Last year I made a Dulce de Leche Cheesecake for myself for my birthday. I was almost nearly sugar free at that point and used this recipe. It was really, really good. Apparently, even my now six year old son found it to be incredibly good, because this year for his birthday he requested Dulce de Leche Cheesecake for his cake at his birthday party! (Yeah, because all six year olds request cheesecake over regular cake with frosting, right?) Anyway, I love cheesecake, so I was only more than happy to oblige. This year, I am not so much sugar free. :) So I decided to use Alton Brown's cheesecake recipe and add dulce de leche swirls in myself by mixing about a cup of dulce de leche with about 1/2 cup of batter and swirling it in before baking. However, this year I was unable to find prepared dulce de leche in the store like I did last year. But I'm pretty handy in the kitchen, so undaunted I set out to make my own. I searched for recipes and found that making dulce de leche is a lengthy process! This is the standard recipe. I didn't really want to spend three hours monitoring the stove, nor did I want to shell out big bucks for a vanilla bean. Those things are pricey! Then I remembered that after I bragged about my cheesecake last year, Joanna made one too, only she made her dulce de leche by boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk. I looked up recipes for this "cheaters" version of dulce de leche and found some that said to just pull the label off a can, stick it in a pot of water, and boil away for about 1-2 hours. Others said to poke a couple holes in the top of the can first so that the can won't explode during the boiling process. I thought this would make a fun experiment! Since I needed to make two cheesecakes, I needed two cans of the sweet stuff. I thought I'd boil one with the holes and one without and see what difference, if any there was!
You need some fancy equipment for this one folks!
By this point in the process, I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of this experiment. The can with holes was oozing under the water and I was concerned for the outcome of the final product. And let's face it - a sealed can in boiling water is a bit scary. I kept seeing visions of said can shooting out of the water as it exploded all over the kitchen, marring the face of my beautiful baby in the process. As the visions became more and more vivid for me, I began to break out into a bit of a nervous sweat. I also started reading more and more recipes online during this time and saw the almost all of them had warnings saying things like, "Never boil the can without holes!" and "Caution! Boiling the can without holes can lead to explosions." Needless to say, I totally chickened out and turned off the heat before it ever got really hot!
That's when I found this site that had all sorts of different methods for making a can of dulce de leche out of a can of sweetened condensed milk! I was happy, because none of them called for putting a can in boiling water as is! I decided to try two different methods: using a double boiler to cook the milk and filling a pot with water up to 1/2 inch from the top of the can (with holes poked in the top) and boiling the milk in the can.
Doesn't it look so much safer? :) I liked doing it this way because I could see the process happening with the double boiler! It took about 1 hour 45 minutes on the double boiler, and about 2 1/2 hours in the can.
In the end, the two methods produced similar results. You can see below that the color of the dulce de leche was about the same. The bowl on the left was still hot, which is why it looks thinner than the other. There were a few differences: The double boiler method produced a smoother texture. If you were going to eat it straight or as a topping for something, this is the better method. The can had parts that were a bit grainy because the milk that was over the water line never fully cooks and just mixes in with the rest, while the milk at the bottom of the can closest to the heat gets more done. If you are baking it into something (like my cheesecake), this is just fine. The flavor of the one in the can was a bit stronger. I liked the overall flavor better from boiling the can, but I imagine that if I had cooked the one in the double boiler longer, I could have achieved the same depth of flavor this way, too.