I confess to being a sucker for recipes that require less than five ingredients.
Sure, there’s the simplicity: it’s a lock that you’re going to need to make just one trip to your pantry or fridge.
And, of course, unless you’re making something with black truffles, white truffles, jamón ibérico and fresh uni, you’re likely going to be saving some money by cooking with less.
But the truth is that the times that I’m able to cook with just a few ingredients are the rare times that I get to feel like a magician. And feeling like a magician in your own kitchen is fun. Let me show you…
Today we’re making dulce de leche from just one ingredient. Just one! Sweetened condensed milk, to be exact.
I’m sure you’ve read the Internet lore of boiling whole, sealed cans of sweetened condensed milk to produce glorious, homemade dulce de leche caramel sauce. This is not one of those stories.
Two reasons. First, I have an aversion to explosions in my kitchen. Feeling like a magician? Fantastic! Explosions? Not so much. And while I’m sure that there’s just an itty bitty chance of caramel-flavored pyrotechnics, that’s more of a chance than I’m willing to take.
But as much as I hate explosions, the second reason is actually more important: this method of preparing dulce de leche, the one we’re using today that involves removing sweetened condensed milk from the can and baking it in a water bath, allows you to control the consistency, texture, color and flavor of the finished product. Control freaks, unite!
So here’s how simple things are going to get:
1. Preheat your oven to 425°.
2. Open one (or two) 14 ounce cans of sweetened condensed milk.
3. Pour your sweetened condensed milk into a shallow oven-proof dish (I generally use two cans at a time and pour them into a one quart gratin dish).
4. Place your filled oven-proof dish into a larger pan (I used a 9″ x 13″ baking pan here) and fill the baking pan half way up the side of the milk-filled dish with water. Cover the filled baking pan tightly with tin foil.
It’s just that easy. And in terms of timing, you should plan to begin checking for doneness after one hour of baking. Just note that to check you need to take an oven-proof spoon and gently scrape back a bit of the dulce de leche; you can’t judge doneness by the color and texture of the top of the baked milk. So, for example, if you like your dulce de leche dark and extremely thick like me, almost as thick as peanut butter, you can scoop out a small tester spoonful after one hour (checking every half hour thereafter), but you’ll likely need to bake for a full two. If you prefer a lighter, more pourable caramel, you can probably finish after 60-90 minutes.
Either way, let’s just break this down.
1. You started with just one ingredient.
2. You didn’t need to suffer any explosions or even pull any rabbits out of any hats.
3. You ended up with 1 1/2 – 2 cups of liquid gold… liquid gold that smells like a combination of lightly roasted bananas, freshly ground cinnamon, baked light brown sugar, a hint of rum, and a pinch of sweet, sweet victory.
If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.