Tuesday, 8 September 2009

A Taste of Home: the Argentinian passion for Dulce de Leche

If you ask any Argentinian expat what things they miss the most from their country, you will almost certainly hear them reply -among other things to be sure, "dulce de leche!" I know I miss it - I miss eating it on my toast every morning or in my pastry on special occasions; and just by talking about it, fond memories of childhood tea-hour when the dulce de leche was nearly always present, spring up in my mind.

We, Argentinians, are known to be passionate about many things, like football or tango - but our love for dulce de leche is definitely as strong and constant as our passion for that sport or the legendary music and dance for which we are known all over the world.

What is dulce de leche, you may ask?

Mmmmmmmmm ..... dulce de leche is........ sticky, rich, sweet, luscious, shiny, smooth, creamy, voluptuous, toothsome, scrumptious, delicious, yammy .... caramelised milk and sugar. Simple as that! It is prepared by slowly heating milk with sugar for a couple of hours until it acquires the desired brownish, and creamy consistency that is typical of this sauce. This happens thanks to a chemical process known as the Maillard reaction, which is responsible for the browning and the flavours of many foods, such as toast, biscuits, roasted meat, roasted coffee, and of course, dulce de leche.

As for its origins, it is not very clear who came up with the idea for the first time or where it was invented, but it is especially popular in Latin American countries: in Mexico it is known as dulce de cajeta (which you don't want to say up loud in Argentina, by the way), in Colombia and Venezuela it is called arequipe, and its goes by the name of manjar blanco in Perú, Chile and Ecuador. In France they have something similar called confiture de lait, which they usually serve with fromage blanc.

In the Americas, the origin is undoubtedly colonial. According to the Argentinian journalist Victor Hugo Decrot in his book "Los sabores de la Patria" (flavours from the fatherland), dulce de leche arrived from Chile, first to the region of Cuyo and from there it passed on to the north in Tucumán, where it quickly became popular as a filling for another local delicacy, the alfajor (a sandwich biscuit we are also very passionate about).

But in Argentina we love our legends and myths (think of Evita, for example), and this sweet delicacy has its own story. We like to think that dulce de leche was discovered by accident, in the year 1829, and that this accident involved two of the most important figures of those turbulent times in Argentinian history: Juan Manuel de Rosas, a political leader and landowner of Buenos Aires, and his archrival, Juan Lavalle.

The legend goes that during a visit that Lavalle paid to his opponent Rosas in his estancia (ranch) to discuss the terms of a pact they were about to sign, he felt exhausted from all the horse-riding and fighting he had been doing, and upon finding the stretch bed of his enemy at hand, decided to take a nap until Rosas arrived for the meeting.
A servant who was there cooking milk with sugar for her boss' mate (an Argentinian kind of tea) later, thought that this was unacceptable, and left the pan with milk on the fire to go out and warn the soldiers about Lavalle's insolence. When Rosas came into the room, he found Lavalle sound asleep and he ordered that he should not be disturbed under any circumstance. When Lavalle woke up, a friendly Rosas ordered the servant to pour the mates for him and Lavalle, at which point the poor woman remembered the pan with the milk she had forgotten on the fire. What she found was a rich dark brown paste that tasted like heaven. She served this caramel to her boss and his guest, who found it very tasty - and this is how dulce de leche was first "discovered" in Argentina 180 years ago!

Just in case, we coined the phrase: "Más argentino que el dulce de leche!" (he/she/it is or I am more Argentinian than dulce de leche)

Whether this myth about the origin of dulce de leche is true or not, what remains certain is that Argentinians can't live without it. We grow up eating it, for breakfast or for tea, spread on bread and butter. We also find it on many recipes that are classic desserts usually prepared at home, like panqueques (crepes), alfajores ( sandwich biscuits) and flan (a soft caramel custard). Piononos (a sort of swiss roll), croissants, pastry and cakes are filled with dulce de leche and it is an icecream flavour as well. Dulce de leche candy is a big favourite with both, children and grown-ups - never mind how challenging it is afterwards to remove the sticky bits from your teeth when you eat it!

