Not to be confused with caramel, dulce de leche is a rich caramelized spread that gets its beautiful brown color not from the caramelization of sugar (as caramel does), but from the caramelization of the milk.
This version could not be simpler. We take advantage of canned sweetened condensed milk, an ingredient that already has half the work done for us. Traditional dulce de leche is achieved by stirring milk and sugar for hours and hours until it evaporates, thickens, and reduces to a fraction of its former self, all while taking on a beautiful color and complex flavor.
Simmering the can creates a mini pressure cooker effect that speeds up this process, with no stirring required. Just be sure the can is always submerged under water to keep the pressure even and prevent any explosions!
Dulce de leche is a caramelized sweet milk sauce and spread, made by slowly cooking milk and sugar until it becomes thick and a gorgeous golden-brown color, taking on a much richer flavor.
Although popularized in South and Central America — the first historical reference is dated from Argentina in 1814 — many other countries and cultures also appreciate this luxurious treat. In France it’s sometimes called confiture de lait, and in Polish cuisine its called kajmak, based off the Turkish kaymak.
What to Serve Dulce de Leche With
The name dulce de leche literally translates to “sweet [made] of milk,” and it finds its way into many desserts around the world. With a jar of dulce de leche in your fridge, the possibilities of elevating any dessert are endless. Whip it into buttercream and spread it in between layers on a cake. Spread a thin layer on toast (yes, for breakfast!) sprinkled with some flaky salt. Drizzle it over ice cream, mix some into your coffee, spread it in your s’mores, eat it by the spoonful! The list goes on and on.
How to Store Dulce de Leche
Although this recipe cooks dulce de leche very simply in its can, be sure to transfer any leftovers to an airtight container in the fridge for storage for up to one month — if it will last that long!
This one-ingredient dulce de leche recipe gets its beautiful brown color from the caramelization of sweetened condensed milk.
- 1 (14-ounce) can
sweetened condensed milk, preferably not one with a tab opener (see Recipe Notes)
Remove the paper label from 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk and scrub away any excess glue with soap and water.
Place the can sideways in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven (at least 5 1/2 quarts) and add enough water to cover by 1-inch so the can is fully submerged.
Bring water to a boil over high heat. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer for 2 1/2 hours, checking periodically to ensure the can is constantly covered with water and that a gentle simmer is maintained. If the can is not fully submerged at all times, the can may overheat and potentially explode, so add more water and adjust the heat as needed.
Very carefully remove the can with tongs or a large slotted spoon from the water. Let cool at room temperature, at least 3 hours. Open the can gently with a can opener and stir well before using.
Type of can: After researching other recipes, we noticed that some people have reported issues with cans that open with a tab. For this reason, we recommend starting with a can of sweetened condensed milk that requires a can opener.
Storage: Any leftover dulce de leche should be removed from the can with a utensil sprayed lightly with cooking spray (this helps prevent the dulce de leche from sticking during the transfer) and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 month. It can also be frozen for up to 3 months with a layer of plastic wrap pressed onto the surface.
Laura Manzano is a recipe developer, food stylist, personal chef, and occasional writer living in Brooklyn. Her favorite food is all sandwiches.