Doce de leite talhado (or dulce de leche cortada) is a sweet, caramelized dessert made from milk curds and sugar. It’s popular in Cape Verde, Brazil and Latin America where it’s eaten as a spread with bread, cookies, crackers or slices of cheese!
In Cape Verde, we simply refer to this version as ‘doce leite’. There are actually two versions – this one, and a smooth and creamy version that’s also popular in Brazil and Latin America.
WHAT IS DOCE DE LEITE TALHADO?
Doce de leite talhado is a version doce de leite that’s made from milk curds (talhado means curdled). In places that were once under-developed, it was invented as a means of using up milk that had spoiled.
The sour taste is lost by by cooking it down with sugar and flavoring it with spices like cinnamon, cloves and sometimes vanilla.
On my most recent trip to Miami I recognized the Cuban equivalent right away. Cubans and other Latin Americans call this dish dulce de leche cortada.
Unlike classic dulce de leche which is known for its smooth, creamy texture, dulce de leche cortada resembles the texture of ground beef, or cottage cheese. Depending on the culture, the color can vary from golden-yellow to very dark brown.
WHY YOU’LL LOVE THIS RECIPE
For many Cape Verdeans and Latin Americans alike, this recipe brings back memories of our childhoods. The taste is sweet and the texture is soft, making it a great spread for bread, cookies and crackers.
With regard to curdling – we’ll be curdling store-bought whole milk ourselves by adding lime juice which is perfectly safe. This is how modern-versions of this dessert are made, even in less-developed countries.
INGREDIENTS YOU’LL NEED
You’ll only need a short list of ingredients for this one. The recipe card near the bottom of the post has exact measurements.
- Whole milk – fresh, non-spoiled
- Granulated sugar
- Fresh limes
- Cinnamon sticks
- Cloves – optional
Cape Verdean-style doce de leite is dark in color and has very little liquid. Color and texture depend on how it’s cooked. I list some alternate methods further down in the post.
Steps 1&2: Curdle the milk
- Place the milk, cloves and cinnamon sticks in a large pot. Heat the milk over a medium-low flame. Watch the milk closely, you’ll see a layer of skin form on top as it starts to simmer.
- Once the milk simmers, turn the flame down slightly and add the lime juice. The milk will start to curdle immediately. Stir until it starts simmering again then turn the flame off and proceed to the next step.
Step 3: Caramelize the sugar
- In a large, heavy bottomed pan (or caldero), heat the sugar over medium-low. The sugar will form clump as it heats. You can use a rubber spatula to stir the sugar a few times as it dissolves. Allow a few seconds between strokes as you’re stirring.
- Turn the flame down low as the sugar starts to darken so it doesn’t burn. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, quickly proceed to the next step.
Step 4: Add the milk to the pan with the sugar
- Add a few ladlefuls of the warm milk at a time to the pot with the melted sugar. Keep stirring as you add the milk, make sure to transfer the cloves and cinnamon too.
- As you add the milk to the pan, the sugar will react by bubbling and hardening. Keep stirring and adding milk little by little. Eventually the mixture will stop bubbling and the sugar will dissolve completely as you continue to stir.
Steps 5-6: Reduce the liquid
- By now the milk/sugar mixture will be brown, and the sugar will completely dissolve. Turn the heat up slightly but be sure to keep a close watch on the pot so it doesn’t burn!
- Cook for 1 hour, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until two-thirds of the liquid has evaporated. Add the vanilla extract at this point. As the liquid reduces, you’ll need to stir more frequently to ensure it doesn’t burn!
- Once the mixture reduces to two-thirds, stir in the vanilla extract and let cook a few minutes longer. Once you’re satisfied with the texture and amount of liquid, turn the burner off. For thicker versions leave at least 1-2 inches of liquid so it doesn’t dry out.
Tip: I suggest leaving at least 1-2 inches of liquid, otherwise the curds will harden and become dry.