And the word is spreading: the worldwide known American brand Häagen-Dazs, offers a dulce de leche icecream, a flavour "inspired by the Latin American treasured dessert" which combines caramel and sweet cream, "swirled with ribbons of golden caramel", as it reads on their products menu.

Also the famous American chain Starbucks, offered in 2007, a dulce de leche special version of their frappuccino, a frozen coffee drink for which Starbucks has created different varieties.
The Girl Scouts of the USA have been "converted", too: for their annual sales programme in 2008, they came out with dulce de leche cookies for the South Florida area, targetting in that way the large Argentinian and Latin American population of this part of the state.

Outside Argentina, dulce de leche can be found in supermarkets in countries with large Argentinian communities, like the States, Spain or Italy. Here in the Netherlands, it is not widely available though.
In some of the big supermarket chains here in the big cities, you may be lucky to find it, but so far I haven't seen it in any of the supermarkets in my area.
There are several online shops that sell dulce de leche and other products from my part of the world, like Mate-tee from Germany where I normally buy my Argentinian tea (mate).

Then of course, you can try making it from scratch, which is fun to do, too. Here's the recipe:


2 l. of milk
500 g. of sugar
1 vainilla pod or 1 teaspoon of vainilla extract
1 small teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of corn syrup (optional, the glucose in it helps to keep the caramel moist and thick)


In a thick-bottomed saucepan bring the milk to the boil first, and then add all the other ingredients stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved. Turn the gas down and cook for about 2 to 3 hours or until the caramel reaches the desired consistency and colour. The longer you cook it, the thicker and darker the dulce de leche will be.
When it is ready, turn the gas off, let it out to cool and then you can put it in a jar, seal it and keep it in the fridge.
If you are going to use it to fill pastry or prepare any other recipe with it, take it out of the fridge beforehand and allow to reach room temperature. This will make it easier to spread or mix.

Give it a try: spread it on your toast, fill your pastry with it, spread it on your sponge cake or your pancakes. I assure you will find it hard to resist the temptation of just eating it with a spoon from the jar and thinking, every time you try to put it away:

"Quiero más dulce de leche!"


Note: I would like to thank my good friends Andrea Sosa de Rauhofer (from Uruguay) and Bianca Pacheco de Zafra (from Venezuela) for contributing with their own photos of dulce de leche Chimbote and arequipe Alpina.
Gracias, amigas!
Also, many thanks to Claudia Gibson (from Córdoba, Argentina) for letting me use her photos for this blog entry. Very generous of you, Claudia! Thanks!


Alejandra said...

Excelente!!! Realmente la historia fue así en Cañuelas.
Para mí también es el más rico y no hay otro en el mundooooo!!!!

TBM said...

I love dulce de leche! Have you had luck finding corn syrup in the NL? Or do you just omit it? And have you ever tried banoffee pie? It has a layer of dulce de leche in it. Mmm! I made my own ddl by simmering a tin of condensed milk for 2-3 hours. It was sinfully rich! But I'm going to try your recipe too as I prefer not to have to rely on pre-packaged foods (sometimes hard to find as an Expat!!). :-)

Unknown said...

Sí!! El dulce de leche es lo mejor - y hay que disfrutar lo bueno que nos va quedando...
Qué ganas de comer unos pancitos criollos (cordobeses) untados con dulce de leche!! Mmmm...!!!
Gracias por tus comentarios!

@Just a Plane Ride Away,
Actually, I've never used corn syrup to make it. A friend of mine told me that it makes the dulce de leche shinier and gives it a better texture.
Here in Holland you can find corn syrup in those shops that sell American and British products, like the one in the "Fred" in the Statenkwartier. Check my post "Getting to know (de) Fred", I have a link to the shop there.
I was actually reluctant to include here the trick of boiling the condensed milk can, because it can be dangerous; of course, it's easier that way.
I haven't had banoffee pie, no. DO you have a recipe in your blog? I will look it up and see what it is about.
Thanks for your comments on this!

