In the olden days we used to love condensed milk. sofabrother and I would take our pocket-money and head down to the local cafe and buy ourselves each a can. Then we would take one of those old-fashioned can openers that made little triangular openings and puncture the top of the can on opposite sides. We’d go and sit in the garden (“Don’t you two even think about making a mess in my kitchen”) and pour little streams of the sweet sticky milk into our mouths. Walking sugar drunk back to the house with whatever remained about an hour later. And stashing it right at the back of the fridge so we could finish it off the next afternoon. Sofamother used to make a peppermint crisp fridge tart with the caramel version of our treat. She would get the pressure cooker out, fill it up with boiling water, drop two cans into the pot, seal it up and leave it for an hour or so. When she pulled them out, the tins seemed heavier than when they went in, and Mark and I would each be given one to open and empty. Anything that stuck to the sides was our reward.
I’ve been playing around with caramel various for a while now. Initially with the ‘proper’ one made from scratch with sugar, salt cream and a sugar thermometer. Which turned out delicious, but quite adult. I tested the ready-made version that comes in a can but it was wimpy and didn’t come close to my memory of Glennie’s fridge tart. (Though now that I think about it – perhaps I should cook that version to see what happens). I also tried my hand at a miso caramel – which tasted nice but hadn’t cooked long enough and was a bit gristly. And which the kids proclaimed as tasting meaty. All good research, but no clear winner. So, when Hannah asked me to make some caramel the other day – I thought I would go back to the beginning.
However …. the thought of leaving our gas puffing away for an hour plus, while the caramel boiled, made me feel faint. Gas is so damned expensive at the moment. And hard to find. A little research yielded this method, which takes less time and uses only a little electricity: so I thought I would give it a go. It is one of the easiest caramel you could ever make: but be warned: I got involved in a TV show and forgot to check the water level. So the first batch burned – which meant a chuck-away as I couldn’t persuade anyone that it was ‘smoked caramel’. But the second attempt turned out just like I remembered it – thick, creamy, molten, mouth-cladding deliciousness. “Yum” – was Hannah’s verdict, “it tastes like creamy toffee jelly – when can you make some more?”
Baked Caramel aka Dulce de Leche.
- Heat the oven to 425F/220C and arrange a rack in the middle.
- Pour condensed milk into shallow pie plate.
- Cover tightly with aluminum/tin foil and place in a roasting pan.
- Place the roasting pan in the oven and add enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the pie plate.
- Bake for 45 mins to an hour – or until the milk has turned a warm toasty brown – you should be able to smell the caramel now – if not, leave it until you can.
- While you are cooking – check occasionally to make sure the water hasn’t all evaporated.
- Remove the pan from the oven, and the plate from the pan.
- Take the tinfoil off.
Let it cool and dollop it onto anything you fancy.
If you want a more refined and darker version: follow the steps above until 7
8. Peel back the tinfoil carefully – and whisk the mixture until smooth.
9. Replace the foil making sure it covers the plate tightly and return the pie plate to the water in the roasting pan. Make sure no water slops into the plate.
10. Place back in the oven, adding more hot water so that it remains halfway up the sides of the pie plate.
11. Continue to bake until the dulce de leche is dark golden brown (about the colour of peanut butter), about another 45 mins or so.
12. Remove from the oven, and transfer the pie plate to a wire rack.
13. Remove the foil and whisk the dulce de leche until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate in an airtight container with a tight-fitting lid for up to 1 week. But it won’t last that long.
PS: I used the caramel as a filling in some pre-made pie cases I found lingering at the bottom of the freezer, and drizzled globs of melted dark chocolate over the top. Decadent, delicious and definitely one for the book.