Dulce de Leche is a South American caramel confection. It’s made by cooking sweetened condensed milk until the sugar is caramelized and the milk is thickened and brownish in color. I remember my Mom boiling an unopened can of condensed milk for what seemed like hours on the stove. Of course we all grew up hearing the horror stories and dire warnings of how you should be careful because the can could explode, but none of that ever seemed to matter. What was most important was getting a taste of that sweet, thick, and sticky treat. I remember how awfully hard it was to wait for it to be ready, and even harder to wait for it to cool! But you had to let it cool before you could open the can or the dulce would spurt out and could burn you. We would eat it by the teaspoonful, carefully eking it out and eating it ever so slowly to make it last as long as possible because Mom would never let us have more than 2 little spoonfuls of it in one day.
There are many different ways to make your own dulce de leche at home. You could do like my Mom always did and boil an unopened can of condensed milk on the stove for 2 or 3 hours. You could bake an unopened can in a water bath in the oven; or cook a can in a pressure cooker; or cook it in a slow cooker; or open a can, empty the milk into a pot and cook the milk over the stove, stirring till your arm falls off (don’t ask me how I know). Why, I’ve heard you could even make it in a microwave!
My favorite method is super easy and doesn’t involve any risk of explosion or having your arm fall off. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean.
HOMEMADE DULCE DE LECHE
Empty 1 can of sweetened condensed milk into a glass pie plate.
Cover pie plate tightly with foil.
Make a water bath by placing a pan larger than the pie plate into the oven and filling it with enough water to go 3/4 up the side of the pie plate.
Place pie plate in center of water bath and bake at 400ºF for 1½ hours or so, adding water as needed. The longer you cook it, the darker the caramel gets.
Remove foil. The edges are usually more cooked than the center so take a wire whisk and whisk everything together until it’s well-combined and smooth.
Pour into a clean jar and allow to cool before using.
Store dulce de leche in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
We ate Leche Flan Cake all the time when we were growing up in the Philippines. There was a canteen near my Lolo’s (grandpa’s) office that sold it for a few cents a slice. It was always such a treat to go visit my Lolo at work because he invariably would give us some money to run down to the canteen for a slice of Leche Flan Cake. Looking back, I think it was probably his way of getting rid of a bunch of noisy kids so he could work in peace for a while. LOL! Either way, I always thought the cake was the best part of visiting my Lolo at his work. Now, I make my own leche flan cake and hopefully, it’s created some fond memories for my own kids to look back on, too.
Traditional leche flan cake has a thin layer of flan on top of a thick layer of cake, but my Old Goat would always ask if I could make the flan layer thicker (like I do with Chocoflan Cake). So I finally gave in and that’s why my leche flan cake doesn’t look anything like traditional Filipino leche flan cakes. I have to admit he was right though. I do like it better with a thicker layer of flan. The fam sure does, too. And so will you!
FILIPINO LECHE FLAN CAKE
For the Caramel Sauce:
2 cups white sugar
Pour sugar into 9×13-inch metal baking pan and set on stove over low heat.
Cook sugar until it melts and begins to turn caramel colored.
Tilt pan so caramel coats the bottom evenly. Use oven mitts! The pan will be hot!
Set aside to cool. The caramel will harden and could crack as it cools. Don’t worry. This is normal.
For the Leche Flan:
2 whole eggs
4 egg yolks (save the whites for another use)
2 cans evaporated milk
1 can condensed milk
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
In a bowl whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, evaporated milk, condensed milk, sugar, and vanilla.
Pour the mixture over the cooled caramel in the baking pan.
For the Cake:
1½ cups cake flour
½ cup sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ cup whole milk (or buttermilk)
¾ cup oil
4 egg yolks (save the whites to make meringue)
1 tsp. vanilla
Sift together cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
Make a well in the center.
In a small bowl, whisk the milk, oil, egg yolks, and vanilla.
Pour the milk mixture into the well of dry ingredients and whisk until combined.
Set batter aside and make meringue.
For the Meringue:
4 egg whites
½ tsp. cream of tartar
½ cup sugar
Beat egg whites and cream of tartar on high until frothy.
Decrease speed to medium and gradually add the sugar.
Continue beating on medium until eggs whites are glossy and form stiff peaks.
Take a third of the meringue and carefully fold it into the cake batter to lighten it.
Fold the rest of the meringue into the cake batter until no more white streaks remain.
Pour batter slowly over the leche flan mixture in baking pan.
Place baño maria (water bath) inside oven. You can use a large roasting pan for this.
Fill with enough water to come at least halfway up sides of baking pan.
Turn oven on and preheat to 325ºF.
When oven is ready, carefully lower baking pan with batter into hot water in baño maria.
Close oven door and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until cake springs back when touched lightly in center.
Remove cake from oven and allow to cool completely; then chill in refrigerator overnight.
Run a knife along the sides of the cake to loosen it from the pan.
Turn cake out onto serving platter with a rim to catch any caramel sauce that might drip.
Leche Flan is one of those desserts that was brought to the Philippines by the Spaniards many years ago. It was quickly adopted and before long, every Filipino household had their own version. I learned to make Leche Flan from my grandmother whose original recipe called for a dozen egg yolks! I’ve since modified it to make it less of a cholesterol bomb. LOL!
There are just a few caveats to remember when making Leche Flan. Number 1 – be careful when you’re melting the sugar for the caramel sauce! It’s very hot and can give you a nasty burn. Make sure you protect your hands with oven mitts when swirling the mold to coat it with the hot caramel.
The caramel will harden as it cools so work as quickly (but carefully) as possible when swirling the mold to coat the bottom and sides. The caramel coating will set in a hard shell. As the shell completely cools, the change in temperature can cause it to start cracking. Don’t be alarmed. This is normal. Just pour the custard into the sugar shell, ignoring any cracks, and proceed with the recipe.
You can make the flan in one big mold or in individual ramekins. Either works fine. I hope you’ll give this rich, creamy, delicious dessert a try. I know you’ll love it!
SPANISH LECHE FLAN
¾ cup sugar
1 can evaporated milk
1 can condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
Place the sugar in a leche flan mold or metal bowl and heat over medium-low heat until sugar is completely melted and begins to turn a golden caramel color. Swirl to coat bottom and sides of mold. Set aside to cool.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients.
Pour the custard through a strainer into the flan mold which has been coated with the caramelized sugar.
Cover flan mold with tin foil and place in a large roasting pan filled with enough water to come at least half way up the sides of the mold.
Bake at 350° for one hour. Remove the foil cover and check for doness by giving the pan a shake. You want the custard to be firm but still have a little jiggle in the center. If it’s not quite ready, replace the foil and bake another 30 minutes or until done.
Remove from water bath and allow to cool completely before refrigerating.
Refrigerate at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.
Invert onto a serving platter with a lip to catch the sauce. Serve cold.