Things you do when your gig gets postponed: Slightly Salted Dulce de Leche

This whole business started because we here in Gotham lost this weekend to rain.

Well…perhaps not rain, exactly. That’s kind of a misnomer. A more accurate description would be “mizzle,” the heavy mist that lacks quite the heft of rain, but wraps itself around your hair and your soul nonetheless. The mizzle extended beyond the city, beyond the counties, off into the outlying states.

Typically, the afflictions of our neighbors don’t concern me much; this weekend, however, it meant the cancellation of my plans–it’s hard to play a concert in air as thick as water. As such, I found myself suddenly with a free Saturday yawning out before me, something I’d not stared down in quite some time. After quickly filling the void with brunch, quality girl time, and a long-overdue trip to Sahadi’s, I found myself at loose ends in the late afternoon.

What’s a girl to do?

If you’re me, you bust out your favorite lidless saucepan and set to cooking up a righteous pot of dulce de leche.

This would probably be a good time to point out that I do not, despite evidence to the contrary, have much of a sweet tooth. Give me a salt lick over a lollipop any day of the week. I am, however, moderately obsessed with caramel in all its smoky, sweet, dusky incarnations; salted caramel is therefore manna from heaven, and as such I consider it a moral obligation to master its most lascivious secrets.

After this little experiment, I think it’s safe to say that I have a ways to go before I achieve that lofty goal. To start, I should have used a larger pot. While I like my meals to present a certain element of danger, the enthusiasm with which this mixture froths and hisses as it cooks is a little intimidating at times–specifically, when it is boiling over the sides of my beloved 3-qt saucepan and setting my stove asail in a sea of boiling milk and vanilla pods. It’s easily controlled if you keep a weather eye on the mix, but I am a notorious slacker, and would rather not spend three hours hovering over my stove like a vulture. So, larger pan.

I also suspect that I will be making adjustments to the sugar profile, perhaps swapping out the turbinado sugar for plain old light brown sugar–i’m not sure how i feel about the whispers of molasses the turbinado breathed into the concoction; it was somehow more overt than what I was expecting. I am also toying with the idea of using three different sugars (white, brown, turbinado) in the next batch to see what that will do to the flavor.

One thing I know for sure, however: next time, I will be adding more salt, earlier in the process. The addition of the sea salt was an afterthought; I had two jars of the sweet stuff, and given that my tooth is more savory than sweet, I thought the addition of a bit of salt to the smaller jar would make the dulce de leche more to my liking. I was right, but my light and late hand meant that the salt never quite incorporated into the caramel. While this resulted in delightful little bursts of unexpected salty crunch, it also meant an interruption of the silky texture and a failure to achieve the perfect synthesis of salty and sweet.

So, I’ll be working on that for the next round.

These are all details, however; I’m really just writing out my kitchen notes for you. Don’t let the minor complaints fool you: for all my grousing I ended up with two luscious, silky jars of quality dulce de leche. The only problem I have now is that I have too damn much on hand for a household that eats sweets as slowly as this one does. Anybody want some?

And, more to the point, does anyone have any awesome variations they’d recommend (or thoughts on variations they’d like to share)?

Slightly Salty Dulce de Leche

1 quart whole milk
1c sugar
1/2 c turbinado sugar
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp sea salt

  1. Combine the first 4 ingredients in a large saucepan over MEDIUM HEAT, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Add the baking soda; stir to combine.
  3. Once the baking soda has dissolved, reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for one hour. This mixture will develop ominous foam upon it–do not panic, and do not try to reincorporate it with the mixture–it will not cooperate, and there will be much sadness.
  4. After one hour, remove the vanilla pod, but keep the liquid on the stove; let it keep cooking and reduce until it’s about a cup of rich, caramel-colored goodness (1 1/2 to 2 hours).
  5. Stir in the salt.
  6. Once the salt has dissolved, remove the pot from the heat; strain the mixture through a fine sieve into jars. It will keep quite merrily in your refrigerator for a month or so, assuming it lasts that long.
In dessert, recipe

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