If beef is the national dish of Argentina, dulce de leche is undeniably the country’s sweet treat — the average Argentinean eats 6 pounds each year. Dulce de leche is a creamy, silky dessert made from sweetened milk. It tastes something like caramel, without the syrupy aftertaste. The texture is smoother and fuller than caramel but not grainy or dry like peanut butter.
Describing the taste does not do it justice, of course. You’ll just have to try it. And in Argentina, it’s hard not to be exposed to dulce de leche – it is almost literally everywhere. The dessert menu of just about any restaurant will feature it prominently. Every confiteria (café) will offer pastries with dulce de leche and every ice cream shop includes dulce de leche as a basic flavor. I recommend the ‘dulce de leche granizado’ ice cream – dulce de leche with tiny chocolate chips.
The appeal of dulce de leche is not just in its sweet deliciousness. DDL (as our household has nicknamed it) is versatile and can accompany almost every bread, cookie, pastry and dessert. My father used to say “there’s no dessert that can’t be improved with dulce de leche”. I think that’s a bit extreme (candy corn, jello, watermelon?) but he was not too far off. In the US, dulce de leche is known as an ice cream topping, but it can add spectacular taste levels to:
- Crepes: spread a tablespoon or two of dulce de leche on the center of a crepe, roll it up like a cigar and place it in a baking dish. Continue until you have about a dozen filled crepes, place the dish in the oven and broil for 5-10 minutes. Serve warm and, for extra decadence, with real whipped cream.
- Waffles: top with dulce de leche. If you insist on extra calories, use whipped cream on them also.
- Cake: use dulce de leche as cake filling and or frosting. It’s great with vanilla, chocolate and mocha flavors. Brownies with dulce de leche frosting are incredible.
- Flan: to me, most flan tastes bland. But pair it with dulce de leche and it’s a hit.
- Shortbread: the perfect compliment to a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth piece of shortbread is creamy dulce de leche spread on top.
- Fruit: cut an apple into slices and serve with dulce de leche for dipping. Especially good with a tart Granny Smith – yum. You can do the same with bananas, or you can smoosh a banana together with a heaping tablespoon of DDL. It looks like a gooey mess, but it’s delicious. If you have kids that are fussy about eating fruit, you may win them over with this dulce de leche strategy.
- Toast: spread dulce de leche instead of butter while the toast is still warm
- Yogurt: take plain or vanilla yogurt and stir in some dulce de leche. The blend of sour with sweet makes this a healthy indulgence. Just don’t go overboard with the dulce de leche or you’ll hit your daily calorie count by lunch time!
Every Argentinean is a dulce de leche connoisseur, and is often stubbornly loyal to his/her brand. If you want to try dulce de leche for the first time, it is best to stick with a well-known brand, for consistency of flavor. The best sellers are San Ignacio, La Serenísima, Gándara, Chascomús and La Salamandra. I can sometimes find La Salamandra at Williams-Sonoma but I can always count on Amigo Foods, my reliable, convenient online resource, whenever we run out of our precious jar of San Ignacio.
Have you tried dulce de leche? Are you turned off by the sweetness? Or are you a fan? An addict?