I've always wondered how dulce de leche is made and have read quite a bit on the subject recently. There seems to be two schools of thought on the process.
- Some people, like Rachel at Coconut & Lime, suggest boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk for many hours. Easy enough.
- Others are purists, like Pim at Chez Pim, passing on the can and opting for a heated combination of whole milk, sugar and vanilla.
Too indecisive to commit to one method and after reading others' rants and raves about each method, I tried both. The canned method was easy, but took much too long—three hours. My gas bill is probably going to be huge this month from boiling the cans for so long. But, the result was pretty close to perfect, so it's hard to argue with that. The color wasn't consistent when I opened the can. After a few swirls of the whisk, I ended with what can only be described as a pourable, rich caramel.
I then tried boiling the milk and sugar. Even with more ingredients to manage, this method seemed a little easier to me. I mean, come on. Dump everything in the saucepan and simmer for a couple hours? Easy execution. Maybe I didn't heat it long enough, though, because it never really thickened for me as much as the can method. But, I do think this one tasted better. Could be the addition of vanilla beans, I guess.
Since I was making layered bars here, I knew I needed something with a little body to it. So, in the end, I opted to use the condensed-milk version for my square filling and used the milk-and-sugar batch to make some killer gelato.
At the end of the day, what matters most is how the bars tasted. Good lord! Sinful is the one word that comes to mind. The recipe yields 16 squares, with each little gem being the perfect amount to satisfy even the most discriminating palates.
For the Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
For the Filling:
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 ½ cups salted peanuts
About 1 ½ cups store-bought dulce de leche
For the Topping:
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 8-inch square pan and put it on a baking sheet.
To Make the Crust:
Toss the flour, sugar, powdered sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Toss in the pieces of cold butter and pulse about 12 times, until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Pour the yolk over the ingredients and pulse until the dough forms clumps and curds-stop before the dough comes together in a ball.
Turn the dough into the buttered pan and gently press it evenly across the bottom of the pan. Prick the dough with a fork and slide the sheet into the oven.
Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, or until it takes on just a little color around the edges. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool to room temperature before filling.
To Make the Filling:
Have a parchment or silicone mat-lined baking sheet at the ready, as well as a long-handled wooden spoon and a medium heavy bottomed saucepan.
Put the sugar and water in the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Keeping the heat fairly high, continue to cook the sugar, without stirring, until it just starts to color. Toss the peanuts and immediately start stirring. Keep stirring, to coat the peanuts with sugar. Within a few minutes, they will be covered with sugar and turn white—keep stirring until the sugar turns back into caramel. When the peanuts are coated with a nice deep amber caramel, remove the pan from the heat and turn the nuts out onto the baking sheet., using the wooden spoon to spread them out as best you can. Cool the nuts to room temperature.
When they are cool enough to handle, separate the nuts or break them into small pieces. Divide the nuts in half. Keep half of the nuts whole or in biggish pieces for the filling, and finely chop the other half for the topping. Spread the dulce de leche over the shortbread base and sprinkle over the whole candied nuts.
To Make the Topping:
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Remove chocolate from the heat and gently stir in the butter, stirring until it is fully blended into the chocolate.
Pour the chocolate over the dulce de leche, smoothing it with a long metal icing spatula, then sprinkle over the rest of the peanuts. Slide the pan into the fridge to set the topping, about 20 minutes; if you’d like to serve the squares cold, keep them refrigerated for at least 3 hours before cutting.
Cut into 16 bars.
Weight Watchers = 10 points per serving (not including the gelato).
Ya, it's a lot. But, bank your points, people. This one is sooo worth it!