Dulce de Leche: the effortless recipe for the classic Latin American caramelized milk

Total time: 2H
Difficulty: Low
Serves: 8 people
By Cookist

If you like caramel, you'll love dulce de leche. This wonderfully sweet, versatile sauce is similar to caramel but is made by caramelizing milk. It's a staple dessert ingredient in Latin American countries.

Also known as milk jam or caramelized milk in English or manjar, arequipe, or manjar blanco in Spanish, dulce de leche boasts a rich brown color and sweet, almost toffee-like flavor. It's thick, rich, sticky, and smooth – perfect for adding to cakes, cupcakes, as a filling for doughnuts, cookies, or drizzled over ice cream.

There are two ways to make homemade dulce de leche, both of which we'll cover here. Let's dive in!

What is Dulce de Leche?

Dulce de leche is a thick, rich spread or sauce made from caramelized milk. It's common throughout Latin America where it's used as a topping or a filling for all sorts of tasty sweets.

In Spanish, dulce de leche means “sweet milk”. It's made by gently cooking milk and sugar, and occasionally, other ingredients such as vanilla are added.

Dulce de Leche Origins

Dulce de leche is found throughout Latin America, especially in South America. There are many stories surrounding its origins. One story says it was created by accident in Argentina when the maid of an Argentine politician forgot about a pot of milk and sugar on the hob.

Another suggests that this delicious confection was commonplace in Indonesia and made its way to the Philippines, where the Spanish subsequently encountered it when they were colonizing the country. They loved it so much, that dulce de leche went with them when they colonized Central and South America.

Dulce de Leche vs. Caramel 

Although similar, there are a couple of key differences between dulce de leche and caramel. Caramel is made from sugar and water or sugar cooked down by itself, while dulce de leche is typically made with sweetened condensed milk (although it can also be made from milk and sugar). Dulce de leche is cooked at a lower temperature than caramel. It gets its rich, gorgeous brown color from the browning of the milk.

Easy Dulce de Leche Ingredients

Depending on which method you use to make your dulce de leche, you'll either need one ingredient or four ingredients.

For the classic method, you'll need whole milk, sugar, baking soda, and vanilla.

If you're using the sweetened condensed milk method, all you need is a can of sweetened condensed milk!

How to Make Dulce de Leche

No matter which method you choose to use for making dulce de leche, it won't be a difficult process. Here are both methods for making dulce de leche at home.

Sweetened Condensed Milk Method

This is the easier of the two methods. Start by heating your oven to 425F. Pour the condensed milk into a pie dish, then wrap the pie dish with foil. Make sure the foil is nice and tight. Set the pie dish in a large roasting pan and pour hot water into the pan. It should reach halfway up the side of the pie dish.

Bake the milk for 45 minutes. Peek in the oven and add more water as needed, then bake for another 45 minutes, or until the condensed milk thickens up and turns a rich brown color. Take the pan out of the oven and remove the pie dish from the roasting pan. Once cooled, your dulce de leche is ready to use!

Classic Method 

If you want to make dulce de leche the old school way, start by mixing the milk, sugar, baking soda and vanilla in a pot. Let it come to a boil, then lower it to a simmer. Make sure you stir the milk mixture every so often.

Let the milk simmer for 1 ½ to 1 ¾ hours, or until thickened and browned. Finally, pour into a bowl to cool completely.

How to Use Dulce de Leche

Dulce de leche can be used in all sorts of tasty desserts. Use it in cakes, as a filling for doughnuts, truffles, or crepes. It makes an excellent topping for pancakes or waffles, or use as a substitute for caramel. You can also enjoy it drizzled over your favorite ice cream.

Tips for Homemade Dulce de Leche

To make cajeta, use goats' milk instead of cows' milk.

You can make dulce de leche in a pressure cooker. Put the can of condensed milk in the trivet of your Instant Pot. Make sure it doesn't touch the edges. Cover the can with water, then secure the lid. Cook for 15 minutes on high, followed by a natural release. Let the can cool in the Instant Pot overnight, so it can cool completely.

To thicken dulce de leche, add ½ tablespoon of cornstarch to 1 ¼ teaspoon of milk, make a slurry then stir it into the mixture. You can also add milk powder.

How to Store Dulce de Leche

Keep your dulce de leche in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Frozen dulce de leche will stay fresh for up to several months.

for the classic method
4 cups
1 1/4 cups
Baking soda
1/4 tsp
1 tsp
for the sweetened condensed milk method
Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 14-ounce can


Classic method

Pour milk in a saucepan.

Add vanilla.

Combine sugar.

Add baking soda.

Let the mixture come to a boil, then lower it to a simmer.

Leave the milk to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 ½ to 1 ¾ hours, or until thickened and browned.

Next, pour into a bowl to cool completely. Once cooled, use immediately or transfer to a clean jar and place in the fridge.

Serve and enjoy!

Sweetened condensed milk method

Preheat your oven to 425F. Pour the condensed milk into a pie dish, then wrap the pie dish with foil.

Put the pie dish in a large roasting pan and pour boiling water into the pan, so that it reaches about halfway up the side of the pie dish.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Top up with more water as needed, then bake for 45 minutes more, or until the condensed milk becomes thick and brown.

Remove from oven to cool completely, then use immediately or transfer to a clean jar and refrigerate.


For the best results when using the classic method, use whole milk.

Every dish has a story
Find out more on Cookist social networks