I've used a lot of dulce de leche before- dulce de leche brownies" and dulce de leche cheesecake squares but I never posted the recipe I used to make dulce de leche from scratch. Which is to say, from milk as opposed to condensed milk.
The reason I didn't give you my previous dulce recipe is that the process took 8-12 hours and required that I wake up throughout the night to stir it. In retrospect, this may have been because I used an electric stove (which does not maintain a constant temperature) and I made several quarts at once (extending the cooking time).
I am happy to say that *this* dulce de leche-- or cajeta, if your prefer, or my bastardized version-- takes much less time. Roughly an hour, or a bit more if you prefer a thicker final product. The flavor is fantastic and this is definitely well worth it. You can spoon it over ice cream, or make something baked, or eat it straight out of the jar, or spread it over toast with chocolate. Believe me, you'll find ways to use it.
Dulce de Leche
makes about 1 cup
1 quart milk - goat (for cajeta) or cow (dulce de leche). Use the best you can find.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean (for dulce de leche) or cinnamon stick (cajeta)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
In a saucepan (at least 3qt), combine the milk and sugar. Split the vanilla bean (if using) along its length and scrape the seeds into the pot, then throw in the pod. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Remove from the heat after it reaches a simmer, and add the water/baking soda, stirring vigorously. The mixture will foam. When it settles, return it to the heat and keep an eye on it- it may still foam further. Bring it to a brisk simmer and keep it there for about an hour, or until it turns the shade of brown and consistency that you desire (this can range from maple syrup to jam). Once it simmers you can leave it be, checking in on it every so often, so long as you watch closely as it nears completion.
When you've got it where you want it (mine is like pourable caramel), take it off the heat, strain it, and cool it. This will keep up to a month in the fridge and ages in the freezer.
NOTE: Cajeta is goat's milk and cinnamon, and dulce de leche is cow's milk and vanilla. I used goat's milk and vanilla and have no idea what to call it. Next time I'll try it with cinnamon- it is important to use the cinnamon stick rather than the powder for this process.