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How to Make Homemade Dulce de Leche

Sweetened Condensed Milk

One of the most frequently recommended ways to make Dulce de Leche is to put a can of sweetened condensed milk into boiling water and cook it for a period of 2-4 hours. This is not a good thing to do – and one look at the warning on a can of sweetened condensed milk will tell you why: the can can explode. This can happen when the water level in the pan gets to low, when the burner you’re using has a hot spot below your can, or when any other situation arises in which excess heat builds up in that can. I’ve used the method with good results – but it’s not worth the risk of stepping out of the kitchen and returning to a big mess of sweetened condensed milk everywhere, not when there is a safer method that is just as easy to do and that is even a bit faster.

This method for making dulce de leche uses a double boiler. Simply open a can of sweetened condensed milk and pour it into the top of a double boiler, where the bottom is already filled with a few inches of simmering water. With a double boiler, you don’t need to worry about the water evaporating while you cook, and since there is no pressure from a sealed can, there is no risk of an unexpected explosion (yes, it really does happen).

Sweetened Condensed Milk in double boiler

You can make your own double boiler with a large bowl and a saucepan, if necessary. The condensed milk will heat up and thin slightly, and as it cooks it will take on a caramel color and the more caramelized flavor of dulce de leche. Stir the mixture every once in a while to keep it smooth and remove it from the heat after about 60-70 minutes. The dulce de leche will thicken as it cools. If you like yours very thick and caramel-like, you can keep cooking it for an extra 15-30 minutes. Store the finished dulce de leche in an airtight container. It can be refrigerated, but I will often keep it at room temperature if I am planning to use it up within a couple of days.

Dulce De Leche

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30 Comments
  • Cathy
    January 12, 2010

    thank you for posting this! I was so close to putting a can in a pot of water, but still iffy about it.

  • Linda
    January 12, 2010

    Seems there should be a better way (without buying it already made). Seems like it should work in a crock pot or in the oven to avoid having to watch it so much and the water in the pot. Maybe I’m just lazy but I would think a slow and more rounded method of cooking would be more attractive. Like baking apple butter instead of doing it on the stove.

  • Rachel
    January 12, 2010

    The color does not look very attractive to me – three hours in a pot of water and I get the most amazing, darker, delicious dulce de leche. Just keep the water level above the can (loosely cover the pot and it’s a non-issue if you check it every half hour or so), cook for three hours, and ohmygod.

    My can of condensed milk features no such warnings about boiling it.

    Linda, you can do it more quickly in a pressure cooker, as far as shortcuts go. I think a crock pot would be the same as a boiling pot of water, just a bunch longer. I may try that.

  • Pam
    January 12, 2010

    I just made some in my crockpot — it works like a charm! You can place the cans on a rack to avoid the potential “hot spot” issue. Make sure to remove the labels, and as much of the glue as you can — it will melt and require some scrubbing to remove from the crock.

  • David
    January 12, 2010

    I’ve had very good results using a pressure cooker, which also reduces both the chances and hazards of a containment breach. 20-30 minutes is a good starting range; 30′ is dark and thick, where 20′ is light and closer to runny.
    One advantage to this method: throw several cans in to the pressure cooker at once, and store the extras on the shelf indefinitely, for the next time a recipe calls for some.
    My results:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidbump/2462678313/

  • becky s
    January 12, 2010

    Thanks! I will give your method a try. I made mine in the oven in a large shallow glass pan which I placed in a larger pan partially filled with water. Covered the pan with foil and baked it a good long time. Constantly checking water level, pulling the whole mess out of the oven to stir… getting scalded by the stream….

  • Cheryl
    January 12, 2010

    Looks yum! I’ve never used a double boiler before!

  • Nutmeg Nanny
    January 12, 2010

    Great post. I’m always so nervous about the can in the hot pot of water method. I need to give this a try. I could always use dulce de leche around the house 🙂

  • Sarah
    January 12, 2010

    I’m impatient and have found that if you are very attentive and stir constantly, you can also just do it in a pan over lowish heat. You have to be prepared to sit there the whole time, though, as it caramelizes pretty fast once it starts turning!

