The charm of dulce de leche has been tainted by many scandalous replications and knock offs over the years. It’s popularity and variety of uses has resulted in adulterated and poorly replicated versions all over the world. Sometimes shortcuts, sometimes a simple lack of knowledge and sometimes a complete lack of care, have resulted in products and dishes that don’t even resemble dulce de leche.
Translated from Spanish, dulce de leche means ‘sweetness of milk’ or ‘milk jam’.
There are different methods of making what can only be described as ‘replicas’ such as:
- Making a caramel by burning sugar and adding cream (this is simply caramel).
- Taking tins of condensed milk and boiling the living daylights out of it until a caramel type thing forms.
The ironic thing is, it actually has very little to do with caramel. A true dulce de leche is simple – it’s made with good quality milk, a little sugar, then slowly simmered until all moisture content is extracted from the milk.
The browning is caused by the ‘Maillard’ reaction which is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars, rather than sugars actually caramelising. The sweetness comes from the milk being reduced (water is progressively cooked out)to the point where the lactose (found naturally in both milk and sugar) ends up forming a greater ‘concentrated’ percentage of the finished product. By definition, it also increases the percentage of fat and proteins.
Of course, there are a few very important tricks to the process but that’s the basics.
Dulce de leche originated in South America, and by far the best version is from Argentina. I’ve tasted as many versions as I could get hold of from all around the world and there is nothing else like it.