Ooey, gooey, sweet, and addictive. What’s more appealing than sweetened condensed milk, or its simmered variant, dulce de leche? The problem is: this seductive ingredient relies on cow’s milk. To make sweetened condensed milk, milk is thickened (thanks to the evaporation of much of its water content), and sweetened with sugar. To make dulce de leche, sweetened condensed milk is cooked at a low temperature for a relatively long time, in the oven or on the stove.
Based on canned coconut milk, this dairy-free version is a cross between the two, and only takes about 45 minutes to make. Thanks to agave nectar, the cooking process, and vanilla extract, it’s a gorgeous caramel color. It’s also a boon for special diets, as it’s vegan, paleo, kosher, and gluten-free.
Feel free to substitute this recipe for dulce de leche, butterscotch, or traditional caramel sauce. Drizzle it over dairy-free ice cream or pudding or fresh fruit, or spread it on toast or cake layers. You can even try it in dairy-free milkshakes or stirred into iced or hot coffee.
Be sure to use canned or “culinary” coconut milk, and opt for full-fat, rather than “light” or “low-fat.” The latter, plus the coconut milk beverage you’ll find in the dairy section, are too low in fat. Honey or maple or simple syrup can be substituted for the agave nectar. I love the half-teaspoon of salt, which lends the sauce a sophisticated salty-sweet note.
That said, feel free to reduce it to ¼ teaspoon for a more traditional flavor. Add the vanilla extract off of the heat, to avoid reducing its potency.
As a variation, you can make a dairy-free Salted Caramel Sauce by adding 1 cup, packed light brown sugar; one 5.4-ounce can (unsweetened) coconut cream (1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon), 4 Tablespoons coconut oil or vegan butter, and 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt to a medium saucepot, and bringing the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.
Boil for two minutes. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until the sauce thickens, stirring frequently, about four minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. You will yield one cup.
Dairy-Free Sweetened Condensed Milk
Makes a scant 2 cups
25.5-ounce can coconut milk (full fat), well-shaken
1 cup agave nectar
½ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Add the first three ingredients to a medium saucepot, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and turns a medium-brown color, about 45 minutes. (If the mixture boils, reduce the heat to medium-low. Later on, increase it to medium again, to maintain a steady simmer.) Stir in vanilla extract.
About the Author
Dina Cheney is the author of The New Milks; 100-Plus Dairy-Free Recipes for Making and Cooking with Soy, Nut, Seed, Grain, and Coconut Milks (Atria/Simon & Schuster), plus the creator of the dairy-free resource site, www.thenewmilks.com. Follow her on Instagram (@thenewmilks), Twitter (@DinaCheney), and Facebook (www.facebook.com/dinacheney).