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Dulce de Lecture – Experiments with Dulce de Leche

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

Product Line-up

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 :)

The Method

Pot contents - Beginning

Ok, now the recipe for making dulce de leche using cans of sweetened condensed milk goes as follows:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

ddl-experiment---floating

  • 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.

The Results

Once removed and cooled, your cans of dulce de leche should look something like the following image.

Dulce de Leche Can Line-up

Well, ok. Not so interesting…

How about this!

Dulce de Leche Cans Opened

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.

Tube

Dulce de poop

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.

Dulce de Leche Toothpaste

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.

Generic Brand

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.

Name Brand

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.

Skim

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.

Coconut Cream

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.

Final Words

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 :)

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{ 26 comments… add one }
  • shez September 16, 2009, 11:40 am

    Loved the consistency & the flavour of the non-branded one the best too (and that was after tasting them all blind! Well… sort of blind. I could kind of tell which one the tube was.)

    Pity about the coconut milk. When I was in Hainan, they sold the most delicious coconut flavoured caramels there – I’m semi inspired to make my own!

  • Rilsta September 16, 2009, 11:50 am

    What an awesome post! It was fun to see the results from your experimentation! I’m yet to try making my own dulce de leche but when I do, I’ll keep your post in mind! Great idea with the videos too – photos wouldn’t have been able to show the differences in consistency!

  • Helen (Grab Your Fork) September 16, 2009, 12:02 pm

    Wow such thoroughness. Was science one of your favourite subjects at school?! Great effort and it was interesting to taste them all – I preferred the Nestle which seemed to have better flavour, but I love the idea of making dulce de leche in a tube and carrying it around in your back pocket/handbag. Imagine the possibilities!

  • Belle@OohLook September 16, 2009, 12:19 pm

    Haha, give the man a white lab coat and call him Professor! That’s such an interesting comparison, thanks for showing us. And what did you do with the dulce de leche – you didn’t just eat it, did you?

  • chocolatesuze September 16, 2009, 6:01 pm

    woah dude so much detail! haha love the vids tho i reckon you should totally have crazy music in the background!

  • Simon Food Favourites September 16, 2009, 8:25 pm

    hehe Dulce de Leche Poo was very funny. ok, i’ve said it now and it’s out of the system. so which one did you prefer of taste overall? :-)

  • Forager September 16, 2009, 8:43 pm

    Wow – coming from a scientist, I can say I am impressed by how thorough this experiment is! I haven’t tried this myself despite the craze running wild through the Syd blogger pack right now – but, I’ll be trying the real deal in South America soon :)

  • Suzie September 16, 2009, 9:16 pm

    Excellent post – I’ll be trying this soon.

  • yas @ hungry.digital.elf. September 16, 2009, 10:24 pm

    Awesome post! And it was very interesting doing the tasting test – brand matters doesn’t it? Different taste, different texture.

    After tasting yours, I have done mine with Nestle brand!

  • Moya September 16, 2009, 10:46 pm

    Brilliant experiment carried out with true scientific attitude! Not a huge fan of DdL – too sweet for my tastes without some saltiness from butter to ease the sugariness – how about experiment to create a salty caramel?

  • Katherine September 16, 2009, 10:57 pm

    This is some experiment. I must admit I laughed pretty hard when I saw the tube.

  • Steph September 17, 2009, 8:36 am

    AHAHAHA omg dulce de leche toothpaste. I see your point, the texture made it look a little unappealing and squeezing it out of a tube didn’t help its look! It still tasted okay even if the texture was off, thanks for letting us taste test them with you! I probably could have guessed the coconut cream wouldn’t work since it didn’t have the huge amount of sugar that the condensed milk has, but it was still fun to see what happens to it haha!

  • Leona September 22, 2009, 8:13 am

    Simon you Einstein ^_^ Brilliant experiment! its great to see a comparison amongst all possibilities. LOL i love the photo of the dulce de leche on the toothbrush that photo is gold ^_^

  • Irena September 25, 2009, 3:32 pm

    Do I have a story for you about condensed milk?

    One time I had to make a cake for my girlfriend’s birthday. Basically the cream was made out of cooked condensed milk. I was very busy that day and only managed to start baking late at night. Let’s just say I was very tired at that stage.

    I’ve put 2 cans of condensed milk in a pot with water to cook for an hour or so…and fell asleep. I got woken up by a loud explosion sound that came from the kitchen…I could now smell the incident. My whole kitchen covered in burnt condensed milk, we’re talking walls, stove, ceiling, window…water evaporated and the cans got super hot and exploded. I spent the rest of the night cleaning the kitchen and then at 6am walked up to the shops to get more milk, which i then successfully cooked and turned into a cream.

