Dulce de Leche

This recipe for dulce de leche uses a store-bought shortcut, but with one ingredient and three hours, it couldn't be much easier.

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A spoon drizzling dulce de leche over a silver bowl of vanilla ice cream.

What is Dulce de Leche?

Dulce de Leche is a very sweet caramelized milk confection that is so delicious and decadent that it’s almost come to symbolize the sweetest of the sweets. It is traditionally made by simmering milk and sugar together very gently for hours. The slow simmering causes the sugar to caramelize as well as all the sugars that are naturally present in the milk and the result is a thick, spreadable, sauce with a caramel-y flavor. It’s different from caramel sauce in that caramel sauce is made by simmering sugar and water and it is just the sugar that caramelizes. 

A can of sweetened condensed milk in front of a hammered stainless steel stockpot.

Is Dulce de Leche Just Condensed Milk?

Dulce de leche is not the same thing as sweetened condensed milk. The latter is milk that has had the water evaporated out of it and sugar added. It has the same ingredients as dulce de leche, but the sugars have not been caramelized so condensed milk is white in color and not quite as sweet as dulce de leche. It is, however, a shortcut in making dulce de leche, because by simmering an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk submerged in water, we don’t have to stir the dulce de leche periodically over the cooking time, which is two to three hours. 

A can of condensed milk submerged in water in a stainless steel stockpot.

Important: Keep Covered

There are a few important things to remember when making dulce de leche directly in the can of sweetened condensed milk. First of all make sure the can doesn’t have any dents in it. Dents in a can create a weak spot and could cause the seal on the can to fail. Secondly (and less important), remove the label from the can before simmering it. Finally (and very important), make sure the can always stays submerged with water. This last point is critical. The can must be submerged for the duration of the cooking time. Set a timer to check it periodically and refill with boiling water from your kettle or another saucepan. 

Tongs lifting a can out of a stainless steel pot of water.

How Long to Cook Dulce de Leche

How long to cook dulce de leche depends on how deep a flavor and color you want. Two hours will give you a light caramel color that is pourable. Three hours increases the flavor and thickness. Four hours will create a deep, spreadable sauce like a preserve. Three hours is my preference, but time the dulce de leche based on what you are going to use it for.

An unopened can of condensed milk on a towel with a stockpot in the background.

Let it Cool Completely

It is also very important to let the can of dulce de leche cool completely before you go to open it. It will take quite a while to cool, but just let it be. You can actually store the can like this on a shelf for a few months unopened. Once cool, open the can and give it a stir before diving in.

A silver ice cream bowl with vanilla ice cream and dulce de leche on a turqoise napkin with an open can of dulce de leche next to it.

How to Serve Dulce de Leche

I’m sure I don’t really need to give you ideas for how to use dulce de leche, but just in case…. it’s obviously delicious with ice cream or brownies, but also great on cookies, drizzled onto cakes or waffles, made into icing for cupcakes, piped into donuts, stirred into a special coffee or even just spread on toast. 

A white bowl of ice cream and brownies in front of a can of dulce de leche with a spoon sticking out of it.

How to Store Dulce de Leche

If you haven’t opened the can, you can store the dulce de leche on the shelf for up to three months. If the can is opened, transfer the contents to a container or jar and store in the fridge for up to a month. You can even freeze dulce de leche and keep it up to three months if you like. But I don’t think you’ll have to even think about storing it for longer than that. 😉

Two plates of brownies drizzled with dulce de leche with a can of dulce de leche next to them with a spoon sticking out of it.

Dulce de Leche

  • Cook Time: 3 h
  • Cooling time: 1 h
  • Total Time: 4 h
  • Servings:


  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk


  1. Remove the label from the can of condensed milk. Place it on its side in a large stockpot or saucepan and cover with at least 2 inches of water.

  2. Bring the water to a boil and then turn it down to a simmer. Simmer the can of condensed milk for at least 2 hours for a lighter caramel color, or as much as 3 hours for a darker caramel color. Important: Keep an eye on the level of the water, and make sure the can is covered with water at all times. If needed, add more boiling water to the pot.
  3. Remove the can from the water and let it cool completely before opening. Unopened cans can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 months. Once opened, transfer any leftover dulce to leche to a container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
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Comments (1)Post a Reply

  1. 5 stars
    Thank you for all you share, I sincerely appreciate it and all your hard work which shows your enjoyment!

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