Dulce De Leche Recipe (3 methods)

a can of homemade dulce de leche caramel.

Dulce de leche is a thick, rich caramel sauce made from one ingredient — sweetened condensed milk. This dulce de leche recipe can be using 3 different methods. I made them all and I’ll show you which ones worked best and why, so you can make your own homemade dulce de leche, easy peasy.

We’ve all heard of dulce de leche, that sweet caramel made of sweetened condensed milk. It’s famously popular throughout Latin America (one taste, and you’ll know why).

Dulce de leche meaning:

But what does dulce de leche mean? Translated, it’s milk sweet — or sweet milk, but that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of this rich caramel.

Homemade dulce de leche can be thick and ropy, perfect as a filling for sandwich cookies or thinner and pourable like a delicious sauce over ice cream or sponge cake.

The difference is how long you cook the sweetened condensed milk and your method.

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Dulce de leche vs. caramel

You might think that caramel and dulce de leche are the same thing, but they’re not.

Traditional caramel is made by heating plain sugar until it dissolves and turns golden to a dark brown color, then the cooking is stopped with a splash of heavy cream and sometimes a pat of butter and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Dulce de leche is made from milk and sugar cooked slowly until it thickens and caramelizes. Sweetened condensed milk basically just gives you a head start on making dulce de leche because they’ve already been cooked together until thick, but not caramelized.

Goo-Gone gets the adhesive off the can so you can cook with it and not ruin your pot.

Why you’ll love this recipe:

  • You only need one ingredient.
  • There are multiple ways to make dulce con leche, both in the can or in other vessels, so you can pick the one that works for you.
  • It makes the most amazing caramel sauce or filling (depending on how long you cook it).
  • The sweet milk transforms like magic.


  • Sweetened Condensed Milk (not low-fat or fat-free)

Making dulce de leche recipe in the can

There’s no right or wrong way to make this homemade caramel; however, if you’re making a dulce de leche recipe in the can, there is one crucial step you need to follow… Remove the paper wrapper and any sticky glue that remains.

If bits of paper wrappers are stuck to the can of sweetened condensed milk, the sticky residue will leach into your pan or instant pot, leaving a weird, tacky film (see photo above).

After spending 15 minutes (and a half cup of Barkeepers Friend cleanser) scrubbing the inside of my pan with a scrubber sponge, I realized my mistake, and I don’t want you to make it.)

  • Remove the paper wrapper.
  • Spray the sticky remains with Goo Gone or another adhesive remover and rub it clean.
  • Wash the can with soap and water.

Stovetop dulce de leche

Now, let me show you how to make dulce de leche from condensed milk. The first method is made on the stovetop.

  1. After washing the can, open the lid, so it’s still got a hinge of metal attached. Crack the top, so the cover is open about 30°.
  2. Place a small dishrag in the bottom of a small saucepan (the dishrag is to prevent the can from rattling on the bottom of the pan as it cooks – because that can be annoying for 2-3 hours.)
  3. Fill the pan with enough water to reach about 3/4 of the way up the side of the can. (Please be careful not to get water in the sweetened condensed milk.
  4. Bring the water to a simmer and cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, refilling it every 15-20 minutes to keep it at the same level you started with.
  5. Over 2-3 hours, the sweetened condensed milk will transform into a golden caramel. The longer it cooks, the deeper the caramel color and the thicker the resulting caramel.
  6. The top of the caramel may not look as if it’s changed much, but stir it with a spoon, and you’ll see a definite transformation.
  7. Use a pair of tongs to carefully remove the caramel from the water bath and let it cool at room temperature before transferring the golden elixir to a glass jar with a lid and refrigerating.
  8. Note: caramel will also thicken as it cools and after it has been refrigerated.

Note: You can also make the dulce de leche recipe on the stovetop using a sealed can of sweetened condensed milk. Please take a look at the notes below.

homemade dulce de leche made on the stovetop.

Variation on the stovetop method

You can use a sealed can. That’s right. You can make dulce de leche in a can without opening the can of sweetened condensed milk!

If it’s your first time, you should start with the first method so you’re comfortable with the process, but after that, this is easier and has the bonus of not needing to be refrigerated after cooking.

