If I had to pick one food that completely represented my childhood it would be boiled, tinned caramel (dulce de leche). On the first day of every school holiday, my mother would put 6 tins of condensed milk in a massive pot of boiling water and simmer them away for hours on end until the contents turned golden and caramelised.
Each tin would then get our names scribbled on in permanent marker; Sarah-Jane, Leigh-Anne, Dale, Lynne, Steve and Katelyn before being put in the fridge. No room for ‘Oh I’m sorry I ate yours – I thought it was mine’ which had been my sneaky plan for years until my mother figured out what I was up to. Once your tin of caramel was finished, that was it. Obviously I finished mine in the first day or two, my sisters however would eat theirs for WEEKS! How is that even possible?!
If you’ve ever made your own boiled condensed milk caramel, then you will know that it doesn’t even come close to the store-bought tinned caramel! Peppermint crisp tart, made with homemade caramel? Total game-changer. While my usual way of making boiled caramel is in the tin, I also stumbled upon a second method from Donna Hay which is just as effective – especially if the idea of boiling tins makes you nervous!
Method 1: The Williams Way
After the pressure cooker explosion of 1994 my mother and I decided it’s safer to rather ditch my grandmother’s method and do it in a vessel that won’t risk our lives. Remove the labels, place the tins in a large pot, completely cover with water, place the lid on and simmer for 2-3 hours (topping up with water every now and then). I like to boil mine a little longer so it really goes dark – it’s less sweet and with a pinch of salt, it’s just mind-blowingly good.
WARNING: Whatever you do, do not let the tins boil dry. No water in the pot will cause the tins to overheat and explode. Also, while I realise you may be so excited to eat the caramel that you’ll want to crack the tin open asap. Do so at your peril! Allow the tins to cool completely before tucking in. Trust me on this one. I’ve been there (and got the scars to prove it!)
Method 2: The Donna Hay Way
Ah Donna, my hero, my inspiration – and after I spotted her way of making dulce de leche, I loved her even more! Open the tin of condensed milk and pour the contents out into a 20 x 20cm baking tin. Cover the surface with baking paper and then cover the whole tin with foil. Place the tin in a bain marie with water coming up halfway to the sides and bake in a preheated oven at 220 degrees celsius for 1 1/2 hours – 2 hours. Whisk the cooled caramel until smooth and place into jars – although I don’t think the last part is necessary (‘cos you’re going to eat it straight away anyway!)