You know, sometimes curiosity gets the better of me. It’s not always a bad thing. Not always. Actually, in this case it worked out to be rather satisfying. I mean, consider the following.
When it comes to making dulce de leche, that sublime, silky smooth milk caramel, ever wondered which brand produces the best results? Whether you can substitute for a skim milk product? Will a tube work just as well, if not better, than a can? It’s just something I had to find out.
The line up for this experiment consists of four forms of sweetened condensed milk and one of coconut cream. Why the can of coconut cream? I’ll get into why in a bit.
From the left, a can of sweetened condensed milk (generic supermarket brand), a can of sweetened condensed milk (name brand), a can of sweetened condensed skim milk (name brand), a can of coconut cream and finally a tube of sweetened condensed milk (name brand).
Why all this sweetened condensed milk? Well, one method of producing dulce de leche involves boiling a can of sweetened condensed immersed in water for several hours. The recipe is rather easy and it’s something I’ll get to a little further along.
Why the coconut cream? Well a number of reasons. Firstly, on the supermarket shelf, it was situated right next to the condensed milk. Secondly, I was curious to see what I could produce. There’s a little natural sweetness to coconut cream. Would it caramelise and become wonderfully fragrant coconut flavoured dulce de leche? You’ll find out soon enough :)
Ok, now the recipe for making dulce de leche using cans of sweetened condensed milk goes as follows:
- Submerge a can or cans of sweetened condensed milk into a pot of cold water so that it’s entirely covered with water. You could heat up the water first and drop them in then but I figure it’s far easier and far safer this way.
- Place the lid onto the pot and fire up the stove on high until the water starts to boil. Best to place the lid on the pot as the water boils faster with it on than off. Anyhow, you’ll notice when the water boils as the cans will make something of a dull rattling sound when it does.
- Turn the heat down to a simmer, still keeping the lid on. There’s no need to keep it on a high heat. I measured the temperature of the water at several intervals during the process and it measures out to be around 95-98 degrees Celsius, just a few degrees under boiling point.
- Leave the pot to simmer for three hours, periodically checking to ensure that the cans are submerged. If they’re not, top up with enough water so they are and continue with the simmering.
- Remove the cans from the pot. I used a pair of tongs to do so as I found it easier and safer than carrying a heavy pot of hot water to the sink to pour out the contents.
- Cool down the cans of dulce de leche before attempting to open them.
There’s a few things that I’d like to note about the process of making dulce de leche in this fashion:
- Always ensure that there is enough water within the pot.
I can’t stress this enough. However, there are two reasons for this:
I know of a work colleague whose mother had made dulce de leche from a can. She left the boiling can of sweetened condensed milk unattended and forgotten. After a while she hears what sounds like an explosion. She rushes into the kitchen to find dulce de leche splattered over every surface of the kitchen, including the ceiling. The pot lid, which was sitting on the pot during the process, was blown off clean off the pot and had suffered a considerable dent from the explosive force of can hitting the lid.
The problem was that all the water had boiled out, leaving the can to build up a enough heat to explode from the pressure built up within the can.
The second reason is with the can entirely submerged under the water, it lends itself to even cooking. You can still produce dulce de leche even if the water level is only halfway down the can. However, I’ve found that I’ve had to mix the contents afterwards as the consistency of the part of the can that wasn’t submerged isn’t the same as the rest of it. Also, less water means more opportunity for a kaboom!
Having said all of the above, you don’t need to watch the pot like a hawk, unless you wanted to test the saying “a watched pot never boils”. If you’re the kind of person that gets distracted easily, one idea would be to set a time to go off every 30 mins. At least that way you can have something to remind you to check water levels.
- Cool the cans before attempting to open.
Though there are many ways of cooling down the cans of dulce de leche, the best way I found was to place the cans back into the original pot once all the hot water was removed, place the pot into the sink and let it run under a slow stream of cold running water. The water will fill up the pot, submerging the can which helps but the real trick to this is that the flowing water saps away the heat, more so than still water does. If you stir the pot of cold water around with something like a wooden spoon, this works even faster still.
With either method, the cans should be cool to the touch in a few minutes. Be warned though, the contents may still be hot at the centre so take caution when opening the can up.
- Remove the labels.
