Homemade Dulce de Leche


I’ve always said that I don’t have a sweet tooth. For the large part, that’s true. I’ll take a handful of salty pretzels over chocolate almost any day.


Dulce de leche might be my undoing. It’s seriously so, so, so good.

I found myself tiptoeing over to the fridge with a spoon in hand. “I’ll just, um, taste it again to make sure it’s good enough to post on The Hungry Mouse.”

Yeah, right.

So, hello, sweet tooth. You might just be a baby, but I’m afraid you’re definitely here to stay. At least, as long as I have a jar of this dark brown, caramel-y goodness in the fridge.

What is dulce de leche?

Dulce de leche is a popular Latin American sweet that translates roughly into something like milk jam or milk candy. In French, that’s confiture de lait, which sounds way more appealing (or maybe I just like saying “confiture”).

Dulce de leche is a caramel spread that’s made by reducing milk, sugar, and vanilla until the concoction is so thick you can stand up a spoon in it or slather it on bread.

How to make dulce de leche

I made my dulce de leche from Alton Brown’s recipe. You need about 3 hours and precisely 4 ingredients: whole milk, sugar, a whole vanilla bean, and a little baking soda.

I think next time, I might try David Lebovitz’s method, which has you nestle a pan of sweetened condensed milk in a water bath, then bake it in the oven for an hour and a half.

You know, strictly in the interest of science.

What can you do with dulce de leche?

Drizzle it on ice cream. Add dollops of it into brownie batter. Swirl some into coffee or hot chocolate. Top cakes or pies. Spread it on toast. Heck, eat it with a spoon, standing in front of the fridge with the door open. It’s that good.

Don’t use skim milk

I know that there are a lot of people who balk at the idea of whole milk, and will always substitute skim milk or 2%.

Don’t do that with dulce de leche.


The fat in the milk makes this silky, sultry, and sumptuous. Plus, I honestly don’t know if this recipe will work with low-fat milk.

Oh! As with most things with only a few ingredients, use the best ones you can find. I used whole milk from one of our local dairies, Richardson’s.

Homemade Dulce de Leche

Recipe from Alton Brown

1 quart whole milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split & scraped
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Yields about 1 cup of dulce de leche

Scrape the vanilla bean

Grab a medium-sized, heavy bottomed pot. I used a 3-quart pot. Don’t use a lightweight pot for this (you know, like those fabulous, but thin, aluminum grandma pots), because you really risk scorching the milk mixture.

Toss the sugar in the pot.

Next, take your vanilla bean. I’m doing this on a white paper towel just so there’s a lot of contrast to help you see the vanilla seeds.

Split him carefully down the middle with the tip of a sharp knife.

You’ll see the vanilla seeds snuggled inside the pod, like sweet, fragrant caviar.


Run the backside of your knife (i.e. the side that’s not sharp) carefully along one half of the vanilla pod, scraping out all those glorious seeds.


Scrape the seeds into the pot with the sugar.

Don’t worry if you don’t get them all out. You just want to get most of them. Toss the vanilla bean husk into the pot with the sugar, too. (Want more fun with vanilla beans? Did you know you can make your own vanilla extract at home? All you need is vanilla beans & vodka.)


Give it a quick whisk to break up the bigger lumps of vanilla.

Add the milk.

Whisk to incorporate.

Set on the stove over medium heat. Whisk frequently until the sugar dissolves.

When the sugar has dissolved, toss in the baking soda.

Whisk to incorporate. When the mixture *just* starts to bubble, knock the heat down to low, so that it barely holds a simmer. Cook like this, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

(Warning: If your heat is too high, the milk can start to boil rapidly, which means that it can bubble up and possibly over onto your stove. Keep an eye on the pot until you’re sure that the heat is right.)


As it cooks, you’ll notice that it will start to slowly turn a lovely golden color. The surface of the mixture will also get a little frothy. That’s just fine.

You’ll also get some build up on the sides of the pot. Leave that there, don’t stir it back in.

