The Dulce de Leche Cook-off: Part 2 (What Happened?!)

Sometimes great success and great failure come hand in hand. Last week I wrote about Dulce de Leche and tried two methods to make it. This week, we’re going to put all that dulce de leche to use and make alfajores! But first – My Instant Pot arrived this week, so I decided to try out two more methods of making dulce de leche. First, I’d repeat the boiled can experiment in the Instant Pot. And finally, I’d make it from scratch and see if it really did taste better, as some claim.

The Instant Pot Method

Start with a can of sweetened condensed milk. If I thought boiling a can that might explode was nerve-wracking, I was also not so keen on repeating the experiment in my brand new Instant Pot. But I saw it recommended on several different sites, including the Food Network, so I decided it must be legit. Take the wrapper off the can. Then open the can and wrap it tightly in aluminum foil. Fill the Instant Pot with 10 cups of water and set the multi-functional rack in the bottom of the inner pot. Basically, you don’t want the aluminum can to rest directly on the metal inner pot. Finally, place the can on the center of the rack. The water should come halfway up the sides of the can – add more if you need.

It’s hard to see the water line here, but it is about halfway up the can.

Set the Instant Pot to pressure cook on high for 35 minutes (follow the directions for your make and model). Use the quick release to let out steam when you are done. Remove the can with tongs or let cool to handle. Empty into a bowl and whisk in a teaspoon of vanilla extract, whisking until smooth.

Straight out of the can, it’s lumpy. But wait, a whisk!

My thoughts: This was hands-down my favorite method so far! The result was the same as the boiled can but in a quarter of the time, 35 minutes compared with 195. Plus once it’s in the pot, there’s nothing you can do but sit and wait, so it’s much less stressful. I got nervous when I first opened the can and the dulce de leche came out lumpy, but whisking it a bit will solve the problem. There’s really not much else negative to say about this version.

Made From Scratch Method

Dulce de leche is, in its purest form, milk and sugar caramelized together. So all the methods are modern day shortcuts to the original. Is it better to start from scratch? I decided to find out.

There are lots of recipes on the internet to do this, and they are nearly identical. I used this one from the Food Network, but it’s not different than several others I read. In this version, you start with a saucepan, 1 quart (4 cups) of milk and 1 1/2 cups of sugar. You heat it on medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Then you add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and let it cook uncovered. Stir it occasionally, and don’t reincorporate the foam. Let it simmer on low for about two hours. The color will darken.

It’s darkening! There’s hope!

Something went horribly wrong with this one, as you can see! After carefully extracting my spoon from the bowl’s gravity-defying death grip, I learned that either the ratio of sugar to milk was off, or that I overcooked it by too much heat or not enough stirring. The recipe that I used didn’t say to stir constantly, but many others do, so that may be where I went wrong.

My thoughts: Obviously this recipe didn’t work out. I still wonder if the taste is better if I was able to get it right. But given that the execution is tricky, and requires precision in terms of ingredients, heat, and constant attention, it’s not an option that I’m eager to keep exploring anytime soon.

So there you have it – the Instant Pot wins the dulce de leche cook-off! Next, we make alfajores.

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