Though it’s not absolutely necessary to do so, removing the labels of the cans before you submerge them can save you hassle of cleaning all the little bits of paper that cling to the side of the pot. Also, as indicated in the image below, the white milkiness of the water kinda creeps me out. Don’t know why but it does.
- Use a tea towel.
If you find the rattling somewhat annoying, some advice from a fellow food blogger from hungry.digital.elf. He suggests that you place a tea towel at the bottom of the pot at the beginning to prevent the sound of metal rattling against metal. Also, if the water is kept to simmer rather than a rolling boil, less noise is produced, at least from my experience.
Once removed and cooled, your cans of dulce de leche should look something like the following image.
Well, ok. Not so interesting…
How about this!
Now we’re talking! :)
The cans are arranged in the same order as the original line up shot at the very start of this post i.e. sweetened condensed milk (generic supermarket brand), sweetened condensed milk (name brand), sweetened condensed skim milk (name brand) and coconut cream.
What about the tube of sweetened condensed milk? Well, before I get to that, I figured that just showing images of the various products would not do them justice with regards to consistency, so I’ve composed video of each one so that you can make this out for yourself. I’ll start with the tube.
Look, you don’t need to say it. You know what it looks like. I know what this looks like. Let’s have a bit of a giggle, get it out of our system and just leave it unsaid, shall we?
Ok, so this presentation failed. I figured with its consistency and the fact that it came from a tube, why not indulge in a young child’s fantasy by dressing it up in the following manner.
No matter how much I look at this, I can’t help but think of it as something rather unsavoury on a toothbrush. I just can’t.
Anyhow, presentation failures aside, I was rather surprised with how the tube had turned out. First of all I wasn’t expecting it to work in the same way that the cans did. It did end up being like dulce de leche. Note I said like. There were a few key differences.
Firstly, there was the issue of texture. See the white speckles within the toothbrush shot? They ended up being somewhat grainy, making the whole mouth feel somewhat unpleasant. The other issue was that of taste. There was an unusual aftertaste to this one too. Both issues could have been because the tube, having much less volume, may have been overcooked. Otherwise, it could have been the plastic lining of the tube that may have done it.
You’re welcome to find out for yourself but I wouldn’t advise it. As much as I like the idea of a tube of dulce de leche, it’s not something I’ll be trying again.
I utterly love the consistency of the generic brand. Very much what I was looking for in dulce de leche. The taste is mild with a silky smooth mouth feel. Worked very nicely with a bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate shavings.
Now, having come from the generic brand, I was rather surprised with the results of the name brand one. I was expecting it to be better in all regards but that wasn’t necessarily the case. The consistency was thicker and felt more set, for lack of a better term. The first one was more sauce-like.
The taste was of a richer caramel with more depth of flavour but I preferred the generic one overall. The consistency of this one I would think would lend itself much better to applications where its firmness and structure is required e.g. cookie sandwiches or used as a sort of filling or icing for a cake.
The skim one didn’t do it for me. It’s a collection of “not bads” in my eyes. The taste is not bad. The consistency, though looks a little rubbery wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t good, at least by my standards. The texture reminds me of a real firm version of an egg custard tart, like the ones you get at yum cha resturants.
If you’re obsessed with avoid a full-cream product, for lack of a better term, then this would work as an alternative. Otherwise, stick to one of the other two.
Now, this was the one I was most curious about and the most disappointed. By the same token though, I wasn’t expecting much from this either.
As in the video, the consistency is sloppy. Though it may look somewhat like silken tofu in consistency, it’s far from it. The silky texture you see in the video gives way to an unpleasant curdled, grainy mouth feel. The taste was even worse. I liken it to wet newspaper; it smelled and tasted damp and stale. All the coconut flavour and aroma was long gone.
I hope you found the experiment as stimulating as I did, even with the issues I’d come across.
The results that I experienced may differ depending on the cooking method you implement and the particular brand of sweetened condensed milk used. I only found out well after the experiment was completed that the Carnation brand seems to be quite popular with a lot of people I know who have tried this out. However, the reason why I didn’t use it and the reason why I used the ones that I did was that the supermarket that I went to only stocked the above varieties.
Give it a go with your own supermarket varieties and see what results you come up with. Ever wanted to know which one would be the best for a certain application? The only way you’ll know is if you try it out for yourself.
You know, there’s another unanswered question regarding dulce de leche that I’m curious to find the answer to. Material for another post, me thinks :)