canned condensed milk in pressure cooker) as a base for our version of egg nogg - when it cools you add yolks and vanila to it and whipp it with generous quantity of dark spiced rum (to about 30-40 proof strenght). No nutmegg. It is supposed to rest for about a week before consumption but it never lasts that long.

Steffen said...

Chef John, that didn't make any sence at all. Even though you managed to find 3 danish words.. :P

But i will try the milk and sugar mixture. No boiling i persume..

Chef John said...

check it out http://chezpim.typepad.com/blogs/2007/10/how-to-make-hom.html

scherzo said...

Chef John!

Greetings from Argentina! First of all, i regularly visit the website and have cooked up a bunch of your recipes and they always come out delicious! i thank you for sharing your recipes and videos for they are great!

However, as an argentinean, and being very familiar with the typical dulce de leche here...that's NOT how it's prepared!! Of course you know it's a typical product here of argentina, and the way you prepared it is usually the "fake" way or how it is prepared in mexico, chile, or other countries when they try to imitate the famous dulce de leche! but not the traditional way!

My grandma usually prepared it in this manner:

1 liter of milk
2 cups sugar
a teaspoon (or less) of baking soda
couple drops of vanilla extract

in a cacerole put milk, sugar, and the vanilla on low heat and constantly stir. once the first boil hits, add the baking soda, and from then on keep stirring on low heat (for a long time) until you reach the desired consistency.

some people usually say its about 250gr -300gr of sugar per liter of milk, and if you can find a real vanilla it's better.

Also, usually the consistency of the dulce de leche is a lot thicker than the one in your video, it's not a "sauce" in a way, it's more of a spread. Of course, however you like it is totally fine!

Here are some pictures i just took of the dulce de leche you typically buy at a supermarket:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/25259310@N03/

Well, hope this was helpful, and once again, thanks for the great recipes! looking forward to more great videos!

Chef John said...

Thanks! I fully admit that my version is not "real" ...it's just an easy way to do it for us lazy americans!

PrimeBrit said...

Pour it on people. Ahhh Chef, you know us so well!

~Bee Nee~ said...

I've just discovered this yummt stuff this year and i'm addicted! never did know how it came about though, so thanks!

Anonymous said...

do you know how to make tres leches? and if you do can you make a video thanks!

Anonymous said...

i lol @ you story " walmartes " hahaha! excellent work john!

Thomas said...

Steffen, I'm from Denmark. I have never heard of condensed milk, but I think I saw it at my local "grønthandler" (don't know what that is called in English. If you're from Copenhagen or another big city in Denmark, I think you should be able to find it there.

Jade Strawberry said...

I discovered your videos on YouTube and now, I'm a fan. The sauce looks decadent.

This is off topic, but could you tell me who is playing this version Guantanamera in your vid?

Thanks-

Chef John said...

Thanks! It's "50 Guitars of Tommy Garrett"

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to let you know. It's not pronounced "DulCHE de Leche", It's pronounced "DulSE de Leche".
There is a distinct difference between italian pronunciations and spanish pronunciations.

Chef John said...

i'm italian

Anonymous said...

Walmartes? Lol

Anonymous said...

When I lived in Argentina I remember eating Dulce de Leche on croissants...mmmm......i have made it the same way you did but never put the holes in the can. It's a wonder I'm still around :)

Radian78 said...

Made this recipe tonight... it turned out great! I never had dulce de leche before... it has a lot more flavor & depth than caramel. Definitely worth it! Can't wait to try this on icecream :)

Amelia PS said...

i JUST made caramel today. YUM

Sugar Fly said...

"Pour it on people"...priceless. I love you Chef John!

sirdanilot said...

We know this in Brazil as well, it's called 'doce de leite'. It's eaten A LOT thicker than you made it (usually just pure like that) although your thin version makes a nice sauce I suppose.

You can make it from just sugar and milk (never heard of baking soda or vanilla in it, but regional differences I suppose), but it's very labor-intensive; you have to keep stirring to avoid burns, as well as avoid the milk from boiling over, so basically you're grounded for like an hour or more. You'll see the milk-with-sugar transform into 'condensed milk', then into your thin caramel sauce to eventually end up with the 'dulce de leche'.

gonchibettega said...

Chef John

As a Uruguayan I must inform you and everyone else in the Food Wishes comunity that Dulce de Leche is a uruguayan dish.But I will admit that one delicious dish that you havent done but that it is incredibly awsome and argentinian its called "Empanadas"
Please look it up on google to show the comunity that there are many delicious dishes in the wonderfull area that covers Uruguay, Argentina and Southern of Brazil.

anaileliana said...

Is it necessary to heat in the can? Kinda freaks me out because you're not supposed to leave leftovers in cans even if refrigerated. Is it heated in the can more for cleanliness and less hard work? I've had to soak and scrape out many plastic bowls when leftovers were gone and it takes lots of soaking and is frustrating!

Chef John said...

No idea what you are referring to, but this is totally safe. It's heated in the can because it's easy and works great.

MDeStefano said...

I make Banoffee pie using a similar method. If you don't know, Banoffee Pie is a traditional British pub dessert. It's pretty much a graham cracker crust, toffee (dulce de leche style), banana, and whipped cream. It's delicious and only slightly overly sweet.

The way I cook my milk is very similar. Punch a hole in the top. Lay a small piece of wax paper on top. Put it in a water bath in a slow cooker on low for 8 hrs. You never need to check the water level, and you don't get clumps on the bottom. You can leave it unattended and go about your day. Nothing is easier.

Selena said...

After this is made can I put it in the fridge overnight and use it the next day? Or will it harden into a solid?

Chef John said...

Sorry! I don't remember what it's like cold. Only made once.

PeruvianInBahamas said...

It IS lots of fun to pour it on your preferred person... And, reiterating a comment made obviously by a fellow Latin American fan, the correct pronounciation of this sinful deliciousness is "dool-say" de leche. The pronounciation "dohl-chay" is for the Italian word "dolce", which means "sweet" as well. In Peru we call it a more romantic name: "manjarblanco" (pron. "mahn-hahr-blahn-coe") which means "white delicacy". This name may be a derivate of "blancmange", the British custard. But it is not the same as our manjarblanco is just milk with sugar, cooked until caramelized.