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How to make dulce de leche from sweetened condensed milk

Dulce de leche is ready!

I always make my own Dulce de Leche, and it is one of my favorite ingredients to use in dessert recipes. Dulce de Leche is basically a very dense sweetened milk with caramelized sugar. It is usually prepared by heating sweetened condensed milk for many hours until it thickens, and the sugar in the milk caramelizes, creating a confection of darker color and quite exquisite flavor. It’s basically candied milk, which is what Dulce de Leche actually means, when translated.

It’s hard to find the “right” kind of Dulce de Leche in the stores, and I always prefer homemade version anyway. I plan to use it a lot in my upcoming recipes – in fact, I just made these wonderful peach shaped sandwich cookies with Dulce de Leche and walnut filling – my first recipe in Dulce de Leche series (clicking on the photo will take you to the recipe of the cookies):

Peach shaped cookies with dulce de leche filling

Dulce de leche is ready!

How to make homemade Dulce de Leche from sweetened condensed milk

Prep time: 20 min
Total time: 3 hrs

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans sweetened condensed milk

Note: Before making any desserts that require Dulce de Leche, I usually prepare the Dulce de Leche (cooked condensed milk) one day in advance, to allow it to completely cool. Always make your Dulce de Leche at least 1 day in advance.

1) Open 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk and pour it into 2 small glass jars, such as Kerr, covering each jar with just a loose flat round lid, without a part that screws it in.

2)  Fill 2 small pans with water and put each of those glass jars (with loose lids, not screwed) into each pan, so that water level is at or above the level of condensed milk in the jar.

3)  Bring both pans (with water and glass jars) to boil on stove top.  Boil condensed milk this way, for a total of 1.5 to 3 hours (depends on the thickness and consistency you want to achieve). If you want more runny consistency, boil it for 1.5 hours, if you want it very thick (that’s how I like it because I use it as a filling in cookies) – boil it for 3 hours. After 1 hour of boiling, start mixing the insides of each jar with a spoon every 30 minutes.   Also, make sure to take these important things into consideration:

  • Do not screw the top lid to the jar – just let it loosely hang on top, allowing a little bit of air to escape.  If you screw the top in, you risk creating too much pressure in the jar, which might lead it to explode / break.
  • Also, since you will be boiling the water for 3 hours, you will need to add water regularly as it evaporates.  For that purpose, I usually heat the water in the kettle to a boiling point and then pour the boiling water from the kettle into the 2 pans with glass jars.  Do not pour cold water into the pans, as adding cold water to boiling hot glass jars will break them.
  • As water boils around the glass jar and cooks the condensed milk inside the glass jar, the color of the condensed milk will be progressively getting darker and its consistency thicker.  Make sure to stir the condensed milk inside the glass jar every 30 minutes.
  • After you have cooked condensed milk this way for 3 hours (or less if you want more runny Dulce de Leche), remove the glass jars from the pan to the counter and let them cool for 2 hours at room temperature.
  • After 2 hours of cooling, put glass jars with dulce de leche (cooked condensed milk) in the refrigerator for about 5 hours.  After 5 hours, the consistency of Dulce de Leche will not be runny, and it will be thick enough to fill various types of cookies without being too runny and leaking out.

4) Making Dulce de Leche is not difficult at all, but it is important to be in the kitchen during the whole process, as it requires stirring every 30 minutes and adding boiling water as it evaporates. I usually cook or bake something else in the kitchen while my Dulce de Leche is being cooked.

Dulce de Leche should be stored refrigerated in an airtight container. I like to store it in an airtight glass jar with the lid on. It stores well for at least a month.

