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Slow Cooker Dulce de Leche

Slow Cooker Dulce de Leche

After I wrote my fabulous and informative article explaining “What is dulce de leche?” you, my loyal readers, flooded me with suggestions on other ways of making it. More sugar, less sugar, longer cooking time, different cooking utensils—all kinds of good ideas, and all exactly why blogging is such a great way to talk about food. But what did I get more often than anything else? Slow cooker dulce de leche.

Dulce de Leche Basics

First, let’s cover the basics for those of you coming late to the party. Dulce de leche is a sweet Latin American sauce that can be used as a spread for toast, a sweetener for coffee, and also as an ingredient in cakes, tarts, and candies. With just a little cooking, you get a thin syrup that you can pour over ice cream or anywhere else you would use caramel. If you cook it down more, it turns into a thick, rich milk preserve that can be spread like apple butter.

The lighter quality of dulce de leche gave me the idea for my delicious Dulce de Leche Frosting. It is a great topper for a lot of lighter cupcake recipes, where the harsher flavors of caramel might be overpowering. Also, my Dulce de Leche Flan would wind up a bit cloying if it were made with caramel. And when I was looking for something to spice up Banana Bread, dulce de leche added just the right amount of sweetness to produce my lovely Banana Bread Cookies with Hazelnuts and Dulce de Leche. Take a look at some of my other frostings, as well, for more ideas!

Slow Cooker Dulce de Leche

But back to our simple, delicious slow cooker dulce de leche that everyone was raving about in the comments section. You promised me it would be easier, you promised me it would be faster, and you were right on both counts. Rosie’s post below gives you an idea of the advice I was getting:

Now, I don’t actually own a pressure cooker (and before anyone writes me about it, I know they are amazing!). But I do have a slow cooker, so I thought I would give slow cooker dulce de leche a try. Based on the comments I was getting, I figured out that I basically had two options:

  1. Take the milk/sugar/vanilla mixture I used in my stovetop dulce de leche, pour it into a mason jar, seal it up, and throw it into the slow cooker. (Hmm, bad choice of words for a glass container—I meant to say, “lightly set it into the slow cooker.”)
  2. Buy a can of condensed milk at the store for a little over $2 and throw that into the slow cooker. (And yeah, if you want to, you can actually throw it.)

The mason jar route seems like it might be a good balance between the two, letting you adjust the sugar and type of milk as much as you want, but with the ease of slow cooking. But I figured that if I’m looking for a recipe that saves time and energy, you can’t get much easier than cooking an unopened tin can.

Making Slow Cooker Dulce de Leche from Condensed Milk

When Steph makes dulce de leche with a crock pot, she uses a good ol’ can of condensed milk. But instead of putting it on high for 4–6 hours, she sets it on low for 8 hours—allowing you to go to bed and wake up to dulce de leche (arguably better than waking up to coffee). Based on her recipe, I left the cans unopened, made sure they were completely submerged in water, and just let them simmer for a while.

Slow Cooker Dulce de Leche—In the Soup

While it was cooking, the only problem I noticed was that the hot water was making the cans rust in some patches. When I finally took them out, the nice white ceramic of my slow cooker had picked up a bit of the rust.

Slow Cooker Dulce de Leche—Aftermath

I used a little Bar Keepers Friend to scrub it off and it was fine. But if I were doing it again, I would lay down a sheet of baking paper or something to rest the cans on. (You might also take a look at Bon Appetit’s informative article on this method, which has some good tips.)

How Did It All Turn Out?

Well, obviously, the dulce de leche that came out of the cans was sweet and delicious. There is no way that you are going to caramelize sugar for several hours without producing something sweet and delicious. But how did it compare with my stovetop recipe?

To me, the stovetop dulce de leche made with milk, sugar, and vanilla had a richer, more subtle flavor, and it won the taste-off hands down. But. (You knew there was a but coming.) But putting a can under water in a slow cooker is possibly the easiest one-step recipe I have ever seen. I’d rather have a can of this stuff sitting in my fridge than a jar of dulce de leche that is slightly better, but doesn’t actually exist because I didn’t have the time to make it. (I know that if something doesn’t exist you can’t have it in your fridge, but you see what I’m saying.) It’s not a knockout, but slow cooker dulce de leche wins on points.

Based on your feedback, here are some questions that you guys might have about the easiest dulce de leche method in the world:

How long will a can of slow cooker dulce de leche last after opening?

The only ingredients in this dulce de leche are milk and sugar, so it should be able to last in the refrigerator for quite some time. Since mold is always something to look out for in the cold, moist environment of a fridge (and since a can of condensed milk is so cheap),  I would recommend throwing it out after a couple weeks.

How many cans can you cook at once?