Anita said...

Yes, Argentinenas are mad about dulce de leche and Brazilians are fond of condensed milk for the preparation of sweets and puddings. Here in Holland you can find cans of condensed milk "Batave", in the coffee/tea section of supermarkets. I cook it "au bain-marie" in a pressure cook pan for about 20 minutes and voila: you have a superb brownnish and shiny "doce-de-leite". I told this to the wife of our local baker and their children now do not eat their daddy's caramel anymore. They want only to eat the "doce-de-leite" Brazilian style !!

Unknown said...

Yes, Brazilians have also "dolce-de-leite"!!
So, you've converted your neighbour's kids to the dulce de leche cause? :o) Great!! It's delicious!!
Thanks for stopping by!

Presépio no Canal said...


The foto looks delicious :)

Great post! I think your doce de leite is different from ours and I would like it.

I do not like condensed milk. I am alergic to milk. It is too strong for me.

But I wanna try your dolce de leche...I think I would like it.... remembers me caramelo...

Beijinhos, querida Aledys. :)

Unknown said...

Well, dulce de leche is indeed very sweet. If you don't like condensed milk, I don't know if you would like this. Normally, many people use the cans of condensed milk to make dulce de leche, like Anita or "Just a Plane Ride Away" mention in their comments...
Probably you would like it if you had dulce de leche icecream or as a filling for "alfajores"...
Thanks for your comments!

thamarai said...

Hey, I have eaten this...One of my Argentinian friend with quite some passion treated me with this brought from his home..:)..It is indeed lekker..:)

Unknown said...

Lol! Funny - we tend to make a big fuss about our food and habits, so I'm not surprised your friend gave it to you as a present.

Diego Ezequiel Bianchi said...

Mmmmmmmmm se me hizo agua la boca.
Sos la embajadora Nº 1 de nuestro país!!

Unknown said...

Vos lo tenés ahí, al alcance de la mano! Yo primero tengo que hacerlo!! Será por eso que hasta parece más rico? :o)
Gracias Diego por tu comentario!

Sol said...

Que BUEN post!
Me encantó!
Saludos desde LUJAN

Droomvla said...

Looks absolutely divine! We actually have something similar in the Philippines. We call it leche flan. :)

Unknown said...

Gracias Sol de Luján!! :) Hermosa ciudad!!


You also have dulce de leche? Great! And you call it flan? We make a "flan" using the dulce de leche, but they are two different things for us ;) Thanks for visiting!


Hello ! Lovely post - thank you for sharing it. I really enjoyed looking through your site today - best wishes and lovely to meet you !

Unknown said...

Thanks a lot Elise!! There's not much to see yet, but I'm glad you stopped by. Thanks for your comments!

buday said...

When I was younger, my Ma used to heat condensed milk until it turned brownish and gooey. We would eat it slathered on bread or just lick it off a spoon. Sweet, sweet stuff. Could that be the closest thing to dulce de leche that we (in the Philippines) have?

Your blog is lovely, btw. (found it via droomvla's) It actually looks like a scrapbook! :)

Unknown said...

Thanks a lot for stopping by!
Indeed, that's our dulce de leche! Many people make it that way, especially when it's not widely available at the supermarkets. But it's a bit risky to boil a can, so I'd rather not recommend it :o)
But anyway, isn't it delicious? :o)

Unknown said...

This is what we can call a delicious post :)
Gosh, how we miss dulce de leche. When we were in Buenos Aires, we ate it several times. In Lisbon we know a very nice Argentinian restaurant and each time we go there we can't help their home made dulce de leche for dessert. Here, in Copenhagen, we are still looking for an Argentinian restaurant.
Greetings from Denmark

Unknown said...

