Dulce de Leche is a deliciously sweet treat made from 1 simple, easy to find ingredient. To make this homemade dulce de leche recipe, it will cost you about $2 so you can forget about spending over $6 in specialty food stores the next time you need it! 

Photo of a scoop of Dulce de Leche in the can it was simmered in.

How many times have you come across an ingredient in a recipe that you just can’t find in your regular grocery store? For me, it’s been countless times, and dulce de leche is one of those elusive ingredients that continues to confound me. 

I often think that my grocery store has a fairly extensive selection of ethnic food but then again, I can’t find things like decent lo mein noodles or Thai chili paste, or dulce de leche.

What Is Dulce de Leche Anyway?

Translated to English, dulce de leche means sweetened milk. In Latin American markets, it’s as common as peanut butter is in any traditional grocery store in the U.S. 

Photo of a stack of Butter Cookies with Dulce de Leche Filling. The cookies are dipped in dark chocolate.

It’s deeper, richer, and thicker in consistency than caramel and it is fantastic mixed into things like frosting and brownies.

The first time I needed dulce de leche for a recipe, I foolishly spent over $10 on a jar from a specialty food store.

Well, never again. Never. Ever. 

Because I have found the secret to this elusive ingredient: a $2 can of sweetened condensed milk. Yup, that’s all you’ll need! 

Photo of a scoop of Dulce de Leche in the can it was simmered in.

How to Make Dulce de Leche

STEP 1: Prick a tiny hole in the top of the can. This is a must in order to prevent the can from exploding as you cook it.

STEP 2: Place the can in a small saucepan and fill the pan with enough water to co

STEP 3: Boil the heck out of the can. Seriously, you’ll need about 3 Ā½ hours and you’ll need to add more water to the saucepan every so often.

Once you pop that can open, you will end up with simply gorgeous and over-the-top amazing dulce de leche.  I challenge you to not eat this right off the spoon!

What Can You Make with It?

Dulce de leche is much thicker than caramel so rather than drizzling it over things, you’ll can spoon it over ice cream or as a dip for apples or pretzels.

It works so great as a filling in cupcakes and cookies (or these pretzel Linzer cookies!), wrapped up inside some cinnamon rolls, or swirled into hot chocolate or a latte.

You can spoon it into little mason jars and tie them up with pretty ribbon or twine for Christmas treat packages (it does need to be refrigerated though!).

I’m sure you guys could come up with a 100 more uses aside from eating straight off a spoon!

Photo of a scoop of Dulce de Leche in the can it was simmered in.

Homemade Dulce de Leche Recipe

Yield: about 1 Ā½ cups
Cook Time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 15 minutes

Dulce de leche is a smooth and creamy dessert treat that is similar to caramel but is thicker and richer in flavor. It's made with sweetened condensed milk and can be used in SO many ways: spooned onto ice cream, mixed into brownie batter, filled in between sandwich cookies, made into frosting, and the list goes on.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. If the can has a pull tab, lift the tab very carefully and slowly, just until the seal of the can pops with a tiny hole - you don't want to open the can more than this much.  If your can doesn't have a pull tab, pop the seal with a tiny pinch of a can opener.
  2. Place the can in a medium stainless steel sauce pot (do not use non-stick or enamel-coated) and pour water about ¾ the way up the can.
  3. Bring water to a simmer over medium-low to medium heat and simmer for 3 to 3 ½ hours, replenishing the water level every 30 minutes or so.  Don't worry if the milk bubbles out of the can - only a few tablespoons will be lost.
  4. Remove the can from the water and allow the can to cool completely. Open the can and stir the dulce de leche to achieve a consistent thickness. Either use immediately or store the dulce de leche to an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Notes

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  • December 17, 2011 at 6:30 AM

    Oh dear. That is wonderful….just wonderful.

  • December 17, 2011 at 7:24 AM

    I’ve always wanted to try this, it looks SO delicious!

  • December 17, 2011 at 7:56 AM

    I love this. I did it this fall and ruined one of my pots though (aluminum can+ non-stick dutch oven= scraped up bottom. . . . duh.) šŸ™
    It’s pretty awesome to have a giant can of this around for all sorts of purposes – like spooning it into your mouth on a whim!

  • Linda
    December 17, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    I make this and do not open the can. Place a tea towel on the bottom of pot and make sure the water stays about 2 inches above the can. No mess, no fuss.

    • December 17, 2011 at 1:20 PM

      Linda: Thanks for your feedback and I’m glad your method works for you. However, I have read many sources which stress not to boil an unopened can due to the possibility of the can exploding. Thus, the unopened can method isn’t one that I recommend to my readers. And actually, there isn’t any mess when you prick the can open either.