These photos are illustrating major cooking steps:

Sweetened condensed milk in cans

Sweetened condensed milk in cans

Transfer sweetened condensed milk to glass jars

Transfer sweetened condensed milk to glass jars

Place each glass jar with sweetened condensed milk into a small pan with water

Place each glass jar with sweetened condensed milk in it into a small pan with water

Cover the glass jar with a loose lid, without screwing it in

Cover the glass jar with a loose lid, without screwing it in

Boil sweetened condensed milk in a pan for 3 hours, with lid just loosely resting on top of glass jar

Boil sweetened condensed milk in a pan for 3 hours, with lid just loosely resting on top of glass jar (not screwed in)

While you boil sweetened condensed milk for 3 hours, stir it with a spoon every 30 minutes, and add hot water to the pan

While you boil sweetened condensed milk for 3 hours, stir it with a spoon every 30 minutes, and add hot water to the pan, as it evaporates

Dulce de leche is ready - cool it off for several hours and refrigerate it to solidify it slightly before use

After 3 hours of boiling and cooking, Dulce de leche is ready – cool it for 2 hours on the counter and then for several more hours in the refrigerator

 

{ 42 comments… add one }

  • Tash November 28, 2012, 1:33 am

    I’ve seen this made in various different ways, but this is a clever one because it means it’s fairly hands-off and is already in its jar. My M-I-L makes it by leaving it in the tin and boiling it until the tins are spherical (contradicting what it says to do on the tin) – whilst the rest of the household either flees the house or cowers in a corner! I tend to make toffee sauce with a recipe (cream, butter, sugar, vanilla) which I boil for 5 minutes. My mother on the other hand takes cans of condensed milk and cooks them in a pan until golden and then puts them in jars. I was thinking that this might be something that could be done in a slow cooker? Particularly as you could waterbath the jars using your methods yet it might be a little more hands-off.

    Unfortunately, it is difficult to stop the dulce de leche from being eaten ravenously straight from the jar with a spoon … !

    • Julia November 28, 2012, 9:25 pm

      Boiling unopened can of condensed milk works too, but I personally have a hard time submerging anything closed in boiling water for hours. I also have this (probably unfounded) concern that the metal in the tin will interact with dulce de leche in the making when boiled. So, I use the method I am most comfortable with :). Plus, I like being able to stir it to achieve even consistency. I also like to observe the progression of dulce de leche to get the desired thickness (by boiling fewer or more hours).

      • PeteH February 21, 2013, 7:38 am

        That’s exactly what an Indian friend told me to do, oh, maybe 40 years ago, to make one of those achingly-sweet Indian desserts. After the long cooking, the (now brown and thick) milk is cooled a bit and then pistachios and cardamom seeds are stirred it, and then it’s frozen like a sorbet.

  • Ale November 28, 2012, 4:43 am

    This is great, I’m a big lover of dulce de leche but always to lazy to look for it or buy it on the internet… I will give this a try! I hope I don’t blow anything up… :)

    • Julia November 28, 2012, 9:32 pm

      I did blow up a glass jar once, but only because I screwed down the metal band on top the lid. I’ve learned my lesson, and now I don’t use those metal bands, I just place loose lids on top of jars, without screwing themdown. That way, there is no pressure build-up and everything works! :)

  • Kayle (The Cooking Actress) November 28, 2012, 7:15 am

    I love how easy this looks!!! I haven’t made dulce de leche but now I really want to!

    • Julia November 28, 2012, 9:37 pm

      I love it! It makes such a great filling for cookies!

  • Christine @ Cooking Crusade November 28, 2012, 3:07 pm

    Yum! I love dulce du leche but I’ve been put off by the boiling the caramel in tins and fear of it exploding all over my kitchen hehe. This looks like a much safer method and love that its done with the jars already there. I was thinking about making something like this for Christmas hampers – so thanks so much for posting this!!

    • Julia November 28, 2012, 9:40 pm

      And, by the way, you can boil it for 1.5 to 3 hours – depends what consistency you like. 1.5 hours would be enough to produce a runny type of Dulce de Leche. I like it really thick and dark (because I use it to fill cookies and hold sandwich cookies together), which is why I boil it for 3 hours.