Thanks, Vagamundos!
I haven't yet found a restaurant outside Argentina where they serve it as it should be. Did you have pancakes with dulce de leche?
I hope you find that Argentinian restaurant in Copenhagen!!
Thanks again for your visit!

Unknown said...

Hi there Aledys.Yes we tried the pancakes with Dulce de Leche. very good indeed.

Efrutik said...

My boyfriend (who is also Dutch) & I enjoy the Haagen Dazs' "Dulce De Leche" flavored ice cream. It is second to their "white chocolate raspberry truffle" which is also AMAZING! They do a good job though in my opinion b/c the taste is very addictive!

Have you ever tried HD's version of your wonderful Argentinean staple?
Thanks for sharing about the power of Dulce De Leche :))) I'm looking forward to tasting the Argentinean style :)

Unknown said...

I've never had the Haagen Dazs' Dulce de Leche version. Dulce the leche in itself is indeed very addictive :o)
Try making your own, it tastes so much better for some reason...!

Efrutik said...


Making it myself would be such a bold move. If you only knew how much I avoid making pastries...there is a phobia that I have. Recently I am beginning to realize its b/c my grandpa was a genius at it (you can read it on my blog in "History" post), but I didn't inherit the skill :/

If you think it would be safe for me to make it I might give it a shot :)

Oh man, it sure is addictive that's for sure!

Unknown said...

Definitely, you should try making it yourself! It just involves mixing the ingredients and keeping an eye on it while stirring from time to time. And, there's so much you can do with it! Best of all: eating it with a spoon! ;)

Angela said...

This looks and sounds fantastic. My partner has done a lot of travelling through Argentina and he says this is divine an that it's eaten all the time. I will definitely have to try cooking it so I can surprising him with it for breakfast one morning :)

Have you tried Brazilian brigadero? It is also very sweet and delicious and best eaten with a spoon :D

Unknown said...

Hi Angela,
How wonderful that your partner knows all about our passion for dulce de leche!!
Yes, I have had brigadeiro, too! It's made with chocolate and also very yummy.
Thanks for stopping by!!

Agnes said...

It truly looks lekker! I may have heard of the 'confiture de lait' you've mentioned, a long time ago, but unfortunately it's not something I came across...I'd love to try this dulce de leche some day...so I guess the best thing would be that I try to make it :)

Unknown said...

I guess that the "confiture de lait" is not something that you have that often in France then!
If you think you'd like "dulce de leche" give it a try, then, and make your own! It's dead simple to make and you can use it in so many different ways.
Thanks for your comments on this!!

Anonymous said...

Genial, Aledys, como siempre!!! Y no me agradezcas nada, es un placer para mí participar de tu blog con lo que pueda.
Me contaron unos amigos que suelen hacer dulce de leche (viven en Italia) que para que no se pegue le ponen unas bolitas de vidrio adentro mientras lo cocinan... será verdad?


Unknown said...

De verdad muchísimas gracias!
No sabía lo de las bolitas de vidrio.... y qué tipo de bolitas serán? Como las bolitas con las que jugaban los chicos antes? Me has dejado con la intriga!!

Aristarkhos said...

Almost sounds like, Dulce Delicious. (because i am not sure how to pronounce the words :) )
really liked the way you put up the pictures...ur one big D-d-L fan! :)

Unknown said...

Hello Aristarkhos, thanks for stopping by! Indeed, it sounds a bit like "dulce delicious" :o) How about "dulcelicious"? :)
Thanks for your comments on this.

Apost(r)illada said...

Hola Aledys!

Una argetina más en Groningen, Holanda, extrañando el dulce de leche como loca. Voy a probar tu receta!!


Unknown said...

Hola! Uy, en Groningen! Sí que estarás un poco aislada, como yo! :) Probá hacerlo con la receta, es re fácil! Saludos.