The slow cooker will take care of adjusting the temperature just fine (that’s what they do, after all!). So as long as they will all fit in your cooker, completely submerged, you should be fine.

How long should I leave the cans in?

If you set the cooker to “low,” your slow cooker dulce de leche should have the consistency of caramel sauce after about six hours. At this stage, it is great for pouring over ice cream or adding to coffee in the morning. By ten hours in the cooker, the dulce de leche should thicken to the point where you can spread it like a preserve.

Will the cans explode?

You know, I could have written a whole blog post just on this question. There are really two questions here, though, so I’ll tackle the easiest one first.

If your question is, “Will the cans explode when I open them?” the answer is easy: “Not if you wait until they cool down.” If you took the steaming hot can out of the cooker and broke the seal right away with a can opener, then yeah, the pressurized air inside might catch some of the hot sugar mixture and shoot it out at your tender skin. But that would be a silly thing to do with anything that hot. Play it cool, wait for the cans to chill to a workable temperature, and you’ll be fine.

But the other explosion-related question (that so many people asked me!) is, “Will the cans explode just by cooking them like this?” As with a lot of questions, there is a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is “No.” There you go. All settled, right?

The Year When Some Cans Did Explode

OK, since you still want to know more, I’ll let you in on a bit of the longer answer. The longer answer is that while the recipe I described above is perfectly safe—the one where you cover the cans with water first—there was a famous home-cooking kerfuffle in the 1970s that left a bunch of people with exploding cans of caramel napalm in their kitchens, and it gave this method a long-lasting scary reputation.

In 1978, Random House published a cookbook called Woman’s Day Crockery Cuisine that gave its readers pretty much the same recipe I did above, but with one big difference—it never actually mentioned pouring water over the cans. So a lot of very literal-minded people just put cans of condensed milk in their slow cookers, set them and forgot them, and came back a couple hours later to find that the extreme heat of the cooker, when not moderated by the water, had sent the pressure inside the cans up past their breaking point.

Anyway, the point is that as long as you make sure that the cans are fully submerged in water, you will be fine. The water makes sure that the heat inside the cans never gets hot enough to turn into steam, and everybody goes to sleep that night with yummy slow cooker dulce de leche in their tummies—and none of it burning their skin.

(Note: This story is told in greater detail by Alex at the fascinating blog Weird Universe.)

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5 from 7 votes

Slow Cooker Dulce de Leche

An incredibly easy way to make delicious dulce de leche using your slow cooker!
Course Dessert
Cuisine Latin American
Keyword homemade dulce de leche, slow cooker dulce de leche
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Total Time 6 hours 5 minutes
Servings 14 servings
Calories 130kcal


  • 1 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk


  • Remove the labels from the cans and put them in your crock pot.
  • Completely submerge the cans in water. (Important!)
  • Set to low and wait six hours.
  • Wait for the cans to come to room temperature and open.


Nutrition Facts
Slow Cooker Dulce de Leche
Amount Per Serving (2 tbsp)
Calories 130 Calories from Fat 27
% Daily Value*
Fat 3g5%
Saturated Fat 2g10%
Cholesterol 10mg3%
Sodium 35mg1%
Carbohydrates 22g7%
Sugar 22g24%
Protein 3g6%
Vitamin A 100IU2%
Calcium 100mg10%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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58 comments on “Slow Cooker Dulce de Leche”

  1. Katsays:

    Been planning to try this one out when my friend told me about it. We have a pit outside where we cook (instead of using gas or electricity). I think that’ll allow me to “cook” the condensed milk. Cheers!

  2. Raesays:

    To help with keeping the rust off your pot I use aluminum foil, just put your cans on top of a small piece and no rust marks.

  3. Kamailesays:

    dulce de leche with the beef wellington cupcake? or is this a random post…

  4. Stefsays:

    Rae – Thanks for the tip!

    Kamaile – You guessed it!

  5. i have always been scared to do this, but as long as it is submerged I guess it’s good.

  6. I am soooo making this! I am making alfajor and this is the filling!

  7. Anonymoussays:

    What about the rust, did it affect the inside of the can or just outside? I’m thinking of food safety.

  8. Stefsays:

    Anon – It was only on the outside of the can. It did not affect the inside at all.

  9. toisays:

    Hey! I’m from Argentina… so I’m very used to eat dulce de leche and soooo addicted to it.
    DdL is for us what peanut butter is to you and the other way round: over here PB is a rare thing to find and when you have some you either hate it or love it (it is actually heaven to me). But it is kinda industrial, ’cause the real thing is so hard to make that it will never taste like the one you are used to. Try getting the creaminess of PB in your food processor- impossible.
    So if you ever come to latin America try buying some and make the taste-test, haha. Adieu!