  • lee lee
    December 17, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    This is nothing new….

    • December 17, 2011 at 9:26 PM

      lee lee: I never said it was anything new, as you can see by the fact that I cited the source where I found the idea. But, the point of my blog is to share recipes with my readers that have worked in my kitchen and that my family and friends enjoy…and to encourage them to make these recipes in their own homes.

    • Sarah
      February 28, 2012 at 10:02 AM

      It’s new to me! Thanks for the recipe!

  • December 17, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    My family used Linda’s method for many years, always with great results. You have to make sure that there is always enough water to cover the can. However, I do understand Tara’s concern, too — you don’t want to post something that does have a potential of going wrong. šŸ™‚ Ultimately, it’s a personal decision.

    By the way, mixing softened butter into the homemade dulce de leche creates an awesome frosting.

  • December 18, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    This is dreamy!

  • December 19, 2011 at 10:49 AM

    This is how my mom and I made “caramel” for Christmas candies. The taste is unreal!

  • Joanna
    December 28, 2011 at 12:53 AM

    Sara,

    Ive never boiled this in a nonstick pan, but in my pans, I always turn the can on its side. It doesnt bounce around as much this way and the caramel comes out just great!

  • Michelle
    January 3, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    Another way to do this if you’re concerned with boiling a can or wrecking a pan (and it takes less time). Sorry I can’t reference the source:

    Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Pour sweetened condensed milk into 9-inch pieplate. Cover entire pieplate tightly with aluminum foil. Using a jelly roll pan, fill pan with about 1/4-inch of water, then set foil-wrapped pieplate in center of pan (to create a water bath) and place in oven. Bake for approximately 1 hour and 20-30 minutes, or until condensed milk is thick and caramel colored (adding hot water to pan as needed). When done, remove pan from oven, remove foil from pieplate, and set aside to cool slightly.

  • January 11, 2012 at 12:56 PM

    thanks so much for sharing! i was really concerned about the can exploding but now i see i have to punch a tiny hole. that brought a sense of relief. thanks again!!

  • Silvia
    January 23, 2012 at 8:07 PM

    Our family has been making dulce de leche for years like Linda. Once cans start to “rattle” you turn the heat on very low. Cook for 3 hears total…1 1/2 hour and I like to flip can. Always making sure there is water covering cans and lid on pot. Its best to make 3 or 4 cans at a time. Cans will keep for a few months in fridge. Best on ice-cream and for cakes….

  • Diana
    January 26, 2012 at 6:18 PM

    I never knew this! amazing and yummy, thanks for posting

  • February 23, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    How long is this good for and how would I store it?

  • Barbara
    April 16, 2012 at 12:58 AM

    Thank you so much for sharing! I have been looking for Dulce de Leche and can’t find one store in town that sells it. I can finally make all those amazing looking treats now. WooHoo!

  • annemie van niekerk
    May 1, 2012 at 7:27 AM

    Thank goodness we can get this in most super markets in South Africa for many years! Love this product!

  • Kristen
    June 8, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    Oh, and if you do it in a pressure cooker, it only takes 1 hour

  • tanya1234
    August 28, 2012 at 4:58 AM

    yummmy

  • October 5, 2012 at 9:45 PM

    I use the crockpot and even though it takes about five to seven hours, depending on the consistency you want, I don’t have to check that often.

    • October 6, 2012 at 5:51 PM

      Yes, I’ve heard the crockpot is an alternative method. But because of how long it takes, you definitely need to plan well ahead.

  • Rita
    May 10, 2018 at 12:37 AM

    I also used crock pot and put it in jars. It worked out great and crockpot on low…can be left. You don’t have to worry. My only concern is that it is so thick. What is best to thin and make spreadable or pour on ice cream

    • Tara
      May 10, 2018 at 9:56 AM

      Hi Rita! You could thin the dulce de leche out with a little bit of cream if it’s too thick to pour. I love the crock pot idea (and may try this over the week!) but you may have left it in there for too long, which is why it’s too thick. How long did you set the crock pot for? And how many cans of condensed milk did you cook? Thanks!

  • Valerie
    December 13, 2018 at 9:30 AM

    My family has been making this for years. The recipe started with my grandmother and Iā€™m 60 years old. We have never poked a hole in the can but always adding water so the cans are covered. We cook it for 4 hours and have always called this caramel pudding which is very thick and rich. Served with whipped cream or cool whip.

    • Tara
      December 17, 2018 at 4:01 PM

      Hi Valerie! I love hearing how others make dulce de leche! Interesting to hear that you make sure that cans are completely covered with water. I may have to try making it this way soon. And oh my goodness – eating this straight with whipped cream must be one of the most divine treats EVER! You just made my day!! šŸ™‚

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