Remove the vanilla bean after 1 hour

After the pot’s been on the stove for about 1 hour, remove the vanilla bean. Toss it. It’s done its job (and all of its little seeds are still in your pot).

Continue to cook for another 1 1/2 – 2 hours

Once you toss the vanilla bean, continue to cook the mixture (still on low heat, still uncovered), stirring occasionally, for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

As it cooks, it will continue to deepen in color.

When it’s almost done, it will be thick and syrupy.

When is it done?

To test what your dulce de leche will be like when it’s chilled, stick a small plate in the freezer for about 15 minutes. (This will be familiar to all you jam makers out there.)

When you think your dulce de leche is done, put about a teaspoon on the cold plate. Stick it back in the freezer until the dulce de leche is cold. Then, taste it and see if you’re happy. The consistency of the dulce de leche on your plate represents about how the entire pot will be once it’s chilled.

If you like it, take the pot off the heat. If you want it thicker, simmer it for another 5 minutes, then do the cold plate test again.

Strain the dulce de leche

When the dulce de leche is done, take the pot off the heat. Pour it through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium-sized bowl.

The strainer will catch any odd, clumpy bits of milk solids.



Cool & bottle

Leave the dulce de leche on the counter to cool to room temperature.

It will thicken up considerably as it cools (which is why the cold plate test is always a good idea).

When it’s cool, bottle it and stick it in the fridge. It will keep for about a month. If, of course, it lasts that long.






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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.


  1. You can also use cans of sweetened condensed milk instead of whole milk. All you have to do is put it in a shallow pan and spread and stir on low heat until it’s reduced and carmel colored.

  2. Just fantastic, Dulce de leche is very popular in Uruguay and Argentina, in fact the more popular sweet of both countries, the alfajores are fill with dulce de leche. In restaurant is easy to find cream caramel topped with dulce de leche.

  3. When I first saw it I thought it would be too sweet but it was delicious. .Even thought dulce de leche is a part of South America s heritage my Argentinean friend told me that it didn t take off in the United States until recently because during World War II there was a shortage of fresh milk so many Americans had to drink sweetened condensed milk with their coffee. It didn t catch on until the next generation grew up and lost the negative association with that flavor. .Other countries make their own versions of dulce de leche. It is made by combining and slowly reducing either in the oven or on top of the stove sweetened condensed milk or by putting an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot of simmering water for several hours. Food scientists frown upon this latter method since the can may explode it if it is not covered properly with water. .But now that I have tasted the real stuff I won t be making it much anymore.

  4. There is also a very easy method, by which you take cans (as many as you like) of sweetened condensed milk and submerse them in water, bring them to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours, remove cans from water, open, and there you have it nectar of the gods!

  5. The condensed milk one is really worth a try. If you have a pressure cooker you can do it very quickly (you can even cook lentils or beans together with your can of condensed milk). Just be very careful and let the can cool for a good time before open it, otherwise it will spill all over your kitchen and can be really hot.

  6. Oooh, I haven’t had dulce de leche since I moved from London (to rural Wales). Love the stuff, I remember getting through jars of it… don’t remember adding it to anything, just eating it neat.

    I love your blog, I come and look from time to time and have it in my feed reader. I’ve just awarded you a ‘no rules’ blog award on my blog if you want to come and see. Because it’s ‘no rules’ there’s nothing that you essentially have to do for it!

  7. I love slow cooking things. Condensed milk will work but it is not the same. I am going to pour some on apples slices and sprinkle with raw coconut.

  8. This looks amazing! I plant to make some alfajores tomorrow which have dulce de leche in middle. After seeing this I am going to use this recipe to make homemade dulce de leche first! Great pictures.

  9. I have never seen dulce de leche made this way. For over 40 years I buy cans of condensed milk, take off the label and place in a thick pot with water cover the tops of the cans, boil then simmer for the next three or so hours. Take cans out of water and let cool overnight. If you open the cans while the contents are hot they will spill out.