  1. Place a cleaned, sealed can into a large pot (with the dish rag to prevent the clanging) and add enough water to submerge the can with about 1″ of water over the top.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a rapid simmer and cook for 2-3 hours, adding water so it’s always covered.
  3. Remove the can with a pair of tongs and let it cool to room temperature.
  4. Since the can is sealed, there’s no need to refrigerate it. You can store it in your pantry and open it when needed.
A jar of the dulce de leche with a spoon dipped in.

What sweetened condensed milk caramel looks and tastes like

The photo above is what the caramel looks like after refrigerating. You can see it’s thick and smooth. The flavor is rich and sweet, with an almost chewy consistency.

This dulce de leche hits every part of your palate with a decadent and almost buttery sweetness.

It has a different flavor and depth than a standard caramel made of sugar and cream, but this dulce de leche dessert is remarkably tasty.

Oven method homemade dulce de leche.

Making dulce de leche in the oven

This method came from the Epicurious website, and I initially thought it would be the easiest way to go, but there were a few snags, which I’ll get to in a minute.

The sweetened condensed milk caramel with the oven method

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°.
  2. Empty the can of sweetened condensed milk into a 9″ baking dish or glass pie dish.
  3. Cover the pie dish tightly with aluminum foil.
  4. Place the pie dish into a larger roasting pan and fill it with hot water until it comes about halfway up the pie plate (this is called a bain-marie or water bath, and it provides a slow, even heat, with no scorching.)
  5. Cook for 2 hours. Carefully remove the pie dish from the water and let it cool to room temperature before transferring the mixture to an airtight container to store in the refrigerator.
It takes 2-3 hours to make caramel from sweetened condensed milk in the oven.

Challenges with the oven method

The first issue I encountered was finding a roasting pan large enough to accommodate a 9″ pie dish. My standard roasters (even an oval one that I thought was a shoo-in) needed to be larger.

It would have fit into a turkey roaster. Still, I thought that was overkill. I ended up using a 12″ paella pan. Look around your kitchen and get creative.

The second problem was that after two hours in the oven, the dulce de leche caramel was lighter and thinner than I would like. I put it back in to cook for another 45 minutes.

The images above show the difference. The top left is after 2 hours. The bottom left and right is after 2 hours and 45 minutes. It needed the extra time — at least for my tastes.

Instant Pot dulce de leche in a can.

Using the Instant Pot to make dulce con leche in a sealed can

I read many blog posts that mentioned that you could theoretically make it in its sealed can, but none had the nerve to do it. Well, I’m nothing, if not ballsy.

Here’s how it went.

Instant Pot Dulce De Leche

  1. Ensure you clean that can well — and remove the sticky, gluey residue.
  2. Lay a small dish towel in the bottom of the pressure cooker (to prevent rattling and denting the Instant Pot.
  3. Place the unopened can of sweetened condensed milk on the towel on its side and fill it with water up to the maximum fill line. (Water should cover the can by about 1 to 2 inches).
  4. Seal the pressure cooker and bring it to high pressure for 40 minutes.
  5. Let the pressure naturally release, then remove the can, dry it off and let it cool to room temperature before opening.
  6. It can be stored directly in the pantry until you’re ready to use it.
A can of dulce de leche with swirls of caramel.

Which method was easiest?

The Instant Pot was the easiest way to transform sweetened condensed milk into caramel. Not only was it very hands-off, which I loved, but the dulce was also uber-rich and thick.

Several Instant Pot recipes claimed the caramel could be ready in as little as 15-20 minutes. Still, after my first two attempts, I knew a longer cooking time was required for the concentration of flavor and pudgy consistency I like. If you want a looser caramel sauce, try it for 20 minutes.

It was a real boon to put the jar directly back into the pantry for storage too… How handy!

Sliced apples and dulce de leche for dipping.

What can you do with homemade dulce de leche?

  • Imagine someone pops over unexpectedly during the holidays, and you have nothing to offer… Just whip out a can of your homemade dulce de leche and slice some fresh apples or pears for dunking.
  • Or jazz up a dish of ice cream with slightly warmed caramel spooned over the top.
  • You could even stick a bow on the can and give them away as fun hostess gifts. How simple is THAT?
Dipping apple slices in caramel.

