Dulce de leche is something I've wanted to make for a long time and when Wey recently complained that all he could find in the supermarket was evaporated milk and not condensed milk, it turned out that he wanted to make dulce de leche too, which he saw Chef At Home made. He said it was the way Chef looked when he ate the sauce that made him curious about the stuff. Did I ever tell you Wey's quite good at imitating accents and expressions. He did a great imitation of Micheal Smith rhapsodizing about the sauce in a Canadian accent and giving that characteristic sneaky sidelong glance that always makes me amused and irritated at the same time. For that performance, I made the sauce for him.
For some reason, condensed milk in Malaysia is now known as 'sweetened creamer'. No wonder Wey couldn't find condensed milk in the supermarkets.
Dulce de leche (meaning "sweet milk") is a sweet sauce made by boiling an unopened can of condensed milk for at least 3 hours. The sauce is to Spain, Portugal and South American countries like gula melaka is to Malaysians. Wikipedia tells me that the condensed milk is turned into a caramel-like sauce through a chemical reaction called Malliard Reaction, and not through caramelisation. Malliard Reaction, according to what I've read, is the chemical reaction by which many natural and articifial flavor compounds are made. Since I'm not a food chemist, and I suspect neither are most of you, it's enough to just know that the basic difference between caramelisation and the Malliard Reaction is that the former is a browning process that involves sugars only while the Malliard Reaction involves sugar and amino acids (eg milk).
I boiled the can of condensed milk, lying down in the pot, for 3 1/2 hours, according to the recipe in The Australian Gourmet Traveller, October 2007 issue. I then let it cool for an hour before opening it (the can can explode if opened when hot). I was afraid the milk would stay creamy white but there it was, a nice, smooth, caramel-brown sauce. However, the sauce was way thinner than that in the magazine. I boiled it long enough but maybe not hard enough, as in the heat was too low? In some photos of the sauce that I've seen, the sauce is a rich brown and very thick, like a paste. Could it be that my dulce de leche hadn't had a successful Malliard Reaction? The recipe said to let the water simmer, so I didn't let it boil and that could be why my sauce wasn't as thick or brown. I've seen dulce de leche in some websites that looked liked they were overcooked, resulting in a thick, grainy paste that must be quite coarse on the tongue. I imagine the perfect dulce de leche should be thick (but not pasty), smooth and rich in flavor.
We both dipped a finger in. Wey said "Condensed milk, except the sweetness stays longer". I too tasted the condensed milk first, then the faint caramel flavor and then the sweetness. Frankly, I was a little bit disappointed. We popped the can into the fridge overnight and the next morning, the sauce had thickened in viscosity. Dipped a finger in. This time it tasted of condensed milk, slight caramel and concentrated sweetness--just like the first time. Okay maybe there was a hint of butterscotch too. It was good, but I expected to be knocked off my feet.
Since I now have a whole 200g can of dulce de leche, I needed something to eat it with. I've seen recipes of dulce de leche cheesecake, ice cream, muffins, pancakes--basically any kind of dessert--but the only recipe I liked was dulche de leche ice cream, which I wasn't into making, and churros, which I was. And so this was what we ate with the dulce de leche, just as in the Gourmet article:
Dulce De Leche
1 can of condensed milk
--Put the unopened can of condensed milk into a small pot and fill with water until the water completely covers the can. You can turn the can so it lies down and less water is needed.
--Let the water boil, then lower to medium heat and let it boil moderately for 3 1/2 hours.
--Pour away the water and let the can cool before opening.
p.s. I did more research on dulce de leche and my conclusion is that the correct consistency depends on what you want the sauce for. As a spread, it can be thicker but as a pouring sauce it can be thinner. The longer it is boiled, the thicker the sauce gets. The color may depend on the type of condensed milk used.