DIY: Homemade Dulce de Leche

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, a product as common in Latin American markets as peanut butter is in any traditional grocery store in the U.S.  The first time I needed dulce de leche for a recipe, I foolishly spent over $10 on a jar from a specialty food store.

DIY: Homemade Dulce de Leche

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!  Prick a tiny hole in the top of the can (this is a must!!), boil the heck out of the can for about 3 1/2 hours, and you will end up with simply gorgeous and over-the-top amazing dulce de leche.  It’s deeper, richer, and thicker in consistency than caramel and is fantastic in frosting (or this recipe), over ice cream, as a dip for apples or pretzels, as a filling in cupcakes or cookies, swirled into hot chocolate or a latté, spooned into mason jars 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.  I have two more uses for it that I’ll share with you before Christmas so you may want to pick up a can or two sweetened condensed milk this weekend!


Homemade Dulce de Leche
source: Confections of a Foodie Bride


  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk, label removed


  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 3/4 the way up the can.
  3. Bring water to a simmer over medium-low to medium heat and simmer for 3 to 3 1/2 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. Let the can cool completely.  Open the can stir and dulce de leche to achieve a consistent thickness.  Either use immediately or store the dulce de leche to an airtight container (keep refrigerated).

Yields: ~ 1 1/2 cups


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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.) 🙁
    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. 🙂 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


    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


  • 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 I’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!! 🙂

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