  10. Oh My Goodness–I MUST try this!! :)

  11. Now I have a reason to use my crock pot…sweet! :)

  12. Denisesays:

    If you want to make it slightly quicker…I put the cans (unopened) in a saucepan on the stove with at least an inch of water covering the can and boil it for three hours. You have to keep the water at a boil and continue to add hot water to make up for what evaporates, but it is faster. Don’t open the can until it cools or you’ll be scraping Dulce de Leche off the ceiling!

  13. Rachelsays:

    I was tempted to include a recipe for this in my upcoming slow cooker cookbook but I have seen the cans split and/or rust on the inside with this method so I was hesitant. I’d recommend keeping an eye on it while it cooks and taking it out as soon as you think it is done.

  14. Carlysays:

    i love this Dulce de Leche! my dad always made this for a treat when i was a kid, and i have stuck to this method, although it’s getting harder to find a can without a “ring pull” to use now a days =)dad did it stove top, submerged in water and simmered all day (8 hours), then let it cool, refrigerate overnight and eat!

  15. Carlysays:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. I have heard of this…looks so complicated, but seems so simple! Thanks for the directions! :)Marybeth

  17. LOL.. definitely let it cool before you open it. I got impatient, and opened it while still hot. I was greeted with a nice spray of dulce de leche across my hair and shirt. It didn’t burn me, but I’m very sticky :)

  18. Thank you for this! I tried making it today, and while I don’t think I managed to cook it long enough for the first can, the second can is back in the hot water. My fiance wants to top homemade cheesecake with this stuff and I have to concur, it’s heaven!

    (Also, a small amount of salt added into this makes for a salted caramel flavor that’s insanely good.)

  19. I just tried this, and after 8 hours, the condensed milk seems unchanged compared to a “fresh, un-crock-potted” can. Perhaps this should be set to “high”? Any other tips?

  20. Stefsays:

    Kevin – Not sure what to suggest. Mine was done at 8 hours. Maybe you just need to leave it in even longer with your crockpot.

  21. I figured it out; the socket in which I plugged in the crock pot is mis-wired. Yup, electrical problems will get you every time. I eventually got it to work by simply using a different plug.

  22. Gary Ssays:

    I wonder if you can avoid the rust issue by using a Reynolds slow cooker liner? I must try this soon!

  23. Jeanettesays:

    Did you all know that you can buy this in a can? Nestle makes it and it’s available in the Mexican food section of most grocery stores, even WalMart. When the can is fresh it is almost pourable. If you’ve had it for a while it thickens considerably but makes a great apple dip.

  24. Anonymoussays:

    @Jeannette — It’s called cajeta I believe. It’s a more truer form of dulce de leche as it is made from goat’s milk. I think most people who try DdL like the Americanized (sweetened condensed milk [scm]) version better. Plus cajeta is more expensive than scm.

  25. Jeanettesays:

    @ anonymous–It’s really called Dulce De Leche and it is made from sweetened condensed milk by Nestle. I’ve purchased it for as little as 99 cents but it’s usually about $1.39 to $1.69.

  26. Renatasays:

    I made some after reading it on Steph’s blog too, except, I put the condensed milk in a jelly canning jar. No rust and storage was already taken care of.

  27. Renatasays:

    Oh, I forgot to mention that with the canning jar, you can add other flavors to it. Try adding cocoa to make chocolate dulce de leche

  28. Can I make this in a casserole??
    if i merge the can in water and put the water on very low heat..where it simmers…
    If i start in the morning say 9 o clock??by afternoon if I keep on refilling it..
    will it give me the same results and is it going to be safe??

  29. Stefsays:

    Sparkles21 – You can use this method.

  30. Molliesays:

    We tried this and it was fantastic! I wrapped the can in a dish cloth before submerging it. My husband woke up to this on a Saturday morning and was so grateful. Dulce de leche is one of his favorites. Thanks for the great post :)

  31. Anonymoussays:

    Can you put this in the center of a cupcake before baking in order to get a caramel filling?

  32. Stefsays:

    Anon – I’d put it in the center of the cupcake after baking. Use a cupcake corer or a paring knife to cut a hole in the cupcake and add the dulce de leche. Then, close the top and frost.

  33. Anonymoussays:

    I’m 73 y/o, and my aunt made this on top of the stove in a big pot and simmered for about 8 hours. That was a good 60 years ago, so this definitely is not new!

  34. Anonymoussays:

    I’m from Argentina, living in TX. La Lechera sells a great Dulce de Leche which I get at Walmart. Sometimes I cannot find it in the store, so thanks for posting this great alternative.

