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Dulce de Leche Recipe (Stovetop and Slow Cooker/Instant Pot)

Dulce de leche is a sweet, addictive caramel-like sauce popular in Latin America. It is amazing on toast, as a sweetener, or as a frosting for cakes. I tested the three most common ways of making it (stovetop, slow cooker, and Instant Pot) and I share the pros and cons of each.

Dulce de leche dripping off of a spoon
While some ways of making dulce de leche work better than others, the good news is that there is no such thing as bad dulce de leche. So, whichever method you pick, you can’t go wrong.

What Is Dulce de Leche?

Dulce de leche in a can
Dulce de leche is a sweet caramel-like sauce that is used in Latin American countries as a spread for toast, a sweetener for coffee, and also as an ingredient or topping for cakes, tarts, and candies.

Cooked just a little, it is a thin syrup that can be used to pour over ice cream or anywhere else you would use caramel. If you cook it down more, dulce de leche turns into a thick, rich milk preserve that can be spread like jam.

It’s famously used in sandwich cookies called alfajores, it’s fabulous over any cupcakes (particularly chocolate cupcakes), it makes amazing ice cream, and it is so good in dulce de leche flan!

How Is Dulce de Leche Different From Caramel?

Everyone, myself included, is tempted to call dulce de leche “caramel.” However, dulce de leche is really quite different from caramel.

Caramel is simply sugar that has been heated for a while—that’s it! Under the heat, the sugars break down and re-form into thousands of new little molecules that smell and taste great.

Most cooks add water when making caramel to help keep it from burning. When making candies or thicker caramel sauces such as caramel icing, they will add butter, cream, and other ingredients, too. But when it comes down to it, what makes caramel caramel is that you are slowly heating sugar for a while.

Dulce de leche, on the other hand, absolutely has to be made with a combination of milk and sugar.
Adding sugar to milk
Some of the the unique flavors of dulce de leche come from the caramelization of the sugars, but some come from more complicated Maillard reactions between the proteins of the milk and the added sugar.

On the whole, dulce de leche will have a softer, smoother flavor than caramel.

How to Make Dulce de Leche

The three most popular ways to make dulce de leche are on the stovetop, in a slow cooker, and in a pressure cooker (Instant Pot).

When I tested all three methods, I found that the results were quite different.
Three different dulce de leches
From top to bottom, this image shows stovetop dulce de leche, Instant Pot dulce de leche, and slow cooker dulce de leche. Each one is totally delicious, but by no means do they taste the same. Let’s look at each one.

Stovetop Dulce de Leche

Stovetop dulce de leche
Making dulce de leche on the stovetop is the traditional way of doing it. It’s by far the most time consuming method of the three. Like making classic Southern caramel, making classic dulce de leche takes hours of monitoring a pot on the stove.

With easier methods using modern machines, the question is whether it is worth the effort. If you have the time, the answer is a resounding yes!
Dulce de leche cupcakes
Aside from the clear visual difference (the color is so much darker), stovetop dulce de leche has a far more robust flavor than its hands-off counter parts. It is almost like the difference between baking with regular butter rather than browned butter or eating dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate.

It’s also much thinner than the Instant Pot or slow cooker versions, although it can be thickened up. We’ll get to that in a minute.

We had all three in jars in our refrigerator at once and this is the one that I reached for every time.

To make stovetop dulce de leche:

Start by combining milk, sugar, and baking soda in a medium-sized saucepan. Use one that is larger than you think you need so that it doesn’t boil over.

Why use baking soda?

  • Faster cook time – Baking soda raises the pH of the liquid (meaning that it becomes less acidic). Food chemists say that this makes the caramelization and Maillard reactions occur more quickly.
  • Smoother result – The baking soda helps to prevent the milk proteins from coagulating, which makes it easier to produce a dulce de leche that is smooth and free from lumps.

adding baking soda to dulce de leche
Bring to a boil, whisking constantly.
Whisking dulce de leche
Turn the burner down and cook on a very low heat (just barely boiling) for about two and a half hours.
Dulce de leche cooking
Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan periodically to make sure it is cooking evenly and not developing lumps.
Dulce de leche in pot
When it has turned the color you like, whisk in vanilla extract. This is optional, but most people like a little vanilla in their dulce de leche.

