Having studied Spanish for over 6 years, I knew what dulce de leche meant. Sweet. Sugar. Ice cream. The literal translation is sweet of milk.
I love this kind of sweet. As an ice cream maker pointed out, “nearly every ice cream shop has some kind of burnt, salted sugar”. In Argentina, it’s dulce de leche.
In the states where dulce de leche isn’t ample, it can be made from…of course…cans of condensed milk. I made fresh dulce de leche for my Spiced Apple Ice Cream with Dulce de Leche Swirl from condensed milk. This time, with a trip from Argentina, I brought back two jars of dulce de leche (and a bottle of dulce de leche syrup) from the ever-present chocolate shop, Havana, located across the street from the apartment where I stayed in Palermo in Buenos Aires.
When I first arrived in Buenos Aires (24+ hours of airport and transit from San Francisco) at 6 am, I was soooo exhausted. I went through customs and immigration without issues and found a shuttle. But I wanted to completely pass out. Rather than take the subway or bus from the shuttle station, I opted for a taxi and groggily pointed to an address in my travel book. I arrived at the destination, confused because it didn’t look like a hotel. It looked like a door to a rundown residence, white craggy paint, solid doors, desolate. Ringing the doorbell, I realized that my sister had booked a small bed and breakfast (only 3 rooms) and the owner (originally from the Netherlands) immediately invited me to the kitchen where he was fixing breakfast for the other guests. Inside, chandeliers shone above us and bright colors adorned the walls and furniture. In the sunny European-style kitchen, he gave me (somewhat) stale bread and a jar of dulce de leche.
That’s when I first had real porteño (aka from Buenos Aires) style of breakfast. Dulce de leche is literally on everything. In between cookies. Especially on ice cream. I had a taste of dulce de leche at ice cream shops in the states. But my experience at Mora in Bainbridge Island near Seattle, the owners (origianlly from Buenos Aires) described dulce de leche at their shop. About how a porteño visited and tears streamed down her face as she tasted it. Due to cost and other extenuating circumstances, she had been unable to visit Argentina for years. Intrigued, I knew that I needed to visit Argentina to experience this magical concoction for myself.
In Buenos Aires, I had dulce de leche ice cream every day. The de facto flavor for me in Buenos Aires. But to my surprise, dulce de leche came in many different variations. With EXTRA dulce de leche swirl. With crushed almonds. With chocolate chips (granizado). With cream. With nuts. With nuts AND dried fruit. With brownie or chocolate cookie. And so on and so on. Many shops had their own special style.
So obviously when I returned to San Francisco, I had to make it. Note that bringing back dulce de leche was quite the experience. On the way to the Buenos Aires airport, I knew that I withdrew too much Argentine pesos, but with the economy there, a big percentage would be lost if I exchanged it for USD. So I decided to spend it the best way I could—buying dulce de leche products duty free at the airport!
Of course, my itinerary included a layover in Panama City. At the gate on the way to Houston, security did a thorough check of my carryon bags (including that duty-free bag). The woman, not fluent in English (an unfortunate balance to my mediocre Spanish fluency), essentially said “No” to my dulce de leche. I protested, explaining how much I had spent on those things within the airport. Over twenty US dollars! Not open! Not dangerous liquids! Eventually, she worked with me and pointed at a man, “Check bag.”
“Okay,” I said in relief and walked over to the man, who was preoccupied with searching a woman’s belongings.
Finished, he saw me and pointed, “Wait there.”
So I sat down and waited. Nobody came to get me. The man disappeared. Then boarding announcements began (in American English by United!) When my boarding group number was called, I rushed over and asked the agent about my situation. “Security said that my bag had to be checked. I am not sure what happened…”
He smiled and said enthusiastically, “Oh if they already checked you, then you’re fine! Welcome abroad!”
Confused and sleep deprived, I walked onto the plane with my contraband of dulce de leche.
With over 2000 miles traveled and traveling challenges, the dulce de leche then landed into this ice cream concoction. I crushed a semisweet chocolate bar to satisfy those who crave mix-ins in their ice cream (not usually my thing).
I could not keep my number one ice cream fan from eating more, especially with an upcoming event. I had to tell him, “I have to share this with other people!” So be careful out there, you might not have any for yourself.
3 cups half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 egg yolks
1 cup of dulce de leche (8 oz)
1/2 cup sugar
1 bar of good quality chocolate (I used semisweet chocolate with 40% cacao), chopped into rice-sized pieces using a knife
In a medium saucepan, heat half and half and 1/4 cup of the sugar together until simmering and steaming.
In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolks and 1/4 cup of the sugar together.
Temper the egg yolks by pouring one cup at a time of the warmed cream mixture into the bowl. Whisk the mixture after every cup. Return the contents into the saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir frequently. The custard will thicken. Remove from heat when the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
Add dulce de leche to saucepan and mix to dissolve.
Pour mixture into a separate bowl. Add the vanilla extract. Mix well to incorporate.
Chill for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Churn in an ice cream maker based on the manufacturer’s instructions. Five minutes until the end of churning (or when it looks like it’s almost solid), add chocolate pieces.
Serve as is. Feel free to add dulce de leche on top or other chocolate-ly goodness.
Written in February 2013