What Is Dulce de Leche? Not Caramel, That's for Sure
The sweet-toothed among us have been in on this culinary gem for a while. Dulce de leche, the creamy, spreadable, sweet goodness that hails from South America swirls into ice creams, sandwiches cookies, and spreads onto scones with glossy ease. But what is dulce de leche, exactly?
The Difference Between Caramel and Dulce de Leche
The answer is easy, actually. As we know, caramel is simply water and sugar. On the other hand, dulce de leche is, as the name implies (if you've brushed up on your Spanish), milk and sugar.
It goes by many names—manjar and manjar blanco in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Peru; arequipe in Colombia. Traditionally, it consists of sugar and milk, but it can also be made with sweetened condensed milk as a shortcut. If you use goat's milk, then dulce de leche becomes cajeta.
What Flavor is Dulce de Leche?
While it is often likened to caramel, dulce de leche possesses its own unique flavor profile produced by the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction and transformation of sugars and proteins via heat. Caramelization does not actually take place when you make dulce de leche. Instead, thanks to the Maillard reaction, we get a lovely, nutty, mellow flavor akin to toffee or butterscotch. This is due to the browning of the lactose and lysine in the milk.
How to Make Dulce de Leche
Making dulce de leche isn't difficult. If you possess a pot of patience and some strong arms, you can make it by simmering the ingredients for an hour or so—constant stirring required. However, if you'd like to take a shortcut, use a can of sweetened condensed milk.
Methods vary but include baking the milk in a water bath or boiling the can for a couple hours on the stove. You'll have to keep an eye on it, but it won't require your undivided attention.
How to Use Dulce de Leche
Dulce de leche belongs on practically anything you'd like. The classic confection, alfajores, is a delightful sandwich cookie prominently featuring the spread. You can also swirl it into homemade ice cream, drizzle it into hot chocolate, or spread it on puff pastry, and that's just for starters.