Dulce de Leche is a sweet caramel-butterscotch-like sauce, made from cooking sugar and milk until it is browned, thick, and creamy. The easiest method by far is to make it from an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk! I’ll show you how to do it in the slow cooker, Instant pot, or on the stovetop. Plus tons of ideas for what to do with it (besides spoon it into your mouth.)
Our little baby is due to be born on December 21st, and Eric told me the other day that he bought tickets for us to see the new Star Wars movie at 7pm on December 19th.
Well, it’s basically official, no other baby has had their actual birthday figured out so far in advance. There is nothing like buying tickets for something right when your baby is due to make sure that’s when you go into labor.
Also, can we get a round of applause for Eric’s wisdom in silence. He is a huge Star Wars fan, and this was the FIRST time I heard him mention the fact that the Star Wars finale is coming out exactly when our son is due. Maybe he hears enough complaining from me about the Christmas issue that he figured the Star Wars conflict was minor in comparison. (HE WOULD BE RIGHT.) Husband props, Eric.
In all seriousness though, I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that it’s entirely possible I could have my baby on Christmas or really close to it. Is there any worse time to have a baby?? Talk about an anticlimactic birthday! Nobody can compete with Jesus’ birthday, sorry kid! (Do YOU have an entire genre of music dedicated to the day you were born? No? Then sorry, your birthday isn’t as cool as Jesus’ birthday.)
Only 6 and 1/2 weeks to go! Can you believe Christmas is so close? Time is just FLYING BY over here. Everything goes SO FAST in your third trimester. (Heavy sarcasm here, in case you’re not a mom and couldn’t tell.) But it will be here before you know it, so get ready for some holiday recipes! Dulce de leche is a fabulous trick to have up your sleeve this time of year!
What is Dulce de Leche?
Dulce de leche is sweet nectar from the gods. Just kidding, it’s actually a thick and creamy caramel-like sauce. Sometimes it is called Mexican Caramel, which is inaccurate because it originated in Argentina (although the Chileans and Uruguayans might contest this. Do I have any South American readers? Feel free to duke it out in the comments section! :)
There are many South American myths you can find about a cook who left a pot of sugar and milk on the stove for too long, and was surprised upon returning to find a pot of dark brown, thick and creamy caramel sauce. A happy accident!
Is dulce de leche caramel?
No, dulce de leche is not caramel. Caramel is made by heating sugar. Caramel Dulce de leche is a combination of sugar and milk that is heated slowly until the Maillard reaction takes place, or in other words, browning. Is it a bit more mellow than caramel, and lacks any bitterness. It could be described as having a more toffee-like or butterscotch flavor.
It’s definitely a lot thicker than caramel. Once the finished dulce de leche has reached room temperature (or after being chilled) it has a pudding consistency, a little softer than peanut butter.
How to Make Dulce de Leche
It could not be easier. You can make dulce de leche by heating sugar and milk on the stove or in the oven for a few hours, but it takes a long time and a bit more know-how.
The easiest method by far is to boil an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk. You can do this on the stovetop, in the Crock pot, or in an Instant Pot. Since the can is sealed, none of the milk can evaporate, meaning you don’t have to stir or babysit it at all. Pressure builds in a sealed can, making the process much faster than cooking fresh milk in a pot.
First, get that pesky label off. This is optional, but I think it’s easier to peel dry paper off of a can than to fish wet particles of disintegrating paper out of hot water when you’re done.
Next, clean the glue off the can. This is also optional, but every brand of sweetened condensed milk that I tried had such a strong glue attaching the label to the can that afterward, the interiors of my pots (stock pot, Instant pot, and Crock pot) were covered in a grimy residue from the glue. I’d rather clean the glue off the can than clean it off my pot. I used Goo Gone and it took about 2 seconds.
Slow cooker dulce de leche
This method takes 8-10 hours on low. You can make as many cans as will fit sideways in the bottom of your pot! (This is true for all 3 methods of cooking.) Put them on their sides so that they stay put on the bottom, they tend to bounce around if they are upright.
Instant Pot dulce de leche
Pressure cook on high for 40 minutes. This is by far the fastest way to go from zero to dulce de leche! Water should be 1 inch above your can, or about to your first knuckle.
You can see some of the label floating around in the water on this one, I didn’t clean my can and had to Goo Gone my whole pot.