  • Mike
    January 13, 2010

    Pam: How long did you cook it in the crock pot? on High?

    Thanks!

  • Niki
    January 13, 2010

    I frequently make it in a crock pot. If you place the unwrapped can in the stock pot, cover w/ water and set to low right before you go to bed, the next morning, it is delicious and creamy dulce de leche. 🙂 You’re right though, boiling water in a pan is too unstable, you have to keep an eye on it. The way I do it is easy and you don’t have to keep an eye on it the whole time!

  • Corey
    January 13, 2010

    Thanks for posting this. The sweetened condensed milk at my local grocery stores comes in the flimsiest (and most dented!) cans, so I haven’t made dulce de leche in-the-can for many years. Glad to see a double boiler can do the job.

  • jon conner
    January 14, 2010

    does someone know, if organic milk is vegan?

  • M
    January 14, 2010

    @john conner – Dairy products, even when organic, are not vegan.

  • Ashley
    February 4, 2010

    Tried this last night for the amount of time stated… mine does not have the dark color like the pic above. 🙁 It’s definitely thicker, and has a caramel smell to it. Do I need to heat it for a long period of time?

  • Jayne
    March 8, 2010

    If I want to add a vanilla bean into the dulce, when do I do it? After the dulce is made?

  • sam
    March 8, 2010

    i tried doing it the old fashioned way (boiling while in can) fortunately what you said never happened to me. thanks anyway for sharing this tip to us

  • facelift
    April 30, 2010

    The color is not very interesting for me … not worth the risk of the kitchen and return to a big mess of sweetened condensed milk anywhere.

  • Welding Forum
    May 7, 2010

    I’ve got two cans just waiting to go, but i’ve been balking at boiling them in the cans. I think i’ll try one from your recipe, and the other the old fashioned way.

  • Jackie
    January 5, 2011

    Hi, Just wanted to let you know that I have linked your article above to my blog. Thank you.

  • Mimi
    July 28, 2011

    I am trying the double-boiler method right now, and it’s been on the stove for more than an hour already. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be getting any thicker or darker in color….I wonder if I’m doing something wrong. 🙁
    I’d hate to be waiting on this pot for 4 hours when I thought it would only take 1. Oh well. We’ll see.

  • Mimi
    August 1, 2011

    Had to update from my last comment.
    Silly me, my double boiler setup wasn’t right. I was doing it the way I usually melt chocolate, with the pot on top not touching the hot water. It should definitely be immersed!

    After I figured that out everything went to plan. Beautiful color, texture, taste. I used it as a filling for dark chocolate cake. 🙂

  • Elizabeth
    October 1, 2012

    I actually had a can of condensed milk explode while making Dulce de Leche. Luckily, I was a 16 year old girl talking on the phone away from the kitchen at the time and no one was home. There was condensed milk EVERYWHERE! Thanks for this simple (and safer) recipe! lol

  • Kristen
    October 17, 2012

    I have done the condensed milk in a pot for 3 times and no explosion. 😀

  • Layla
    February 18, 2013

    I actually did this in a microwave it took about 30 min. 🙂

  • Amelia Soares
    June 2, 2013

    Hello from Lisbon, Portugal!
    I, like David above, also do it in a pressure cooker and it has worked fine so far…(fingers crossed!), have been doing it for over 20 years and never had a can explode on me (or the pressure cooker) , not even the ones which do not require a can opener, you know, with a pull back ring, like a coca-cola can (or the pressure cooker).
    Now, here in Portugal, we can buy cans of alredy cooked condensed milk, from the Nestlé brand, but I find it too bland, I like it more caramelized and thick, almost to the point you can slice it with a knife. Incidentaly, I have relatives in Brasil, and one of their favorite desserts consists on thick slices of uncured Minas cheese paired with a thick slice of solid dulce de leche! Dairy galore…but delicious!
    Now, off to making some dulce de leche ice cream, yummy!

    Cheers,
    Amelia

  • Amelia Soares
    June 2, 2013

    Me again…sorry, please ignore the second “(or the pressure cooker) in my previous comment, after the coca-cola can, not sure how that happened…

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