In South America, this "caramel" is called "Dulce de Leche". Unless you can find an Argentinean store that sells it, this is about the only way to make dulce de leche unless you want to stand over a stove top stirring it for hours on end.
My family has been making dulce de leche this way since they moved here 50 yrs ago. Like someone else mentioned, you can make it on in a pressure cooker, after the pot builds up it's pressure and starts jiggling, lower the heat and cook for 30 - 45 minutes, turn it off and let the pressure release on it's own. Once that happens, open the lid and let the water get down to room temperature, once that happens, then you can open the can. NEVER open a hot can or when boiling let the water get below the top of the can, or it will explode. That is the only danger in cooking this in the can. If you are diligent and careful, there won't be any problems and it's delicious.
When I've cooked it in a regular pot, I've never cooked it for 4 hours, that just seems so long! 2 hours max. But with the pressure cooker, as long as you put enough water to begin with, then you don't have to worry about it boiling away in 30 minutes, in a regular pot, you have to be vigilant.
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In South America, this "caramel" is called "Dulce de Leche". Unless you can find an...