  35. Anonymoussays:

    I boil 2 cans on my stovetop for 4 hours constantly adding water to cover cans. When done, cool and I spoon contents of each can into a graham cracker crust, top with cool whip and sprinkle with mini chocolate chips. Tastes like O’Charley’s caramel pie!

  36. does the milk change color because the can become rusty when it is left long in water..?

  37. EatBettersays:

    Did your second to last paragraph mean to say “The downside, as you can see, is that the cans leech toxic BPA into finished product, disrupting your hormones and increasing your likelihood for cancer.”?

  38. Patsysays:

    In addition to what EatBetter pointed out, heating the can leaches the solder from the seams into the finished product as well. These are not toxins you want to eat.

  39. Anonymoussays:

    Hi…. The nice people at Cooking Light put together a crockpot book… which I highly recommend!! They put the SCM in a pyrex/ glass measuring cup and top it with foil… then add very hot water to the height of the cream and stick it on low for 9 hours… poof… caramel/ dulce de leche…

  40. Candacesays:

    I make my dulce de leche in my pressure cooker. I bring it up to pressure and let it cook for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how firm I want it and then let the pressure drop naturally. Easy peasy.

  41. Marysays:

    You can buy ready made Dulce De Leche in the Hispanic Foods section of the grocery store. I found it at WalMart. It tastes the same and no work!

  42. Anonymoussays:

    If you put the SCM in a mason jar & then submerge most of it in the crockpot/slow cooker, it’ll solve the “toxins” from rust getting into your Dulce De Leche.

    If you prefer to use the can method, you could either place the can in a ziplock bag or wrap the can in reynolds foil wrap to prevent the rust from getting on your slow cooker/crock pot.

    LOVE this method btw, works every time!

  43. Alessandrasays:

    I am brazilian and since was kid my grandma would cook it in the same crock pot that cooked black beans!! My favorite at all! but i honestly dont remember it taking so many hours… Anyway, depending on the cooking time, you get very different kind of dulce de leche… all great, surely! :-D

  44. Anonymoussays:

    set oven to 450 degrees..pour can of condensed milk into a pie plate, cover with foil, put this into a shallow roasting pan with an inch of water and cook for an hour..whisk and serve..

  45. Anonymoussays:

    I have used sweetened condensed milk when making dulce de leche for years. I usually boil water in a large stew pot and place as my can(s) in the water. Boil them for 3 hours, take out water and cool in the fridge. Don’t worry I have never had them explode. I have never thought to use them for frosting, but sounds like a great idea! I have always placed the thick milk into a graham cracker pie crust and refridgerate. This is how O’Charly’s makes their caramel pie :)

  46. Stephsays:

    What pressure did you put it to for the pressure cooker? Do you put the whole can in with water as well? Thanks!

  47. Hello from a Spanish girl and a super DULCE DE LECHE lover.
    This is a “fast method” but if you want to do REAL dulce de leche is not that difficult and MUCH BETTER.
    you just need 1l of milk, 200g of sugar, 1 spoon of bicarbonate, 2 spoons of vanill essence.
    Put to boil and mix every 5 min. In 1 and 1/2h will be ready!!!
    Regards from Stockholm!!

  48. Anonymoussays:

    After reading all the comments, I was still leary of trying to make dulce de leche. But I decided that I would use the crockpot method. I doubled wrapped the can of SCM in foil and filled the crockpot with the warm water. Being still a little scared, I put my crockpot on the back patio, in case of explosion, it’s easier to hose down the back of the house than my kitchen. Guess what?! NO EXLOSION – just perfect dulce de leche. My crockpot and a can of SCM are my new BF. It turned out perfect. Thanks again. I couldn’t be happier.

  49. As an Argentinian, this makes me real proud.

  50. Ataleesays:

    How long can you store dulce de leche for?

  51. Anonymoussays:

    I buy mine pre-made in the Spanish Foods section of the grocery store. Nestle’s makes it – called dulce le leche, or cajeta. It is delicious!

  52. Crystalsays:

    You can also buy dulce de leche already done. You can find it in most groceries in the Mexican food section. It’s a can the same size as the one pictured above. Taste great too!!!

  53. Dishasays:

    I was looking for a caramel recipe and I came across this one last month. I have been using condensed milk ever since to make chewy caramel. I add vanilla bean paste and a couple of tablespoons of butter (salted) and microwave it for 6-8 minutes (giving it a good stir every minute). I have also used it to make a buttercream frosting for my chocolate cake. The buttercream tasted just like the mashmellowing goo inside a mars bar.

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  56. Delilahsays:

    Hi I have been reading on how everyone is taking hours to make dulce de leche in a crock pot , slow cooker etc …all that is actually not needed. I make it in a pressure cooker in twenty minutes. Place the cans in the cooker, put water to cover the cans and pressure cook for 15-20 minutes. Thats it.

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