    I fell asleep at the birthday party!

    Lesson for all: Don’t cook in the middle of the night

  • Phuoc September 28, 2009, 1:02 pm

    It was so funny watching the videos of the skim, it was like “Come on.. Fall off you little bugger!”

  • Simon September 28, 2009, 11:14 pm

    Hi shez! Coconut caramel sounds so nice. Can’t wait to see how it turns out if you decide to make some :)

    Hi Rilsta! Thanks. Glad to see that the videos came in handy.

    I have a couple of more ideas for dulce de leche experiments, one within the nearish future.

    Hi Helen! Though stimulating, it wasn’t my favourite (too many damn formulas). Favourite was Computer Studies. Look where that got me… :)

    Hi Belle! Thankfully didn’t have all of it myself. Had some each of the two good batches and gave the rest away to FFichiban (Here Comes the Food).

    Hi chocolatesuze! I thought about using background music but was only going to do it if I decided to setup the video as a single montage piece rather than individual streams.

    Hi Simon! Knew that there would have to be someone who would actually mention it.

    My preference in taste was in the bit of the post you skimmed over :)

    Hi Forager! Coming from a non-scientist, thanks :)

    Can’t wait to see what your impressions are of the real deal.

    Hi Suzie! Thanks! Can’t wait to see what you make of yours.

    Hi yas! I was surprised that what is essentially just milk and sugar can turn out differently between the brands. Shame I didn’t have the Carnation brand available as a point of comparison.

    Hi Moya! You could always make a salted dulce de leche, with big flakey salt crystals so that you get a bit of a crunch and a flavour hit in random spots.

    Hi Katherine! Thanks! Glad you saw the humour in it :)

    Hi Steph! I was wondering whether the natural sugar in it would turn it into a coconut sauce with some caramel flavour rather than the wet newspaper flavour that it ended up with.

    Hi Leona! Hehe, thanks! That toothpaste shot was like living out a childhood fantasy :)

    Hi Irena! Wow! Double barrelled dulce de leche shotgun action.

    I guess one caveat to your lesson would be to have timer with an alarm. Between that and plenty of water, there was little cause for concern.

    Thanks for sharing your story. Was quite interesting to read :)

    Hi Phuoc! Hehe, exactly what I wanted to convey!

    Just so you know though, that’s the edited version. There was plenty of shaking before it go to that stage.

  • Iron Chef Shellie October 3, 2009, 11:46 am

    I really must try this one day, since Chocolate Suze keeps making it!! I’m book marking this for future reference.

  • Esther October 10, 2009, 3:02 pm

    Simon, this post is fantastic. I have enjoyed hips going through the experiment!

  • Simon October 13, 2009, 10:49 pm

    Hi Iron Chef Shellie! Can’t wait to see what you make of it :)

    Hi Esther! Glad you liked it :)

    There’s more to come so stay tuned!

  • Sara @ Belly Rumbles January 14, 2011, 6:53 pm

    Now I know why peanut butter does not come in a tube. Love the comparisons of the brands.

    • Simon January 15, 2011, 3:38 am

      Pity it doesn’t. Would be convenient for a camping trip :)

  • Amanda@ChewTown July 5, 2013, 9:26 am

    What a spectacular post. I wish I had read this before my recent Dulce de leche post (which is made in a different way to the boiled can method) but it would have been good to buy the home brand condensed milk before I made it! Given how wonderful your post is, I hope you don’t mind if I link to your post so that people can come and make an informed decision about which condensed milk to buy.

    • Simon July 5, 2013, 10:39 am

      Thanks Amanda! Please feel free to link to it as you see fit :)

  • Hettie March 18, 2016, 9:17 am

    My mother made caramel pies with caramelized condensed milk many many years ago and I’ve loved how you could submerge a can, boil it, and the final product would be one of caramel goodness. Thanks for sharing your results with us. I enjoyed reading them and the comparison of different kinds. However, I do wonder why you didn’t include Borden’s as one of your name brands. After all Gail Borden was the inventor of the original. He actually did his experiments and invented it when he lived in my hometown of Liberty, MS. I now enjoy making dulce de leche in my Instant Pot pressure cooker. It’s so much easier and faster than boiling the cans for hours.

    • Simon March 31, 2016, 8:09 am

      Hi Hettie. Thanks for the comment.

      Prior to reading your comment, I had no idea of who Gail Borden was or that this brand even existed. It’s not a brand that is available locally to me. At the time of the post and still possibly likely today, these were the only brands available to me. Thanks for letting me know though. Learned a little something today :)

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