This week was staff appreciation week at my workplace, and today was the day of our awards ceremony and reception. Last year I baked all the cupcakes (14 dozen) for this event, but this year we split it up among a group of people and I only ended up making 2 1/2 dozen. I wanted to try something new, and everyone else was going with either fruit or chocolate flavors. Do you know how hard it is to find a cupcake recipe that doesn’t involve fruit or chocolate? Or nuts, since those have allergy issues attached? Plain vanilla, I know, but I thought that was a little boring. On the other hand, I didn’t want the flavor to be too far out since people tend to be a little cautious in their reception choices (although I had my reputation from last year going for me). The final choice was cinnamon dulce de leche cupcakes: sweet, unusual without being weird, and sufficiently different from everyone else’s flavors. I made them quite simply by using my vanilla cupcake recipe, layering on dulce de leche, and topping with whipped cream sweetened with dulce de leche and dusted with cinnamon. There weren’t any leftovers.
I’ve never made dulce de leche before, so the whole process started with a search for the best method. There are quite a selection out there. For example:
The Authentically Eternal Method
You start with whole milk and some sugar and then stir carefully for three hours. Yes, you heard right. HOURS. So, um, what’s plan B?
The Exploding Method
You start with a can of sweetened condensed milk and boil it unopened for a couple of hours. The plus is you don’t have to watch it. The minus is you could get an exploded can and a thin coating of boiling sweetened condensed milk all over your kitchen. Quick physics refresher: when you heat things, the rapid movement of the molecules causes them to expand. If those molecules are in an enclosed space, they will still be rapidly moving and will push against the sides of that space. If the pressure they exert exceeds the strength of the barrier, it will break. So boiling sugar-milk in an even slightly weak can? BOOM! Now, there are people all over the internet who swear up and down that their families have been faithfully following this method for generations, since before the invention of cans, and never had an accident. I call that good luck, but I’m not willing to count on it.
The Overflowing Method
Open the can and put the contents in a heat-proof bowl. Heat on medium in your microwave until it turns beautifully brown. Unless you have a ginormous bowl, it will probably boil over at some point and you will have a sticky, but delicious, mess.
The Horribly Hot Method
Pour the contents of a can of sweetened condensed milk into a pie plate. Set it in a water bath and bake 2-3 hours until golden brown. Stir vigorously to dispose of lumps and ensure even tone. The obvious downside to this method is having to run the oven for hours on end (in July, too!). Still, I had to bake my cupcakes anyway and this seemed a safe and fool-proof technique, so I went with it. It turned out well, although next time I might add a little baking soda to make sure the milk proteins don’t coagulate at all.
Which method you choose is, of course, your call. Just remember to be careful. Boiling dulce de leche is much hotter than boiling water, so whatever you do, don’t touch it! You’ll enjoy your treat a lot more without burned fingers or tongue. And if anyone has a good crock-pot method (for reasonably small quantities), do tell!