Dulce de Leche Layer Cake

After college, I lived in Argentina for five months while teaching English. It was sweeeet. What was sweeter was the ubiquitous, grocery store staple dulce de leche. My host family put it on everything. Breakfast was fresh baguette slices and dulce de leche. For an afternoon snack, it was a couple of alfajores (sandwich cookie with dulce de leche filling), and after dinner, there was simple vanilla cake baked in a rimmed baking sheet with dulce de leche spread on top as icing.

I had been looking to make any version of the above for a while now, but all of the recipes I found called for buying a jar of dulce de leche at a specialty market. Hardly a bon appetempt. So, when I took on the responsibility of making the cake for my good friend's bridal shower, which was set to be a Mexican feast, I knew exactly what kind of Latin American-inspired cake I wanted to bake. And after much searching, I finally found a cake recipe that called for making your own dulce de leche. The directions went a little something like this: Take an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk, put it in simmering water for two hours, and open. That was it—the transformation from condensed milk to dulce de leche seemed incredibly improbable and magical. I couldn't wait to try it.

My can of sweetened condensed milk had this stern warning: "Do not heat in can."
 What? You mean like this?
Surely what the warning meant to say was, "Heat in can!!!" because two hours later, this happened:
I'm proud to report that the cake did not fall as we put it together. It didn't fall in transport either. No. It made it there all in one piece.
If I were you, I would get a can of sweetened condensed milk submerged in simmering water as soon as possible.

Dulce de Leche Layer Cake (adapted from recipe by Food and Wine/ Scott Conant)
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups plus 6 tablespoons sugar
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk

Vanilla Whipped Buttercream Icing via Organic & Chic by Sarah Magid
(makes enough to ice the cake and a little more for decorating it.)
2 sticks (1 cup) organic unsalted butter, softened
1 cup organic cane sugar
1 cup organic whole milk
1/4 cup sifted organic all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons organic vanilla extract

1. Submerge the unopened can of condensed milk in a large, deep pot of water and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat for 2 hours, adding water as needed to keep the can completely submerged. Carefully remove the can and let cool slightly. Carefully open the can with tongs and transfer the dulce de leche to a bowl: It should resemble creamy caramel. Whisk until smooth. Let cool completely.

2. Preheat the oven to 350° and butter two 9-inch cake pans. Line with parchment paper and butter and flour the pans. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter with the 1 1/2 cups of sugar at medium speed until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and beat until smooth. Beat in the dry ingredients and the milk in 3 alternating batches, scraping down the side of the bowl occasionally.

3. In a clean bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar and beat until glossy. Fold the egg whites into the batter.

4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans. Bake in the center of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until the cakes are golden and a toothpick in the centers comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack to cool slightly. Run the tip of a knife around the edges and invert the cakes onto the rack to cool completely. Using a serrated knife (or floss--seriously!), split each layer horizontally in half.

5. Make the icing. Cream the butter on medium speed, 3 to 5 minutes. in a standing mixer or with a hand mixer until soft, about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes.

In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup of the milk, the flour and the vanilla extract, and whisk until there are no lumps. Over medium heat, slowly add the remaining 3/4 cup milk, whisking constantly, and cook until the mixture comes to a low boil. Then reduce the heat to low and keep whisking for a few more minutes, until the mixture starts to thicken.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat, but keep stirring. (After you have removed the pan from the heat, the mixture will continue to cook for a minute or two on its own. If you overheat it and get small lumps, try to whisk vigorously to get them out.)  If necessary, place the pan over a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and allow the mixture to cool.

Once the milk mixture has thickened, set it aside to cool to room temperature. You can stick it in the freezer to rush the cooling.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the milk mixture into the butter-sugar mixture. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.

6. Place a cake layer on a large cake plate and top with one-third of the dulce de leche filling. Repeat with the remaining layers and filling, ending with a layer of cake. Spread the frosting all over the cake. Let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.
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Matthew said...

This was seriously delish! And the condensed milk to dulce de leche was amazing.

Mary Anne said...

What a beautiful cake! Lovely work!

How did Matt get a piece? Did you bring him home a slice? Or did he come to the shower with the ladies?

gbf said...

there is something magic about that canned caramel! what a fabulous sounding cake...i just came home from a massive walk & would love a slice please! dayle

Heather Taylor said...

my dream cake!

jeana sohn said...

it was soooo good. can you make it again???

Ana Degenaar said...

One of my favorite cakes and yours looks adorable.

Sunday Taylor said...

I loved that cake! Thank you so much for the recipe. I will be making it soon.

keepfeeling said...

that cake looks amazeballs. so rich and delicious!


oh p.s. i freak out over alfajores. major love.

Jessica said...

OMG! Had NO IDEA thats how you made dulce de leche. Can't wait to try it! Congrats on the Saveur award!

Jenny (VintageSugarcube) said...

Love the story, love the cake! Now I NEED to get my hands on some "Dulce de Leche"

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing!! Can't wait to try. Could you also tell me what camera you use to shoot your amazing shots? Thanks. Obviously your talented eye has something to do with it!! Cheers.

amelia said...

@anonymous: thanks! I use a Lumix LX3. It's really great and completely foolproof!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that info. I have a larger camera, a Nixon D80. Having a difficult time shooting tight shots of details and your camera seems to master this!!! Do you manually adjust for each shot? THANK you so much again for your thoughts. Wendy

amelia said...

@anonymous: no problem and thanks! The Lumix is such a great point and shoot! I occasionally use the manual features, mostly when light is an issue. hope this helps!

Megan Taylor said...

I dream about this cake!

Tu familia Argentina said...

Amelia!!!! FELILICITACIONES!!!!!!!!
Nos sentimos muy orgullosos de haber colaborado en tu desafío alimenticio. Nos encanta que estás obteniendo resultados excelentes con el dulce de leche y nos sumamos al voto faborable!!! Desde la Argentina tu familia, Silvia, Hernán, Fabián y Adrián. Te queremos mucho!!!

Fashion Intel said...

You are one skilled lady! This cake looks soooo tasty.

VIV said...

I love making dulce de leche at home, my only recommendation is to use a crock pot to cook the condensed milk in, the stove method can be dangerous because if the cans come uncovered or there are dramatic changes in temperature the cans can explode as they are under pressure. You can leave the cans in for up to 8 hours in a slow cooker on low, the longer you cook them the darker and more flavorful they will be. You can put as many cans as will fit in your slow cooker just make sure that they are not touching.

amelia said...

@VIV: thanks for the info!!

r.f. said...

I love the look of this cake-great job decorating!

Steffi said...

My dad's Portugese secretary made a variation of this, but instead it was the frosting between a yellow cake with finely crushed walnuts and the outside frosted with finely crushed walnuts. It was legendary in my childhood memories.

When she left to move to utah, I asked her for the recipe. The first time I boiled the can, I wore a protective mask.

big fan. love this blog.

Mary Anne said...

i made this today! it was a huge hit! i loved finding out that i could make dulce de leche.

my cake frosting skills definitely need work though...

Charline Quenee said...

Hi! I love reading your blog and your experiments! This one especially since I love dulce de leche :) The only bad thing is that since I now know how to make it I might just ruin my diet :P