  • Scott at RealEpicurean November 29, 2012, 4:50 am

    Always a great tip, this, even though Nestle now sell tins of it for the same price as the condensed milk, it’s much more satisfying to make it yourself at home.

    • Julia December 5, 2012, 2:23 pm

      I always have a hard time locating Dulce de Leche in stores. Part of the reason I make it at home …. :)

  • Therese November 30, 2012, 2:55 am

    Hi there,
    I just recently made this as well, I also boiled the condensed milk cans for 3 hours!
    No explosions here and a delicious caramel at the end!
    I’m using it for the rolo cake i’m making next week!

    • Julia December 5, 2012, 2:24 pm

      What a cool idea! To use it in a rolo cake!

  • Roz November 30, 2012, 7:35 am

    Such gorgeous cookies and thank you for the ‘how to’ for dulce de leche! YUM! So glad to have found your blog to follow along!

    • Julia December 5, 2012, 2:26 pm

      Thank you for visiting!

  • Denise Browning December 8, 2012, 9:47 am

    We used to make this all the time in my childhood down in Brazil. The only difference is that we boiled the condensed milk in its own can without transferring to a glass container. I remember that I used to eat it on toast or on top of my fresh sliced bananas. Anyways, it is soooo delicious and brings me so many nice memories. xx

    • Julia December 9, 2012, 2:26 pm

      I am not surprised: dulce de leche seems to be very popular in Brazil and South America. I used to eat it when I was a child, too, many memories connected to boiled condensed milk. :)

  • Leah March 1, 2013, 1:20 pm

    If there were to be any leftovers, how do you suggest storing it? Can you put it in the pantry or does it need to go in the fridge? Do you know how long it stays good?

    • Julia March 5, 2013, 3:49 pm

      I store it in an airtight glass jar with the lid on, refrigerated. It stores really well for at least a month. I’ve been known to store it for longer than that, and dulce de leche tends to get hard and sugary if you store it for longer than a month.

  • Betty April 10, 2013, 5:23 pm

    I tasted my dulce de leche 20 minutes after removing off the stove and for some reason it tastes like honey not the normal sweet DDL I’m used to tasting. Any ideas why this could be?

  • Rhianna August 23, 2013, 10:51 am

    Im so glad you included photos– even though I read the instructions a few times through I still placed the rings on with the flat lids. Jeepers that would have been bad. I wish I had found this earlier- I was going to just boil it in the cans and pray but this morning decided danger was something I didnt want to include in my kitchen :-). I using this as a filling for cupcakes for today but Ill just have to wait to fill them tonight ( They are needed tomorrow) Thank you so much for taking the time to make this post- helps alot.

    • Julia August 23, 2013, 2:31 pm

      You’re so welcome! :) Trust me, I did boil these once with rings on, and I had a little explosion in the kitchen, without too much damage though. Just had to collect broken glass pieces out of the boiling water in the pan and, needless to say, the sweetened condensed milk went all to waste. Lids alone (without rings) do the job perfectly! :)

  • Colleen Cochran September 5, 2013, 4:46 pm

    I do this in the can but use my crock pot on low. The unopened can never gets hot enough to explode or warp, and after 8 hrs of cooking (unnattended btw) you can store the caramel in the can until you’re ready to use it. Also, even if you forget about it a few hours, it doesn’t scorch!

    • Julia September 6, 2013, 4:42 am

      Yes, I’ve heard of this method too, I just always had a concern that the metal in the can might be interacting with the condensed milk under such high temperatures.

  • Myda September 6, 2013, 12:27 pm

    Thank you for this! My mom used to make this but I never knew how since she passed when I was 8. She would make a candy with pecans with dulce de leche. I didn’t know how she did it but I crave it every once in a while. I think she would poor some of the DDL on a sheet of foil and then press a pecan into it and put in fridge. It was so delicious! I think I will make some this weekend!