Stovetop dulce de leche
Boiling the can on the stovetop takes about 3 hours with a minimal amount of babysitting.
You just have to check every now and then to make sure the can is submerged with water, and if not, add more. Fill the water about 2 inches above the can for stovetop cooking, about to your second knuckle.
And lastly, whatever cooking method you use, be VERY careful not to open the can while it is still pressurized! It will spurt molten hot dulce-lava all over you. You need to let it cool down. I like to stick my cans in a bowl of cold water and let them cool down for 30 minutes or so. You can open your can when it is still warm, but tepid enough that you can hold it no problem with your bare hands.
Here’s how it looks when you first open it up. Give it a good stir and it smooths out perfectly!
Ideas for how to use dulce de leche!
There are a thousand ways you can eat dulce de leche, but here are some of my favorite ways!
- top your ice cream
- Put it in a jar with a pretty label and give to neighbors as a holiday gift
- spread it on toast (or English muffins, oooh yes)
- use it as a cake filling instead of buttercream
- dip apples/bananas/any fruit into it (this is a great snack for parties and baby showers!)
- Fill cupcakes
- Fill doughnuts (Like these Nutella Filled Donuts) but use dulce de leche
- use it instead of pudding in a trifle
- stir it into overnight oats
- top pancakes or waffles. DO IT.
- Stir into plain Greek yogurt and top with granola and/or fruit
- Fold into whipped cream and top a cake with it
- Fill crepes
- top or stuff brownies or blondies
- top or swirl into a cheesecake
- top your pie, or swirl it into the filling
- Stir it into oatmeal
- Stuff cookies (Like these Stuffed Gingerbread Cookies, that would be so good!)
Also, make this pie. Recipe coming later this week! It’s the whole reason I did this How to Make Dulce de Leche post, haha. I’ve got ulterior motives people.
Dulce de leche would be such a fun and EASY way to take care of friend and neighbor gifts for Christmas this year. Who could say no to a jar of this stuff?? Give it to them with a few apples for dipping. So fun!
More ideas for what to do with dulce de leche:
- No Bake Dulce de Leche Cheesecake with Caramelized Peaches << You could do this with caramelized bananas if peaches aren’t in season!
- Cranberry Dulce de Leche Hand Pies << these are so fun for the holidays!! Surprise and delight your guests!
- 2 Ingredient Nutella Puff Pastry << fill this with dulce de leche instead of Nutella. YES.
- Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Parfaits << this is so easy and a really fun make-your-own dessert to serve at parties, baby showers, etc.
- Nutella and Banana Stuffed Crescent Rolls << use dulce de leche instead of Nutella in this recipe. HEAVEN!
- Top these Dark Chocolate Waffles with dulce de leche. Talk about a decadent breakfast!
Store bought items you should definitely make at home instead:
- Cinnamon Honey Butter << this is a magical substance. Pinned over 500k times, so you know it’s a winner!
- My Favorite Caramel Sauce << You can never go wrong with homemade caramel!
- The Best Lemon Curd (Easy!) << this is a reader favorite! And a favorite of mine too!
- Homemade Chocolate Sauce << The hot fudge you buy at the store pales in comparison. For real.
- Easy Homemade Maple Syrup << My husband is obsessed with this stuff.
- Coconut Syrup << this is popular in Hawaii. It’s SO good on these Banana Macadamia Pancakes
- Homemade Nutella from Crunchy Creamy Sweet
- Peanut Butter Ice Cream Topping from Crazy for Crust
- Homemade Magic Shell from Real Housemoms
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How to Make Dulce de Leche
- 1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
Prepare your can:
- Remove the label. This is optional, but I think it's easier to peel dry paper off of a can than to fish wet particles of disintegrating paper out of hot water when you're done.
- Clean the glue off the can. This is also optional, but every brand of sweetened condensed milk that I tried had such a strong glue attaching the label to the can that afterward, the interiors of my pots (stock pot, Instant pot, and Crock pot) were covered in a grimy film from the glue. I'd rather clean the glue off the can than clean it off my pot. I used Goo Gone and it took about 2 seconds.
- Place the can on it's side (not upright) in your pot (Crock pot, Instant pot, or large stock pot). This is so that the can stays put on the bottom of the pot. It will bounce around if you stand it upright. You can make as many cans at a time as you like, usually up to 3 depending on the size of your pot. The cans need to be able to to fit sideways on the bottom of the pot, do not stack them.