More uses for dulce de leche

  • Dip churros into hot dulce de leche.
  • Swirl some dulce into cheesecake batter before baking.
  • Drizzle hot dulce de leche over pound cake or sponge.
  • Rim a cocktail glass for a caramel appletini.
  • Serve it warmed over apple pie.
  • Try spooning some over Autumn Spiced Baked Pears.
  • Add a teaspoon or two to chocolate wafer cookies for a filling for sandwich cookies (see example below).
Chocolate cookies with dulce de leche sandwiched in between.

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a jar of homemade dulce de leche.
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5 from 24 votes

Homemade Dulce De Leche (3 methods)

Learn three easy ways to make homemade dulce de leche on the stovetop, in the oven or using your Instant Pot. All of them will transform sweetened condensed milk into a rich, sweet caramel-y dulce de leche to use with lots of other recipes.
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Dessert
Cuisine cuban, hispanic
Keyword sweetened condensed milk
Dietary Restrictions Egg Free, Gluten-Free, Vegetarian
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours
Servings 15 (2 tablespoons)


  • 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk



  • Remove the label from the sealed can of sweetened condensed milk. Spray the sticky adhesive on the can with Goo Gone or other residue removing product and let it sit for 5 minutes. Use a paper towel to rub away any remaining adhesive, be sure to remove it all. Wash the can with soap and water and run your fingers around the can to make sure you’ve gotten all the adhesive off of the can.


  • Remove the label as directed above. Use a can opener to open the sweetened condensed milk about 90% open. Arrange the lid so that it’s raised about 30° from horizontal. Place a small 5 or 6 inch rag or old dishtowel in the bottom of a small saucepan. Place the can on top of the rag so that it’s even in the pan and doesn’t wobble. Fill the pan with water so that it reaches about ¾ way up the can. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium simmer.
  • Cook the sweetened condensed milk for 2 ½ to 3 hours, adding more water every 15-20 minutes to maintain the same level of water in the saucepan, so that it’s always reaching about 3/4 of the way up the can. (The top of the condensed milk may not change colors as it cooks, but underneath that top layer, it is gently cooking.)
  • Hold a pair of tongs in one hand and a dry dish towel in the other. Carefully lift the can of dulce de leche with the tongs and quickly place the dishtowel under the can to support it. Place the can on the counter and let it cool for a few minutes until you can safely touch the top of the can. When it’s cool, lift the lid to vertical and use a spoon to stir the contents of the can until it’s well blended. It’s very hot and almost molten after it’s done cooking, so don’t just lick the spoon immediately — or you’ll get burned.
  • Transfer the dulce de leche to an airtight storage container and refrigerate until ready to use.


  • Remove the label as directed above. Place a small dish towel in the bottom of the Instant Pot. Place the can on top of the towel on it’s side, not sitting up. Add cold water to the Instant pot until it covers the can by one inch. Be sure not to fill the pot higher than the Maximum allowable level.
  • Seal the lid onto the Instant Pot and pressure cook on high for 40 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally.
  • Remove the can from the water with a pair of tongs and set aside to cool to room temperature. When you’re ready to use the Dulce de leche, open the can. Note: it doesn’t need to be refrigerated until the can is opened. It will last for months like this.


  • Preheat the oven to 425°. Transfer the sweetened condensed milk to a 9″ deep dish pie plate (glass or ceramic) and cover tightly with tin foil.
  • Place the pie plate in a larger roasting pan with high sides. Add hot water to the roasting pan being particularly careful not to splash water on the foil or into the sweetened condensed milk. Tuck the ends of the foil up tightly under the rim of the pan so that the foil doesn’t rest in the water.
  • Bake in the water bath for 2 hours. Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven and set aside. When the water in the pan has cooled enough to handle, remove the pie plate from the water bath. Discard the tin foil and use a whisk to stir the dulce de leche until it’s creamy and smooth. Transfer to a glass jar or other well sealed container. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.


Note: If you make dulce de leche in the can without opening it, you can store it at room temperature in your pantry.


