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Dulce de Leche

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 cups whole milk (divided use)
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
Large pinch baking soda

Place vanilla bean, 3 cups of milk, sugar, water and baking soda in slow cooker. Whisk together. Cook for 9 hours on High, uncovered.

Remove vanilla bean and whisk milk mixture gently. Use a dull-edged knife to carefully scrape down the crust of sugar that accumulates on sides of the insert. Do not skim foam.

Continue cooking for 1 more hour, stirring every 20 minutes until mixture is a rich medium-caramel color and has thickened to the consistency of melted ice cream.

In mean time, warm remaining cup of milk in small saucepan. Turn off slow cooker and stir in the warm milk. Remove the insert and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Scrape into bowl and let come to room temperature. Refrigerate it in tightly covered container for up to 3 months. Serve over pound cake or ice cream. Makes about 2 cups.

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