Dulce de Leche and Caramel: A Comparative Analysis

15 Jun

Dulce de Leche (Image: From Argentina with Love)

I was watching Giada de Laurentiis on the Food Network yesterday and I almost choked on my lunch when I heard her say “Basically, Dulce de Leche ice-cream is the same as caramel ice-cream”. I started hyperventilating. My heart was racing and I could barely breath. I almost called 911.

Let me just start by making this clear: dulce de leche is NOT caramel. It may be used instead of caramel to top sundaes, fill crêpes and drizzle over cakes, but it is not a direct translation of caramel. When homemade, they don’t even look alike!

Of course, dulce de leche being a latin american staple, especially in the southern cone, its origin is still being debated in cafés throughout the region. In Chile it is known as manjar, in Perú, Ecuador and Colombia it is called manjar blanco or arequipe, in Mexico it is widely known as cajeta, and in Brazil it is known as doce de leite (dulce de leche in Portuguese).

Growing up in the Caribbean, I knew a crumblier version of dulce de leche, very different to the  sauce-like consistency of

Crumbly Dulce de Leche

Crumbly Dulce de Leche (www.mexicotop.com)

dulce de leche in  S. America.

The key difference between these two is that dulce de leche is made from condensed milk (or milk and sugar) whereas caramel is made from sugar and water. Both, are fairly easy to make.

To make  dulce de leche (the easy, foolproof way) you will need:

1 can of sweetened condensed milk

Place the can of sweetened condensed milk, unopened, in a pot. Add water to cover can halfway. Let boil on medium heat for about 3 hours, checking constantly and  adding more water to the pot when needed.

When done, remove can from pot and let cool. Open can when cool and enjoy!

On the other hand, to make caramel you will need:

1 cup of sugar
3 tbsp of water

Caramel (Image: http://www.tipete.com)

Using a nonstick pan, melt the sugar and water over low heat. Use only a wooden spoon to stir. Once the mixture starts bubbling and turns golden, it’s done!

Pour over whatever you’d like and use before it cools down, or else you will have a hard time getting it out of the pan. This recipe is perfect for flan.

Now I really want to make some flan!

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2 Responses to “Dulce de Leche and Caramel: A Comparative Analysis”

  1. anais June 16, 2010 at 11:41 am #

    the best dulce de leche is the dominican one

  2. citronetvanille November 9, 2010 at 11:48 pm #

    Funny because I was trying to find the difference between those two and ended up on your post. Actually, in France we have different caramels, one is the mixture of sugar, cream and butter that does turn into a thick and golden texture (we use that on crepes) and that does look like dulce de leche. The other one is the mixture of sugar and water and that does not look like dulce de leche. So I am wondering what is the difference between the first caramel and dulce de leche…not sure there is a huge difference, but I might be wrong.

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