Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Homemade Dulce de Leche ( + End-of-the-Year Teacher Gratitude)

These last few weeks of school are taking a toll on me. I thought I was an emotional, sentimental mess in the weeks leading up to my son's first day of kindergarten, but I think I'm worse now that the school year is coming to a close. Between adorable kindergarten graduation programs and field days and the bringing home of all the folders/writing journals/papers/desk name tags, I'm really struggling. It was all I could do to not start bawling during the post-graduation slideshow of photos taken of my son's class throughout the school year.

It's not that I don't love summer or the idea of having Max home all day (hooray!), but I'm just sad that he isn't going to be a kindergartener anymore. There's just something so sweet and innocent about kindergarten -- it's this lovely combination between school and play. And the thought of Max being a first grader seems...well...so big. I'm hoping that this is just the typical emotions of a mother dealing with her firstborn in school; by the time my other boy goes to school, I'll be a pro and not take things so hard.

One other reason I'm sad to see the school year end: Max had an amazing teacher this year. I remember meeting Mrs. A and thinking, "She is how you'd imagine a perfect kindergarten teacher to be." She's young, smiles easily, is nice but firm, calls the students "friends", and sings songs to the kids to get them to clean up or sit down or stop what they're doing. Her room is bright and happy, with paper flowers hanging from the ceiling, shelves of full of fun little toys and activities, a reading corner with a full book rack and comfy cushions, framed photos from when she taught school in Africa, a mailbox for the kids to "mail" letters to classmates, darling artwork all over the walls, and a hundred other sweet little touches. Every time I went to volunteer in that class, I loved how simply walking into the room just made me happy; I can only imagine the effect it has on a class of five and six-year-olds. Mrs. A has set the bar pretty darn high.

Anyway, to express my family's appreciation to this wonderful teacher, we got her a card with an Amazon gift card. To personalize things just a bit, I decided to make her a jar of homemade dulce de leche. Sweets for the sweet, right?

I got this idea from one of my favorite blogs, Dinner: A Love Story, from a post about teacher gifts. (click this link for the post - it has some really great ideas. I wanted to get the alphabet tote but, sadly, didn't have enough time for shipping.)  I thought I would expound on what was written in the post -- give you some more pictures, a sort of play-by-play of how my homemade dulce de leche endeavor went.

There are various ways to make homemade dulce de leche; here's what worked for me. It takes around 1-2 hours to make, but there's hardly any effort.

To make dulce de leche, all you need is a can of sweetened condensed milk and a double boiler.

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Once it's boiling, reduce the heat to low so that the water is simmering. Place the double boiler over the pan. Pour the entire can of sweetened condensed milk into the double boiler.

Cover the double boiler. I used a plate. I didn't do this to begin with and I was wondering why the milk wasn't turning the color I wanted. Covering it made it things move along more quickly.

Once you've covered the double boiler, you only need to check on the milk occasionally to give it a stir. Also, check periodically to make sure your water level in the pan below hasn't gotten too low.

The milk will be begin to get thicker and darker in color as it cooks over the simmering water. You're going for a light brown caramel color. This does take a while, anywhere from 1-2 hours.

Try your best to not lick the spatula between stirs because you'll want to eat it all up. It's hard not to, believe me. My two-year-old kept sampling the milk that dripped from the spatula, eating it and saying, "Mmm. Nummy, nummy!"

While the milk is thickening and getting more delicious by the minute, you can make a cute chalkboard label for the jar. I also got this idea from that Dinner: A Love Story post.  I just think it's such a fun thing to do for a teacher gift.

I bought these chalkboard labels off Amazon (I only needed one for this gift, but I figured I could easily use these around the house -- they're cute and they're reusable since the chalk washes off). A lot of the reviews I read for these labels suggested using a liquid chalk marker, so I ordered one of those, too.

I wrote on the labels with both the marker and regular chalk to see if I'd wasted my money on the marker. I liked the look of the regular chalk on the label (the one on the right) better than the marker. It just looked more classic, you know?   What were all those reviewers complaining about? Chalk works just fine! I was a little annoyed that I wasted five dollars on the pen until I picked up the jar with the regular chalk label on it. You barely have to touch the label and the chalk comes off. It took hardly any handling before the the regular chalk had been totally smudged and practically erased. Moral of the story: use the liquid chalk marker. It stays on perfectly (and it washes right off if you mess up or want to change the label).

Also, while your dulce is cooking, you can make an instruction label between stirs.

I'm not crafty at all when it comes to paper and scrapbooking and the like. I do have a stash of scrapbooking paper (I tried scrapbooking...really I did. Kinda.), so I cut out a little square with some kiddie serrated scissors. I wrote some serving suggestions on there, along with how to store it and for how long. Then I punched a hole in the corner, found some extra ribbon with my sewing supplies, and tied it around the jar. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. (Yes, I wrote that in honor of Mrs. A. It's one of her class catchphrases.)

Your dulce de leche is done once it's a nice light brown color. Let me just tell you: this stuff is gooood. It's not quite like regular caramel -- it's creamier and milkier and tastier. I've now become kind of addicted to the stuff. I want to dip apples in it. Today's all dark and cold and rainy -- maybe it'd be good in hot chocolate. Oooh, and brownies...it'd be so good on a brownie!

Who wouldn't love to get a jar of this stuff?

Many thanks to Mrs. A and all the wonderful teachers out there. The work you do is certainly among the most important and life-changing.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

{This post is linked up to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, From the Farm Blog Hop, and Little House Friday.}


Sarah said...

There is a way easier way - just boil the whole can in water, that's what we always do. No dirty dishes, no burning, no double boiler. Boil more than you need and put the extra cans in the pantry for a few months. After storing a while they get little crispy pieces of crystallization in them which makes for a little more interesting texture.

Heather said...

That is one method I've heard of, but I prefer this way. I like it better because I have more control over the consistency - I liked being able to stir it occasionally so it gradually got really smooth and creamy. It really is no trouble -- though you're right, washing the sticky dishes isn't much fun. (Though most of the residual stuff was licked up by me and my boys.)

I'll be honest: I also feel a little freaked out about heating the can and having it explode under pressure. And I worry about BPA in the cans and if heating the cans makes the chemical leach more into the milk (maybe that's not even an issue, I'm not entirely sure). Whatever works, though, right? So long as the end result is dulce de leche. :)

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