I compared three brands of dulce de leche that were available at my local supermarket to find the best so that you know exactly what to buy!
Making dulce de leche from scratch
Dulce de leche is caramelized sweetened condensed milk. It's a delicate process to transform canned sweetened condensed milk into a caramel and it takes time. There are a few ways of doing this at home:
- boil the sealed can of sweetened condensed milk in a water bath for several hours
- boil the sealed can of sweetened condensed milk in a pressure cooker (this is NOT recommended by the companies that manufacture sweetened condensed milk because there's a risk of explosion)
- decant the can of condensed milk into a saucepan and heat it on the stove, stirring often, to caramelize it without it scorching or sticking on the bottom—this takes almost 2 hours depending on how low you heat it
- decant the can of condensed milk into a baking dish and heat it, covered, in a water bath in the oven for almost an hour at 425 ºF
All of these methods work well, but some require constant stirring and all of them take at least an hour, whether that's the cooking time or the cooling time.
There are also methods that use baking soda to encourage browning through Maillard reactions, but if you add the wrong amount of baking soda and you will taste it!
Thus the appeal of store-bought dulce de leche is great: significantly less working and it's ready to use right away. The thing about cutting corners is that you have to make sure it's worth it. Not all store-bought dulce de leches are made alike. Is the product as good as what you would make from scratch? Could you park your butt on the sofa in front of the tv and eat the dulce de leche straight from the jar with a spoon? Of course, I would NEVER do that!
Comparing store-bought dulce de leches
I compared three brands of dulce de leche that were available at my local supermarket:
- Bonne Maman (available on Amazon), a brand from France that is known for its jams
- Caramella (available on Amazon), from Argentina, and one I had high expectations for because of where it's made.
- Eagle Brand, from Canada, a brand that is better known for the evaporated and sweetened condensed milks
I dove right into this test without even reading the ingredients. Caramella was the thickest, while Eagle Brand was really too runny. I felt like the Caramella dulce de leche had the best texture: thick and spreadable enough that it would probably make a good cake filling Unfortunately, the Caramella dulce de leche didn't taste great, but it wasn't the worst flavoured. Interestingly, the Caramella brand was the only one that contained vanilla, which made it taste artificial and just didn't work on my taste buds.
My least favourite was the Bonne Maman dulce de leche. It had a pudding-cup-like consistency, and it had a tangy taste. Turns out that this dulce de leche is thickened with pectin and contains sodium citrate. My guess the latter is the cause of the "tangy", uncharacteristic flavour. Honestly, Bonne Maman dulce de leche isn't great. I would never buy it again. Sorry, Bonne Maman. I still like your jams (especially your rhubarb jam!), but your dulce de leche kind of sucks.
Hands down, between the three, there's only one dulce de leche I'd buy again: Eagle Brand. The flavour was great with a sweet, "natural" flavour: no weird tanginess from sodium citrate and no pectin added. However, it was so thin it would just run off a spoon. In the end, I much preferred the Eagle Brand dulce de leche, which I ranked as the best dulce de leche brand, even if it was more of a sauce than a spread.
My solution to the consistency problem: boil it down, stirring constantly over medium–high heat (don't put it on high because it will catch and burn on the bottom, and if you think you are going to get pulled away from your simmering dulce de leche, best to lower the temperature of the stove or do this step later). In about 8 minutes, with constant stirring, I managed to turn the puddling liquid dulce de leche into a very thick caramel. For a caramel that is more spreadable, I'd probably simmer it for 6 minutes.
Thicker dulce de leche
- 1 Eagle Brand dulce de leche
- Pour the dulce de leche sauce into a medium saucepan and place over medium-high heat.
- Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil for 5 to 8 minutes or until the desired consistency is reached (if you get to the point where the mixture is bubbling like thick, hot lava, your caramel will be very thick).
- Transfer the mixture to a deep bowl and then blitz it with an immersion blender to get rid of any lumps (if you have any), while the mixture is still warm.
- Transfer to a jar and store in the fridge.
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