- Alternatively, you can scrape your sweetened condensed milk into a very clean mason jar and seal tightly with a clean ring and a clean lid. If you choose this method, place the jar in the pot upright, not on it's side. If you are doing more than one can, make sure they are not touching each other. Leave a little space at the top of the jar so the milk has room to expand. 2 (14 ounce) cans of sweetened condensed milk will fit into 3 (8 ounce) mason jars. Mason jars are perfect if you are planning to gift these to neighbors or friends.
- Fill your large stock pot with water that reaches 2 inches above the cans (which are on their sides.)
- Cover with a lid and set over high heat.
- When the water is at a rolling boil, lower the heat to a simmer. For my stove on the "power burner" this was on low. There should still be active bubbles, just not so much that your water looks ragey and angry. It should be gently bubbly.
- Simmer as is for 3 hours. Keep the lid on. Check the pot every 30-60 minutes to make sure that the water level is above the cans. The cans need to be completely submerged at all times. Add more hot water as necessary.
- After 3 hours, either wait for the water to cool a bit, or carefully remove the can with tongs and oven mitts. DO NOT open the can right away! The can is pressurized and you will spurt yourself with molten hot dulce de leche, and it will hurt. You can place the can in a bowl of cold water to speed up the cooling if you like. When you can handle the can easily with your bare hands, it is ready to be opened. It doesn't take more than a half hour if placed in cold water.
- Open your can and voila! Delicious dulce de leche!
Instant Pot Instructions:
- Fill your Instant pot (or any brand electric pressure cooker) with water that reaches 1 inch above the cans (which are on their sides.)
- Place the lid on the Instant pot and turn the lever on top to "SEAL."
- Pressure cook on high (which is the default) for 40 minutes.
- At this point you can either release the lid naturally or follow manual instructions to do a quick release. Be careful! You don't want to get a steam burn.
- DO NOT open the can right away! The can is pressurized and you will spurt yourself with molten hot dulce de leche, and it will hurt. You can place the can in a bowl of cold water to speed up the cooling if you like. When you can handle the can easily with your bare hands, it is ready to be opened. It doesn't take more than a half hour if placed in cold water.
- Open your can and voila! Delicious dulce de leche!
Slow Cooker Instructions:
- Fill your slow cooker with water that reaches 1 inch above the cans (which are on their sides.)
- Set the heat to LOW and cook for 8-10 hours. The longer you cook it, the darker your dulce de leche will be.
- After 8-10 hours, either wait for the water to cool a bit, or carefully remove the can with tongs and oven mitts. DO NOT open the can right away! The can is pressurized and you will spurt yourself with molten hot dulce de leche, and it will hurt. You can place the can in a bowl of cold water to speed up the cooling if you like. When you can handle the can easily with your bare hands, it is ready to be opened. It doesn't take more than a half hour if placed in cold water.
- Open your can and voila! Delicious dulce de leche!
- If you do not open the cans, they are shelf-stable for 3 months . There is no need to refrigerate if you have not opened the cans. They are still sealed. If you cooked in mason jars, they are not shelf stable and you need to refrigerate.
- Once the can is opened, transfer leftovers to a mason jar with a lid or a tupperware with a lid. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
- The consistency of dulce de leche after cooling is pudding-like. It is not thin or pourable. It is more like soft peanut butter. If you are storing in the fridge, you can warm it in the microwave for a minute or two to soften it. If you are pouring over ice cream, I like to stir in a bit of cream to the warm dulce de leche to make it even smoother. Because calorie restraint is not my forte :)
If you are making in the crockpot, do you have to check the water over the 10 hours or can you just leave it? I was born on December 13 and love being a Christmas baby!
Hi Carol! No, you do not need to check the water level in the slow cooker since it is covered. Great question! Enjoy! oh, and so glad you enjoy the Christmas birthday!!
I’m trying this with condensed sweetened coconut milk in my Ninja Foodi.. I can’t wait to see how it turns out!
Hi, can I do this with the cans that you pop open? I’m trying this as I type so I guess I’ll find out soon. I should have checked first.
Hi Marissa! I haven’t tried that, but those cans are sealed just as much as the other ones, so I can’t imagine it would be a problem. hope it goes well!