    • Julia September 6, 2013, 1:00 pm

      Coating pecans with dulce de leche sounds so delicious – I have to try this! I used to make something similar, where I will make a sandwich cookie, with dulce de leche and crushed walnut filling – so good!

  • Pat Scott September 6, 2013, 1:14 pm

    THANK YOU for such explicit and detailed instructions/photos! Want to try making it -even tho I’m on a diet and lost 48 lbs so far!

    • Julia September 7, 2013, 6:31 pm

      Pat, you’re very welcome! Wow, congratulations on losing 48 pounds! That’s quite an accomplishment that requires a lot of discipline. And, yes, I love homemade dulce de leche – in moderation – it’s like a caramel sauce only better! Makes a great filling for cookies!

  • Jeanette Swalberg September 14, 2013, 7:10 pm

    Okay, this is so awesome! I have been making sweetened condensed milk at home using Paula Deen’s recipe and wondering how I make Dulce de Leche with it. Now I know! Here’s the link if you are interested in making your own sweetened condensed milk: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/sweetened-condensed-milk-recipe/index.html

    • Gloria November 21, 2013, 2:06 pm

      I found this recipe in the newspaper many, many years ago & have used it a lot. It works great in recipes calling for a can of SCM. I still use the cans when I’m in a hurry, tho.

      • Julia November 22, 2013, 5:54 pm

        I can’t believe I missed that original comment pointing out to the recipe for SCM. What a great recipe to have in case you need a can of SCM but the store is too far away.

  • Audrey September 24, 2013, 5:52 pm

    I was wondering if I could put both jars in one pan? Is there a specific reason why you need to separate them?

    • Julia September 25, 2013, 1:42 am

      You could put both jars in one pan – I’ve done it. The pan, obviously, has to be big enough so that two glass jars don’t clunk.

  • andrea November 3, 2013, 2:00 pm

    I’ve made this for 20+ years by submerging the entire unopened can in a crockpot of water on high for 8+ hours…..much less mess.

    • Julia November 5, 2013, 2:12 am

      Yes, I’ve known plenty of people who have done it and continue doing it this way. I just don’t like the idea of boiling the condensed milk inside a metal can – I’m concerned if the metal is going to interact with the condensed milk under high temperatures, which is why I choose to boil it in a glass container. :)

    • Gloria November 21, 2013, 2:11 pm

      35+ years ago, here in the Chicagoland area, we had a restaurant chain call Maxwell Sweeney’s. They made a great taffy apple pie. One of the waitresses gave me the recipe. Was basically graham cracker crust with the cooked SCM, sliced apples and chopped peanuts. I lost the recipe when I wanted to make it a few years ago & while searching was told to never boil the unopened cans so I just never made it. I’ll have to try it with this method. Thanks.

      • Julia November 22, 2013, 5:50 pm

        Gloria, the way you describe that taffy apple pie – I want to make it! Cooked SCM with apples over the graham cracker crust sounds so delicious!

        • Bettie July 19, 2014, 5:45 pm

          Please tell me how to make the taffy apple pie with graham cracker crust sounds so good Love the way you made the carmel milk. If you can send me the recipe . thanks Bettie

  • karen September 19, 2014, 9:54 am

    Hi Julia, So glad I found your site!!! I was wondering,can you microwave the carmel sauce since it will be in the frig for several hours? I would like to put it on my freshly baked muffins or breads?

  • karen September 19, 2014, 9:59 am

    Hi Julia, I am so glad I found your site!!! So,I was wondering, since the carmel sauce will be in the frig for several hours, & I want to put it on my freshly made bread or muffins, can I microwave it so its nice & warm? Thanks, karen

  • Lisa September 26, 2014, 12:51 am

    Would glass baby food jars work to boil the milk in?

    • Julia September 30, 2014, 3:18 pm

      I am not sure how tough and heat-resistant glass baby food jars are? I know that Kerr jars that I am using can withhold very high temperatures which is why I used them.

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