Sweet Sweet Milk!
What have we here? Why Dulce de Leche, of course! a most tasty caramel treat and one of my experiments over the past weekend.
My first encounter with dulce de leche occurred years and years and years ago as a sophomore in high school when I did a homestay in Uruguay - it's a food that's eaten much like peanut butter, but is even better, in my opinion! It can be eaten slathered on warm toast, sandwiched between cookies (as in the case of alfajores- delicate buttery sandwich cookies with dulce de leche for the filling) or straight from the jar...and unlike peanut butter, it makes for a fantastic ice cream topping!
Previous experiments with dulce de leche left me standing over a stove stirring, stirring, stirring the pot - to ensure that the sugars didn't burn.
This particular batch was made in a much less labor intensive manner, but left me worrying that I would have caramel exploded all over my kitchen - for this time, I opted for the "simmer the can" method....in which a sealed can of sweetened condensed milk (sans label) is simmered in a deep pot (and submerged well in the water) for about three hours (topping off the water all the while)...while it does leave for easy cleanup (provided you were good in preparing your can and removing all glue from the external surface), it did leave me a bit concerned while it was cooking.
I've since done some research and discovered that dulce de leche can be made in a conventional oven - or even in the microwave...though it will result in some cleanup of whatever dish you make it in.
Regardless of your method, the ingredient list is simple: one can of sweetened condensed milk!
For the conventional oven method, you can opt for a bain marie, or you can do without, but I personally think the waterbath method leaves more room for error in cooking time. Simply stir your can of sweetened condensed milk, then pour the contents into a pie dish. Without the bain marie: pop the pie pan full of sweetened condensed milk into a 350 degree oven and bake until caramelized to your liking. If you opt to go with the waterbath, cover the pie pan with aluminum foil, and place in a large roasting pan. Add hot water to the roasting pan so the water level comes up somewhere between half and 3/4 of the way up the side of the pie pan. (When cooking with waterbaths, I also put a dishtowel in the bottom of the dish that holds the water, so that the item that is cooking doesn't slide around when I'm trying to transfer the dishes in and out of the oven) Bake in a 425 degree oven for about an hour, stirring occasionally, or until caramelized to your liking.
For the microwave, empty the can of sweetened condensed milk into a 2 quart deep dish - like a large measuring cup or microwave safe mixing bowl. Cook on 50% power for 20-25 minutes or until thick and caramel colored, stirring every 4 minutes for the first fifteen minutes, then about every one or two minutes during the remainder of the cooking time.
As for me, the first thing I did with mine (after tasting it, of course) was slather it on a graham cracker, topped it with chocolate chips and slices of banana, then popped it into the toaster oven for a few minutes to get everything all gooey....and boy, was it tasty!