    Vanilla? I’m all for new and different recipes but Dulce de Leche is just condensed milk boiled until its thick, brown and yummy.

    • Dibs, I beg to differ. Obviously the dulce de leche is not traditionally made from condensed milk cans! This is the easy version for people who cannot do it with the traditional method.
      In fact, dulce de leche requires vanilla. I have tried the “boiling the can” version and this is exactly the ingredient that is missing! It is too sweet and is missing depth. I advice you eventually to add some vanilla extract after opening, maybe it will make a difference… not tried it myself, but I do know that the “canned” one is a good replacement (especially if you are going to make a cake or alfajores with it) but by NO MEANS the real deal! Only the consistency is the same.

      So, please do all add vanilla, be it the beans (althought I don’t like how they look in the end) or the extract.

      I speak out of decades of experience: I am argentinean, and grew up gorging that stuff in every occasion imaginable, we put it on every birthday cake, every sweet, on bread for breakfast and at tea-time, etc etc etc etc!
      I have tried from the cheapest to the fanciest to the homemade, so I really know how it should taste and look like!
      Right now, I am for the first time trying to make it myself in the stove. I used an argentinean recipe. I am using grassfed organic full fat milk (1 litre, 1/4 gallon I think) and about 300 gram (10 ounces?) of brown sugar. I decided to try brown sugar to see if it’d have even more depth. Of course a vanilla bean, but I did not scrap it (because of what I said before) and about a teaspon of baking soda (I eyeballed it).
      It has simmered for about 1 hour now, the colour is nice but consistency is not nearly there yet.
      Take into consideration that you will get as much dulce de leche as sugar you put into it. This means: THE LIQUID HAS TO SORT OF “COMPLETELY DISSOLVE!” (and no, I am not screaming, but I did not know how to emphasize this better hahaha…
      Usually in Argentina you are supposed to stir constantly, but as long as it is still liquid and not sticking to the pan, I am stirring every 10 minutes or so…

  10. I wish I had read the note not to use 2% milk earlier 🙁 I had to use up an entire gallon of 2% milk and came across this recipe. The milk/sugar/baking soda mix (double portion, 2 quarts milk, 3 cups sugar, 1 Tbsp baking soda) has been simmering for an entire day now and has still not gotten thick enough to jar it. It’s also much browner than in the pictures. But I can still pour it into coffee and it tastes delicious!

  11. Dear Friends, after having lived in Argentina for some time and sampling EVERY variety of dulce de leche I could possibly lay my hands on, let me assure you that the old “boil up a can of condensed milk” method is utterly awful in comparison to the real stuff. In my country of birth, the condensed milk variety of caramel is widely available, ready-made in the stores too. It’s lame to say the least. If you can’t go to Argentina for the real deal, you simply must make your own. It is so superior in every way, you will dream about it constantly when your jar is finished – which is likely to be from the day after you first made it….

  12. Is it possibly to substitute the vanilla bean with just vanilla extract? Vanilla bean is very expensive (at least where I live).

  13. yes, in Argentina vanilla beans are also really expensive and hard to find, so people use extract, from a teaspoon to a normal spoon depending on quality (and how much you like the vanilla taste)

  14. I much prefer the “from scratch” version of dulce de leche. I find the flavor to be much more complex and interesting. Plus, I can control the amount of sugar.

    When I make it with sweetened condensed milk, I pour the milk into a canning jar and then cook it in a crockpot, covered with water, for about 7-10 hours (depending on the crockpot).

    I just don’t trust boiling it in a can. I’m fairly sure that chemicals in the can lining will leach into the milk. Also, when you boil it in a can rather than a canning jar, you can’t see how dark the milk has become.

  15. I’m so happy to have found a recipe that DOESN’T say to use canned sweetened condensed milk!!!!!!! Thank you! I end up with leftover milk I can’t use and always try to find ways to make it into dulce de leche. Milk that’s just starting to sour is actually the best believe it or not. And a great way to use up that half gallon of milk 🙂 I’m doing mine in the slow cooker because I’m lazy LOL.