The very first dinner party I threw in New York was possibly also the only dinner party I’ve ever thrown that went off seamlessly; I prepared an elaborate three-course meal in advance and enjoyed a civilized evening with two very fun 50+-year-old women. The only hitch came after dinner, when my then-roommate blew into the apartment drunk and barged in on one of my guests in the bathroom. A minor disturbance.
This was right after college, so I was deep into my Argentine cuisine repertoire, and I was also still getting over the fact that in America dulce de leche — a sweet, caramelly spread — is not readily available at every grocery store, gas station, and street kiosk. To make up for this shortage, I decided to make my own, with which to dress the ice cream and sautéed apple dish I had planned for dessert. I found a recipe online and easily whipped up a batch. The process essentially involved putting a can of condensed milk into a pot with water and letting it sit there for awhile. I specifically remember how easy it was and how well it turned out.
Flash forward a few years. I again wanted to make dulce de leche, and so I looked online for the recipe I’d used previously. In my Googling, however, I became shocked to learn that while putting a can of condensed milk in a pot with water can indeed result in dulce de leche, it can also result in… an amateur bomb.
Well! I have learned my lesson about attempting semi-dangerous cooking pursuits without the proper expertise. I decided to try an alternate method involving caramelizing milk and sugar on the stovetop. Both times, I failed: My first attempt was too watery; my second attempt was too thick and chunky. Finally, I resorted to the cheater’s route – which again involves condensed milk but does not involve the possibility of shrapnel – because Jesus Christ, one can only buy so many quarts of whole milk in a week before the lady at the checkout line begins to look at you like you have some creepy mommy complex. If anyone has any suggestions re: making the stovetop variety with success, please let me know.
After I had finally whipped up a successful batch of dulce de leche I decided to fold it into a batch of brownies, because I have an all or nothing attitude toward gluttony. I deemed the experiment a success when my boyfriend ate most of the brownies in one sitting. (The rest he threw out as a preventative measure.)
DULCE DE LECHE
Yields 1 cup dulce de leche
1 14 oz. can condensed milk
½ tsp. sea salt such as Maldon
1 pie plate
1 roasting pan (or oven-safe pan that is big enough to hold your pie plate and has some depth)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
Dump your condensed milk into the pie plate. Sprinkle your sea salt atop the milk. Cover the pie plate tightly with tin foil and place it in your roasting pan. Fill the pan with hot water until it is about halfway up the side of the pie plate. This adds a necessary source of moisture for the condensed milk and keeps it from cracking. Bake for 1 hour.
After an hour, carefully retrieve the pie plate from the oven. Remove the tin foil and whisk your carameizing condensed milk quickly for about a minute, until creamy and smooth. Return the pie plate to the saucepan in the oven and add more hot water to the pan if necessary (which it probably will be; much of your water is likely to have evaporated).
Check the dulce de leche after another hour in the oven; it should be a deep, caramel brown and it should be thick and gooey, the consistency of nutella, more or less. If your dulce de leche is not quite there after the second hour in the oven, let it cook for another 15-20 minutes. Then remove from heat and let cool. Dulce de leche can be stored in the fridge for at least two weeks after preparation, and it tastes delicious on things including but not limited to: cookies; fruit; ice cream; spoons.
DULCE DE LECHE BROWNIES
Yields 2 batches
1 lb unsalted butter
1 lb bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into ¼-inch pieces
2 cups sugar
2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
2 cups flour
1/2 cup dulce de leche
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9″ x 13 ” brownie pan with greased parchment paper.
In the bottom ban of a double boiler (or some haphazard approximation of one, such as a big pan and a slightly smaller saucepan) boil some water, then turn the heat off. Put your butter and chocolate in the smaller pan and heat over the hot water, stirring occasionally, until the two are melted together in a smooth liquid. This prevents the chocolate/butter combo from burning easily.
In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, both sugars, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the chocolate + butter mixture, then fold in the flour. Whisk the batter together until smooth and lump-free.
Pour the batter into your brownie pan. Now pour the dulce de leche into the brownie batter in an even layer across the length of the pan. The consistency of the dulce will be thicker than that of the brownie batter, so you may need to help it in there with a rubber spatula. Once in the pan, use a knife to swirl it into the brownie batter, preferably in an attractive pattern. The idea is to distribute the dulce into the cakey part of the brownie, not just on the surface, which of course will end up being the bottom of the brownie. When you cut into the brownie after it’s out of the oven, you want to see a thin caramel ribbon running through it.
Bake for about 45 minutes. When done, the top of your brownies should have a shiny crust, and you should be able to stick the brownies with a toothpick that comes out clean.
Let cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.