October 11th is World Dulce De Leche Day.
An overview of dulce de leche is followed by an impressive Bananas Foster Dulce de Leche Crêpe Cake recipe, by Sarah Fennel of Broma Bakery. Her recipe website is a compilation of everything sweet you’d like to eat.
Dulce de leche and caramel are both made by boiling sugar with a milk product. In desserts, they can be used the same way; but the products do have differences.
Dulce de leche is a caramel spread and sauce* made by boiling heavy cream or milk with sugar, sometimes with a dash of cinnamon. Cajeta is a version of dulce de leche made with goat’s milk.
Caramel adds butter to the cream and sugar, and thus tastes buttery. It’s also lighter in color, while dulce de leche has a deeper flavor.
Here are more differences:
Dulce de leche originated in Argentina. The first historical reference is as a dessert served at a 1829 peace meeting between two military leaders, Juan Manuel de Rosas and his political rival, Juan Lavalle.
According to legend, dulce de leche was created by accident when Manuel de Rosa’s maid was cooking milk and sugar, and was unexpectedly called away from the stove. Upon her return, the mixture had transformed into a thick, brown consistency. And it was delicious!
From that point forward, the new dessert was referred to as dulce de leche: literally, sweet from milk (in actually, the recipe makes caramelized sweetened milk).
Simple to make, dulce de leche became a traditional Argentinian dessert that spread to other Latin American countries and to sweet tooths worldwide.
While it is called by other names depending on country, before the term became well-known in English it was called milk jam (confiture de lait in French) or milk candy.
When it first entered the American consciousness some 20 years ago, dulce de leche became the “it” flavor for cake and pastry fillings, dessert flavors (ice cream, cheesecake) and as spoon candy. (If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s what many of us do naturally: Eat something sweet straight from the jar.)
It’s used as a cake filling and topping, as well as a batter mix-in. It’s one of the three “leches” in a tres leches cake. You’ll find DDL bar cookies, banana bread, panna cotta, thumbprint cookies, churros, and on and on to DDL infinity.
People with a really sweet tooth spread dulce de leche on toast and other breads, not to mention pancakes and waffles.
A small jar of dulce de leche is pricey. You can make your own at home simply with a can of sweetened condensed milk. The can acts as the top half of a double boiler.
Here’s the oven technique for making dulce de leche:
1. PREHEAT the oven to 425°F with the rack in middle. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a 9-inch, deep-dish pie plate and cover tightly with foil. Set the pie plate in a roasting pan and add enough hot water to reach halfway up the side.
2. BAKE for 45 minutes, then check the water level. Add additional water as necessary, and bake another 45 minutes, or until the milk is thickened and brown. Remove the plate from the water bath and cool, uncovered.
This recipe is not for beginners, but if you must have it (as we did), it’s worth inviting the best cake baker you know to make it with you. (Or actually, make it as you watch. Thank you, R.G.)
Otherwise, here’s an easy naked layer cake recipe with bananas and cream cheese dulce de leche frosting.
For The Salted Dulce De Leche
1. MAKE the dulce de leche. Bring a pot of water to a boil and place the can of sweetened condensed milk, unopened, on its side. The water must cover the top of the can at all times, so be prepared to pour in more boiling water from time to time. Lower the heat and simmer for 3 hours. As the label floats off, remove it from the pot. After 3 hours, remove the can from the water, allow to cool slightly, then open and stir in the salt. Set aside.
2. MAKE the crêpes. Heat an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pulse all crêpe ingredients in a food processor until homogenous (do not overmix—it toughens the final product).
3. POUR the mixture ¼ cup at a time into the skillet. As soon as the batter hits the center of the pan, lift the pan from the stove entirely and roll in a circular motion so the batter moves evenly around the skillet and forms a circle. Cook for about 30 seconds, or until the crêpe begins to bubble all around and goes from a glossy batter to a matte surface.
4. FLIP the crêpe over with a spatula. Cook the second side for about 30 seconds more. Set aside on a large work surface to cool. Repeat the with remaining batter. You should have 25-30 crêpes.
5. ASSEMBLE the cake. Lay two crêpes on top of each other in the middle of a cake stand, making a sturdy base. Scoop a rounded tablespoon of dulce de leche onto the top crêpe and spread to the edges of the crêpe using a cake spatula or butter knife. It will be thin but there are many layers to go!
Continue stacking layer after layer of crêpe, dulce de leche, crêpe, dulce de leche. About every 5 layers, stack 2 crepes together in order to keep your cake sturdy. Soon you will have a crepe cake!
 Homemade dulce de leche, boiling sweetened condensed milk on the stove top (photo © The Heart Of Food).
6. MAKE the Bananas Foster topping. In a large saucepan over medium low heat, melt the brown sugar, rum, maple syrup and butter. Once melted, turn the heat to medium and add the bananas. Use a spatula to flip the bananas so they cook evenly. Cook for roughly 5 minutes total, until the bananas turn a nice golden color and soak up almost all of the sauce. Cool completely. While the Bananas Foster cool…
7. WHIP the cream in a standing mixer until stiff peaks form. Scoop the whipped cream on top of cake, then scoop the Bananas Foster on top. Finish with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. If you’re not going to serve the cake in the short term, make stabilized whipped cream, which won’t deflate.
*Depending on recipe proportions and cooking time, you can have caramel sauce or caramel candy. The sauce is firm at room temperature but liquifies when heated. The candy, cut into bite-size pieces, is chewy. Some people call it soft caramel or chewy caramel.