How to Make Dulce de Leche

Here's how to make dulce de leche with a can of sweetened condensed milk.

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We love to keep caramel topping in our baking stash. You can load it on brownies, top a pan of bars (like these snickerdoodle ones) or eat it straight from the jar if you’re having one of those days. Of course, homemade caramel is tasty, but it can be hard to make.

On the other hand, dulce de leche is similar to caramel, but isn’t as tricky to make at home. In fact, you’re pretty much just heating condensed milk until it hits the right color and consistency.

What Is Dulce de Leche?

Dulce de leche is like a creamier caramel. It’s made by slowly heating up milk, whereas caramel is made by heating sugar. Dulce de leche is rich and sweet, but not quite as sticky as caramel. It’s great for adding to cheesecakes, pies and even cakes. Traditionally, dulce de leche is made with sweetened condensed milk.

How to Make Dulce de Leche

To make your own dulce de leche at home, slowly (and we mean slowly) heat a can of sweetened condensed milk until it turns deep brown and gains a rich texture. Since the mixture needs to be heated slowly and evenly for a long period of time, most people use a water bath to bring the milk to temperature.

Pour the sweetened condensed milk into an oven-safe container. Cover with aluminum foil, then place in an oven-proof pot or baking dish. Fill the dish with water, then bake at 425°F for about two hours. Remove from the water bath and let it come down to room temperature.

Can You Make Dulce de Leche in a Can?

Yes, it can be done. But should you?

Similar to the method above, you can use a hot water bath to cook an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk. Start by removing the label from your can, then place it in a pot. Slowly fill the pot with water, covering the can entirely. Heat the can over low heat for about 90 minutes, then allow it to cool.

There are downsides to this method. First, you can’t check your progress—since the can is sealed, it’s impossible to see if the dulce de leche texture is to your liking. You have to trust your burner to get the job done.

Next, and most importantly, the can could explode. The can needs to be covered with water at all times, so our Test Kitchen does not recommend this dangerous method.

Can You Buy Dulce de Leche?

Absolutely. For anyone who wants to bake with dulce de leche, but doesn’t want to go through the process of actually making it, pick up a can at your local supermarket. Because dulce de leche is from Latin America, you can usually find it in the international aisle. You can also pick up cans of dulce de leche on Amazon or at Target.

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Kate Ellsworth
Kate is an avid baker, knitter and writer. Her passions include Star Wars, stress baking and—of course—chocolate. When she's not chasing her partner around the house asking him to try her latest recipe, Kate is probably knitting (another) sweater.