Let cool slightly and then transfer to glass jars with lids. There should be enough doce to fill two 8-ounce jars.
Serve it hot or cold with bread, cookies or crackers.
VARIATIONS AND OTHER METHODS
Color and texture depends on the cooking method and varies across cultures.
- In Brazil and Cape Verde, the sugar is caramelized first which creates a dark brown color. In Cape Verde specifically, we cook the mixture until there’s little liquid left.
- Latin American versions: the color can range from yellow to very dark brown. These versions sometimes contain more liquid. The lighter color is achieved by boiling the milk with the sugar rather than melting the sugar first.
- Colombians refer to this dish as miguelucho. It’s also dark in color, but the color comes from panela – a very hard, dark colored sugar that’s boiled with the milk.
I recommend the following:
- Heavy bottomed pot – a caldero is an aluminum or cast iron pot that’s used a lot in Latin American cooking. A dutch oven also works well for this recipe.
- A large stockpot for heating the milk.
- Glass jars with lids for storing leftovers.
- Doce leite lasts in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Store in jars or in an airtight container with a tight fitting lid.
- You can warm the doce leite in the microwave or place the jar in hot water. Some people prefer doce leite warm, while others like it chilled.
- Read the entire recipe first then gather and measure the ingredients before starting. This ensures you don’t miss any ingredients or steps.
- Avoid over-cooking. Leave at least 1-2 inches of liquid so the doce leite doesn’t dry out or get hard.
OTHER RECIPES YOU’LL LOVE
- Churros with Dulce de Leche
- Pudim de Doce de Leite (Dulce de leche flan)
- Pudim de Leite – Traditional Flan Recipe
- Mini Donuts – Cape Verdean Donetes
- Cinnamon Rolls Soaked in Tres Leches
Doce de Leite Talhado (Dulce de Leche Cortada)
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 limes - juiced
- 2 sticks of cinnamon
- 4-6 cloves
- 2 teaspooons of vanilla extract
- Heat the milk, cloves and cinnamon sticks in a large pot over medium-low. Watch the milk closely, a layer of skin will form on top as it starts to simmer.
- Once the milk simmers, lower and add the lime juice. It will curdle immediately. Stir until the milk simmers again then turn the burner off.
- In a large, heavy bottomed pan (or caldero), heat the sugar over medium-low. The sugar will clump as it heats. Stir until it dissolves, allowing a few seconds between strokes. Turn the flame down low as the sugar starts to get dark. Once completely dissolved, proceed quickly to the next step.
- Add a few ladlefuls of milk at a time to the pot with the melted sugar. Keep stirring as you add the milk and transfer the cloves and cinnamon too. The sugar will react by bubbling and hardening as milk is added. Keep stirring, adding a few ladlefuls of milk at a time. The mixture will stop bubbling and the sugar will dissolve completely as you keep stirring.
- Turn the heat up slightly and let the mixture cook uncovered for 1 hour. Stir every 5 minutes or so, until two-thirds of the liquid has evaporated. As the liquid reduces, stir more frequently so it doesn't burn.
- Once the mixture is reduced to two-thirds, stir in the vanilla extract and let cook a few minutes longer. Once you're satisfied with the texture and amount of liquid, turn the burner off. For thicker versions leave at least 1-2 inches of liquid so it doesn't dry out.
- Read the entire recipe first then gather and measure the ingredients before starting. This ensures you don't miss any ingredients or steps.
- Avoid overcooking. Leave at least 1-2 inches of liquid while cooking, otherwise the the dish will harden and dry out.
- Storage tips: doce leite lasts in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Store in jars or in an airtight container with a tight lid.
Here are some general safety tips.
- Don’t leave the doce leite sitting out at room temperature for extended periods. Store it in the fridge once it cools fully.
- Never leave the doce de leite cooking unattended.
- Do not attempt to taste or touch the doce de leite while it’s hot.
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove