What is Dulce de Leche? | Cupcake Project

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What is Dulce de Leche?

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This week, I made chocolate dulce de leche cupcakes. When I told my friends and family about it, the most common response was, “Huh? What is dulce de leche?”

What is Dulce de Leche?

According to the Wikipedia article on dulce de leche:

“Dulce de leche in Spanish or doce de leite in Portuguese (‘milk candy’), is a milk-based syrup. Found as both a sauce and a caramel-like candy, it is popular across Latin America.”

How is Dulce de Leche Different from Caramel?

Everyone, myself included, has been tempted to call my dulce de leche caramel. However, dulce de leche is different from caramel. Caramel is simply sugar that has been heated. It becomes really sticky and very sweet and, of course, caramel colored. Dulce de leche is made from mostly milk with some sugar. It is also very sweet and caramel colored from the heated sugar in it, but it is not quite as sticky and has more of a soft, smooth flavor.

What are the Origins of Dulce de Leche?

My favorite part of the dulce de leche Wikipedia article talks about dulce de leche’s origins.

“One story involves the 19th century Argentinian caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas. The story goes that in a winter afternoon at the Rosas house, the maid was making some lechada—a drink made with milk and sugar boiled until it starts to caramelize—and she heard someone knocking at the door. She left the lechada on the stove and went to answer the door; and when she came back, the lechada was burnt and had turned into a brown jam: dulce de leche.

It is, however, more likely to have its origins in Europe, possibly as the French confiture de lait: a popular similar legend dating back from the 14th century exists in the region of Normandy, involving a cook from the military troops who had the same culinary accident when making sweetened milk for breakfast. Variations of this legend refer to a cook in Napoleon’s army.”

When I goof up in the kitchen, things end up burnt. These people must have been in such shock to find a winning dessert rather than a burnt up mess.

Two Ways to Make Dulce de Leche

There are two ways to make dulce de leche.  I made my dulce de leche using a method I found out about from The Clumsy Cook. I also have to credit her for my whole interest in dulce de leche. It looked so tasty in her picture!

4 from 1 vote

What is Dulce de Leche?


Dulce de Leche Recipe One Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon of milk
  • 2 cups sugar I used vanilla sugar to make it extra vanilla flavored. You can also put vanilla beans into the pot if you have some.
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Recipe One Instructions*

  1. Pour milk, vanilla, and sugar into a pot over medium-high heat (make sure the pot is big enough so that milk won’t spill over the sides when it boils). Bring to a boil, whisking constantly.
  2. Turn heat down and slightly simmer over very low heat for about 2.5 to 3 hours. Check the mixture every once in a while to make sure it isn't simmering too much. When done, stir until smooth and pour dulce de leche into jars. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Recipe Notes

*Note: I had mine on the stove for 5 hours! It is possible that this was because I didn't whisk it enough at the beginning. I have a metal whisk and I didn't want to scratch the pot. I know, pots are meant to be scratched. However, my husband likes our pots to stay looking brand new and I didn't want to mess it up. It still came out perfectly; it just took longer. Just be sure to keep an eye on it. You'll know it's done when it starts sticking to the spoon. It won't really get thick until it gets off the stove and cools down.

Dulce de Leche Recipe Two

The second way to make dulce de leche is heat up a can of sweetened condensed milk in boiling water. I like to do this in a crockpot (get the details in my post on crockpot dulce de leche).

The Dulce de Leche Cocktail in Guys and Dolls

My first introduction to dulce de leche was in the Guys and Dolls musical.

The interesting thing is that no one seems to know exactly what the drink is they are referring to in this scene. If it tastes at all like the dulce de leche I made, I could see how Sara Brown kept downing them.

If you love dulce de leche, you’ll also love:

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27 comments on “What is Dulce de Leche?”

  1. CB says:

    I love dulce de leche (and I know what it is!) but I admit that I was very well educated when buying my wedding cupcakes on the topic. Its freaking YUMMY!

  2. Ha, I never even realized that dulce de leche was mentioned in Guys and Dolls! I love that musical. And dulce de leche.

  3. Gigi says:

    The dulce de leche from condensed milk is the closest to the real thing. I go to the Mexican Rivera every summer, when I go, I’ll send you a sampler pack. You have to try it. It’s divine on toast!

  4. Matthew says:

    You can use a pressure cooker to shorten the condensed milk method. It’s also safer: the cans are subject to completely uniform temperature and pressure, greatly reducing risk of an “incident.”

    Remove can label, but leave can otherwise entirely intact. Place one or more cans in pressure cooker and cover -completely- with water. You want the cans to remain fully submerged throughout the process.

    Bring up to pressure and cook for 20-40 minutes, depending on desired firmness.

    Allow the cans to cool, and enjoy.

  5. Muffin says:

    I have a question for you. Maybe its just the photo, but it looks like your dulce de leche is kind of… chunky. Is it supposed to be that way? I make it all the time and its always super smooth.

    *just as an aside, I don’t mean this rudely, I’m really just curious*

    Also, I love all of the stuff you make here, you’re such a great cupcake inspiration!

  6. Stef says:

    CB – Of course you know what it is! Not at all surprised. It is so good!

    Soundless – I’m a huge Guys and Dolls fan. We used to have family Guys and Dolls sing-a-longs when I was a kid.

    Gigi – Have I mentioned how awesome you are?

    Matthew – Hmm.. perhaps I need to add a pressure cooker to my list of kitchen products to buy. Thanks for the tip!

    Muffin – I’m curious how you make it? Mine was probably chunkier than normal due to my lack of vigorous wisking. No offense taken. I’m new to the world of dulce de leche. It sure tasted good and it spread really well. Glad you enjoy the blog. Thanks!

  7. i love your blog! oi the first visit and you’re already talking about my favorite thing ever… dulce de leche (i need to figure out how to make it vegan!)!

    i’ll be back!

  8. Stef says:

    Shannie – Thanks! Glad you stopped by. I look forward to seeing you around!

  9. clumsy says:

    Wow, awesome picture—I love the action shot!!! I’m so glad I inspired you to make this, and now I have some wonderful cocktail recipes! Thanks so much!

  10. Hande says:

    I have been told that real dulce de leche has to be made with the first method but I make it in yet another way: It is easier and uses condensed milk like the second method but is not as dangerous! (Are you aware that a can under pressure will explode? With a hot liquid in it? Never, never do this!) Just open a can of condensed milk, pour it into a shallow oven-proof dish. Sprinkle with some fleur de sel. Cover with foil. Put this dish into a baking tray, fill the baking tray with warm water till it reaches halfway up the smaller dish and put the whole thing into a 220°C warm oven for 1-1,5 hours. That is it! Whisk smooth before filling into a jar.

  11. HI… I make my the traditional Latin way of boiling an unopened can in a saucepan. Way easier, but takes longer. I made some last week with coconut in it! It was great.
    I’ll post it up on my blog next week when I remake it! Yours looks good and thanks for clearing up the difference b/w DdL and caramel. A lot of ppl confuse them for being the same. NOT!


  12. chef jack says:

    question: with the dulce drinks, do you just add the dulce de leche according to your taste? it’s not really listed as an ingredient (unless i’m missing something).

    i’m going to get some milk in the morning! (for the, uh, dulce cake)

    great post!

  13. Stef says:

    Hande – Neat recipe! I’ll have to give it a try!

    Flanboyant – Oooh.. it would be so good with coconut! I’ll be sure to check out your post.

    Chef Jack – I don’t think there is actually dulce de leche in the drinks. I really have no idea though. Those were the only recipes I could found. I was hoping someone else would know.

  14. Rosie says:

    You can caramelize condensed milk in a crockpot if you have one – you just open the can, put a bit of tinfoil over the top, and put the whole can in the crockpot with a cup of warm water. Put the lid on the pot and then just leave it be for 4 – 6 hours on high. It gets darker the longer you leave it, but there is no chance of it exploding.

  15. Stef says:

    Rosie – Interesting. I hadn’t heard of that method before.

  16. Shari says:

    I like your idea of a Dulce de Leche martini!
    Shari@Whisk: a food blog

  17. Shannon says:

    Also, caramel is caramel through the process of carmelization while dulce de leche is dulce de leche through the malliard reaction, which is similar to but diffrent than carmelization. Also for the sweetened condensed milk method, poke two tiny tiny holes in the top, it wont explode and it will cook very evenly, unwatched

  18. Melisa says:

    Please, go to any argentinian´s house or shop (i´m shure you have one closer) and buy the original! For example Poncho Negro, San Ignacio or Salamandra. You´ll know the heaven!

  19. hue klenom says:

    Easiest way of making Doce de Leite is put a condensed milk can in a pressure cooker. It may sounds dangerous, but i assume that the can have the strength to not explode inside the pan.

    If you love beans (here in Brasil we buy beans not cooked) and use the pressure cooker to accelerate the process. Do 2 things in a row. Cook a bowl of black beans and a condensed milk can (sans the paper!).

    Put the can away `till it colds. And in the mean time make a “feijoada” like beans. Put some sausage, pork meat, bacon and u have an “almost” traditional brazilian meal…

  20. Gabriela says:

    I saw something about a drink with Doce de Leite. Here is one.
    Batida de Doce de Leite.
    In a 2 liter bottle add 2 cans of doce de leite ( considering that you are using the condensed milk method)
    same measure of milk and add Cachaca to taste.

    Another variation is to substitute the plain milk for coconut milk.

    Once the liquids are in, close it up and give it a good shake, that’s what the name means, BATIDA: beat, mixed.

  21. Celi says:

    As the true argentinian i am , i feel the need to educate you a bit on this specific topic, you see i eat dulce de leche almost every day, so i believe i know what i’m talking about. I have sampled millions of diferent brands and once i even tried an international brand brought over from the uk,let me just tell you they don’t taste the same. You have to try the original brands, specially from argentina or uruguay, beacause it was created in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. As someone here wisely said, one of the best brands is San Ignacio or Ilolay, but try the dulce de leche repostero, it’s thicker than the regular one and incredibly yummy. Surprisingly, the best dulce de leche i have ever tried is from uruguay , not argentina, and is called Lapataia. It goes brilliantly with pancakes, cakes, even crackers. Hope it helps someone.
    OHH AND PS: there is not such thing as a diet dulce the leche, they come a bit close but they don’t compare.

  22. Perla says:

    If you can get your hands on some fresh( and by fresh i mean just milked out of a cow fresh)milk and some firewood it would come out a lot better, although it is a lot more work. I’m Mexican, were dulce de leche is also very popular along with its more syrupy counterpart the cajeta. The women in my family have made the candy several times by taking turns during those long hours and the best ones came out of fresh milk(which we call leche bronca) and a fire. Just a suggestion in case you would like to try it, because like i said it takes a lot more work.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Bit late to the party, but I was taught a secret trick to get your dulce super smooth, when cooking it from scratch(Recipe One). The secret is adding glass marbles to the pot, and stirring with a wooden spoon. I looked all over for what a Colombian friend’s mother called “baletas” to add to help stir the dulce as it cooks. After searching for several months at specialty kitchen stores, I realized that she had described marbles, so I went to the store and grabbed a bag. It works every time, and I’ve never had one break. As the mixture boils, the marbles bubble through and help stir your dulce. She also added a pinch of baking powder. Good luck!

  24. AVIVA says:

    Can I use dulce de leche in a recipe that calls for condensed milk maybe thin it a bit with milk?

  25. SR says:

    Mexico’s version of dulce de leche, called cajeta, is made with goat’s milk (or sometimes a mix of goat’s & cow’s milk). Sugar may or may not be added. The milk is reduced and the sugars are caramelized. It is said to have originated near the town of Celaya in or around 1810, at the dawn of the Mexican War for Independence. The reduced & caramelized milk lasted longer & traveled better than regular milk, making it good soldier food.
    Given this use, I suspect that what was made at the time was something between sweetened condensed milk & modern cajeta, and that the more caramelized version evolved later. In the U.S., milk was sweetened to inhibit bacterial growth, then condensed & canned so that it could be stored unrefrigerated. This dramatically reduced the incidence of disease & death in children caused by consumption of spoiled milk.

  26. Katie says:

    To the one who couldn’t scratch the pan. If I’m the one cooking that pan will get scratched and I would tell hubby take a walk on a short dock. What the heck is wrong with him. Also, what is wrong with you? He sounds controlling and abusive. Sorry, but your comment left me to think this….

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