Calories: 91kcal | Carbohydrates: 15g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 10mg | Sodium: 36mg | Potassium: 105mg | Sugar: 15g | Vitamin A: 76IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 81mg | Iron: 1mg

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  1. 5 stars
    I made the oven method. Cooked for two and a half hours. Poured it through a strainer to remove the crusty lumps. Looking forward to adding to my morning oatmeal. Thanks for the clear directions.

  2. Leslie H. says:

    5 stars
    I love that you made this so many different ways. I went with the Instant Pot method – it’s just the simplest.

  3. 5 stars
    Love this recipe. Just they way my Abuela taught me. You can also do I. A pressure cooker for an hour and a half. We like to add vanilla essence too gives it just a little more!

  4. Gabe Avila says:

    5 stars
    Very well done!! you have a great future in blogging if you keep it up!!

  5. Vione Rein says:

    5 stars
    I just did 2 cans at once in my 8 quart Instant Pot. Put in a cloth to keep the cans separated and followed instructions exactly as written. They turned out amazing. Such a dark rich color and the taste was perfect. Thank you

  6. Lisa Kelso says:

    5 stars
    I made this using the stovetop method and it came out perfectly. Thank you so much for a detailed and well-explained recipe. Very much appreciated!

  7. 5 stars
    can the nestle dulce de leche in ethic food need to be cooked also? I have not found anything on that

    I have always used regular sweetened condensed milk cooked forever for pies but the one in the aisle with the mexican/ethnic section is already dark and thick.

    I made a batch of cupcakes by putting a graham cracker crust in east and then the DDL then sprinkled extra pieces of crust on top. Made great individual treat

  8. 5 stars
    I tried the open can method, but i cooked it for about 6 hours. Right around the 3 hour mark is when i started seeing a slight change in color. Since i didnt see much change, I put the stove on “low” instead of simmer and covered the pot. The pot cover did have a steam whole , to let the heat out. But after about 6 hours it came out great and delicious. Now, lets hope i don’t eat it all by myself and now i don’t have to spend $4 when the regular condensed milk is less then $2.

  9. 5 stars
    Can you leave this out? I’m stuffing some cookies with this – do the cookies need to be refrigerated or can they be left out?

  10. 5 stars
    Has anyone ever tried it in a crock pot?

    1. 5 stars
      Yes! I do it all the time! I set mine on low fully covered let it cook through the entire cycle also let it sit through the warm cycle never taking off the lid and fully cooling in the crockpot until the water is cold with the lid on. It’s the best caramel!!

  11. 5 stars
    I’ve tried all the ways except in my instant pot and think reaching dulce heaven is in the oven. It became smoother, creamier and not the thick hard cream other methods produce. I love your recipes but what turned me on to your site was your name, garlicandzest rocks! Thanks

  12. Beverly Neville says:

    5 stars
    Quick Question — (I love your Instant Pot recipe!) — there are other websites that say never do it in the can and others that say the can is fine but must be opened before cooking. So I’m just wondering — Have you found anything “official” or from a USDA test kitchen etc that reassures you it is safe to do it this way and safe to store it without refrigeration?

    BTW thanks for explaining your recipes in such a user-friendly way! Love your website!

    1. Beverly Neville says:

      5 stars
      One site says the can could explode (but that was a common warning about pressure cookers back in the day) and another says the metal can lining will make it poisonous (doesn’t make sense because then the original milk would be tainted), but no one else had actually done it as you have!

  13. 5 stars
    I’ve been always wanting to try to make homemade version of the dulce de leche! Now I don’t need to buy one from the store! Thanks for sharing the different ways to do it!

  14. veenaazmanov says:

    5 stars
    Thanks for all the detailing. This is so tempting and I love the variation it can be enjoyed with the kids to have a treat.

  15. 5 stars
    The Instant pot method is my favorite! It always comes out so smooth and caramelized to the point! And so quickly done:)

  16. Amanda Marie Boyle says:

    5 stars
    I love the instapot version! So much easier than the oven version I had been using!

  17. Tawnie Kroll says:

    5 stars
    Made this today using the instant pot method and it came out beautifully! Thank you!

  18. 5 stars
    Love the simplicity and versatility of this! Yum!