I'm Sandra Lee for a night

In my tireless efforts to give the kid memorable lunches, I wanted to give her some special caramel dip for her apples.  I ventured into the deepest, darkest bowels of the corpus of internet urban cooking legends ... the potentially (as in potential energy) explosive transformation of sweetened condensed milk into caramel.

sweetened condensed milk + heat ------> caramel

This transformation is filled with challenges: search, finding authority, chemistry, processed foods, momblogger stories and visions of Sandra Lee obliterated all over her chiffon peach-decorated kitchen.  Irresistible.

Too tired to plow through the billion or so anecdotes, I did read two statements with great frequency:
boil the can - it doesn't explode, and
boil the can - it does explode

I chucked a can of generic sweetened condensed milk into boiling water COVERED BY ONE INCH, and covered the pot with a 3 pound cast iron lid and let it simmer for 3 hours.  Fearfully, I peeked once in a while to insure the level of water never went below the surface of the can.  This instruction is repeated as if it were the unpublished 11th commandment.  No one knows what happens if that level drops below the top of the can.  But, I think if it does, Nader is elected President of the United States (and Sandra Lee gets in a serious kitchen accident).  

During the 3 hours, the can bulged a bit.  Not good.  After 3 hours, I cautiously took the can and let it rest in the kitchen sink overnight covered with the several pound cast iron dome.  The next morning, I opened it and scooped out some heavenly caramel for my daughter's dip.  

I would never do this again if my life depended on it - and I won't hesitate to run my silly Firedome to 1100°F.  This is dangerous.  I feel lucky there was no accident last night.

Oh, and my daughter?  She likes the Marzetti caramel dip way better.  This transformation is one processed food to another, so, there's not one iota of virtue doing it.  I don't pull the phd chemist credential often, but as a "technically qualified person," this shit's dangerous.  If you must make this, pop open the can and cook it in a double boiler.  You'll dirty a bunch of pans, make caramel, and you'll feel like Sandra Lee.



Really, go make these.  I regret having waited so long.  And, I'm sorry Alton, sodium bicarb isn't good enough.  Get the lye and do it right.  Use gloves (latex gloves are at Lowe's and cheap) to handle, it's not that bad.
Mix 40 g sodium hydroxide in 1 L water.

Cover baking sheet with parchment, this is what I'll bake the pretzels on.
A simple dough of water (200 g), veg oil (20 g), sugar (10 g), salt (5 g), yeast (rapid rise, 1 packet), unbleached white flour (300 g), let rise in fridge overnight (barely kneaded, I kneaded prior to 2nd rise).
Next morning, kneed dough ball a bit, scale dough into 6 pieces about 90 g each.  Roll each into little log and let rest.
Roll each lump into ca. 18" rope.
Twist the rope into one of these.  Find some kind of diagram on the net to teach you how.  Sprinkle with flour and let rest on the counter for about 10-15 minutes.
Darn, didn't get a shot of the last step.  Pour lye solution into a plastic bin [CAUTION: do this in sink, it will STAIN formica counters].  Dip the rested pretzels, couple at a time in the lye and let sit in lye about 15 seconds.  Remove from lye and set on parchment.  Sprinkle toppings onto wet pretzels.  Here is salt and cinnamon / sugar.
Place sheet in preheated 450F oven.
Remove when they look tasty (about 15-20 min).
I hung them on a chopstick to cool.  
The cinnamon sugar were weird, the salt were sublime (this is Baleine coarse sea salt).
These are a new staple in our home.  Get the lye on Ebay and make 'em.  Lye's not bad to handle.