Can you you the dulce de Lethe condensed milk in a can for this pie? Would you still need to cook this?
Hi Suzie! are you asking if you can use the Dulce de leche they sell in cans at the store? Yes, you can use that. No need to cook the can. Just open and add to the pie!
2 hours is enough to get very good condensed caramelized milk.
Can you fill chocolate cups like you would a peanut butter cup?
Hi Danielle, I’m not sure how that would work out since i haven’t tried it. I’m sure it would be delicious. Let me know how it goes!
Hi! I’m so extremely angry right now :) My dad’s birthday gathering is in an hour and not only does my cake taste like cornbread, but after three hours of tending to this “duce de leche” I opened the can to plain old sweetened condensed milk. Happy birthday dad, here’s some cornbread with sweetened condensed milk mmm!
So sorry it didn’t work out Anna! That’s so frustrating. Was it not boiling the whole time? Here’s the fastest cake I know how to whip up, if you still have time: https://thefoodcharlatan.com/texas-sheet-cake/
With the crock pot method – can you do 1/2 the time on high like with many other recipes that use low cooking?
Hi Kendra! I haven’t tried it, so I can’t say for sure!
Yes I’m from Brazil! We love “Doce de leite” to fill cakes… sometimes we mix fruits like coconut…..pineapple 😋
That’s a great idea Jean! Thanks for sharing your ideas!
Hi, I used the Instant Pot method and it worked great, but next time I would like my dulce de leche darker. Could I try 50 minutes, is it safe I’m scared that the can might explode.
Hi Tania! No your can will not explode. Just make sure it’s cool when you open it! Let me know how it goes!
This is my fear as well, especially since the cans here where I live (Washington) have the pull tab on them. I feel like it may not be as pressurized as a regular can you would need an opener for.
can you make this in advance and stored on shelf or refrigerator
Hi Jim! Yes, you can store the cans unopened on the shelf, and opened in the fridge for several weeks.
Hi, can dulce de leche be canned? If yes, what’s the processing tima thank you! I made it yesterday and it turned out beautifully!
Hi Mimi! I’m not sure what you mean by canned? It’s in a can when you make it. I made some several months ago, never opened the can, and it’s still sitting on my shelf! It lasts quite a while. Hope this helps!
Thanks for your answer! I made the dulce de leche and I am planning to filled up mason jars with dulce de leche to give away as gifts. I was wondering if I could put the jars filled up with dulce de leche through a water bath like when I make jams. ( to seal the jars) If yes, for how long? Thanks again for a great recipe and for getting back to me. Dulce de leche came out great!
Hi Mimi! I haven’t tried canning the dulce de leche. I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about canning! So glad the recipe turned out well. Good luck!
It’s great to learn that the easiest way to make Dulce de Leche is to boil an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk. My wife is wanting to expand her cooking knowledge and she was wondering how she can make Dulce de Leche. I’ll be sure to let her know that she can start making Dulce de Leche by boiling an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk.
I had my first baby on Christmas Eve 40 years ago this year. To say the least, I was not thrilled that she wouldn’t have her own special day… so from her 1st birthday, we celebrated and had her party 2 weeks later… 1 week would have been New Year’s Eve so that was a no go, too. She has always been able to get something she wanted for her Birthday that Santa failed to bring her. No matter when she was born, we planned on naming her Jessamyn which means “my gift”, but we were stumped for a middle name. Her arrival on Christmas Eve made it easy… Noel. Because we always told her it was special to have a Christmas birthday, but still gave her her own special celebration a little later, she has never felt bad about the date of her birth. And Jessamyn Noel truly is my Christmas Gift!!
That is the sweetest story Melanie! I love the name Jessamyn Noel, what a wonderful story to remember! I’m hoping I can turn our son’s story into something so positive and meaningful instead of just being grumpy about it every year!! Thanks so much for the positive comment :)
I absolutely love you for this recipe
Well awesome Alex!! I hope you get to try it soon! Let me know how it goes!
I pour the evaporated milk into a canning jar, which I place in my Instant Pot. I really have to resist making this, as it calls to me from my refrigerator.
It calls to me too Sandee, I feel you! I’m sure you mean sweetened condensed milk and not evaporated milk. And if you DO mean evap milk, tell me the secret!! ;) Mason jars are perfect for this project! Thanks for commenting!