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).
Table of Contents
- 1 Dulce de leche meaning:
- 2 Why you’ll love this recipe:
- 3 Ingredients:
- 4 Stovetop dulce de leche
- 5 What sweetened condensed milk caramel looks and tastes like
- 6 Making dulce de leche in the oven
- 7 Using the Instant Pot to make dulce con leche in a sealed can
- 8 Which method was easiest?
- 9 Homemade Dulce De Leche (3 methods)
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.
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.
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.
- 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°.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a rapid simmer and cook for 2-3 hours, adding water so it’s always covered.
- Remove the can with a pair of tongs and let it cool to room temperature.
- Since the can is sealed, there’s no need to refrigerate it. You can store it in your pantry and open it when needed.
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.
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
- Preheat the oven to 425°.
- Empty the can of sweetened condensed milk into a 9″ baking dish or glass pie dish.
- Cover the pie dish tightly with aluminum foil.
- 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.)
- 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.
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.
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
- Ensure you clean that can well — and remove the sticky, gluey residue.
- Lay a small dish towel in the bottom of the pressure cooker (to prevent rattling and denting the Instant Pot.
- 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).
- Seal the pressure cooker and bring it to high pressure for 40 minutes.
- Let the pressure naturally release, then remove the can, dry it off and let it cool to room temperature before opening.
- It can be stored directly in the pantry until you’re ready to use it.
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!
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?
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).
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Homemade Dulce De Leche (3 methods)
- 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
REMOVING THE LABEL FOR INSTANT POT OR STOVETOP METHODS:
- 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.
INSTANT POT METHOD:
- 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.
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