Adding vanilla extract to dulce de leche
If needed (which likely won’t be the case), use an immersion blender to remove any lumps and make sure that your dulce de leche is smooth and creamy.

It will thicken more as it cools. But, if you want it to be more of a spread than a syrup, you’ll need to thicken it even more.

To thicken stovetop dulce de leche:

Make a slurry of 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch with 1 1/4 teaspoons milk. Bring the dulce de leche to a very slow boil over medium heat, whisk this slurry into the dulce de leche, and continue to boil slowly for five minutes before removing from heat and cooling.

Instant Pot Dulce de Leche

Dulce de leche cake
Instant Pot dulce de leche was our second favorite dulce de leche. It thickens up really nicely and has a full flavor – its flavor is not quite as robust as the stovetop version, but nobody will complain about it. And, for many, this more mild flavor is what they think of as the taste of dulce de leche.

It’s the one I reached for when I made my dulce de leche cake.

Instant Pot dulce de leche has a single ingredient – sweetened condensed milk.

To make Instant Pot dulce de leche:

Smell the silicone ring inside of the Instant Pot lid before you start. If it smells like garlic from some dinner you made, give it a good clean before using it or buy a second one and designate it for desserts. You don’t want that garlic smell to permeate your dulce de leche! Now that everything smells fresh, you can begin.

Pour one cup of water into your Instant Pot.
water in an Instant Pot
Pour a can of sweetened condensed milk into a stainless steel or oven-safe glass bowl, cover with foil, and place it in the water. If you don’t cover the sweetened condensed milk with foil, the steam from pressure cooking will condense on top of the sweetened condensed milk and the texture will be all off.

Because of the intense pressure inside of an Instant Pot, never put a can of sweetened condensed milk directly into the Instant Pot.
Bowl covered with foil in the Instant Pot
Place the lid on the Instant Pot, set to sealing, and pressure cook at high pressure for 90 minutes.

When the time is up, do a full natural release.

Carefully remove the bowl from the Instant Pot.

Blend the dulce de leche with an immersion blender until smooth.
Immersion blender in dulce de leche
It will thicken as it cools.

Slow Cooker Dulce de Leche

Slow Cooker Dulce de Leche
The slow cooker method is the easiest way to make dulce de leche!

I used to love slow cooker dulce de leche until I tried the other two methods. But, the transformation from sweetened condensed milk to a new caramel-like substance isn’t as dramatic as the other versions. Think of it more like toasted marshmallows vs. marshmallows rather than cake vs. cake batter.

Part of the problem with this method is inconsistencies between slow cookers. When we tried the method in a mini slow cooker on low heat, we found that we still had sweetened condensed milk after a long wait. However, it worked quite well with another, full-sized slow cooker and still others produce slightly darker results than the ones I’m showing here.

If you don’t own an Instant Pot and want quick and easy dulce de leche, definitely give the slow cooker method a try.

To make slow cooker dulce de leche:

Line the bottom of a slow cooker with foil. This prevents the slow cooker from getting rusty. I’ve been there and I don’t recommend it.

Peel the label off of a 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, place it in the slow cooker, and submerge it in water. Make sure it is completely submerged with room to spare!
Sweetened condensed milk in a slow cooker
Cover and cook!

At low temperature:

  • After 6 hours, the slow cooker dulce de leche should have the consistency of caramel sauce. At this stage, it is great for pouring over ice cream or adding to coffee in the morning.
  • After 10 hours, the dulce de leche should thicken to the point where you can spread it like a preserve.

Slow cooker dulce de leche
Will the cans explode?

If your question is, “Will cans explode when I open them,” the answer is easy: Not if you wait until they cool down.

Always wait for cans to come to room temperature before opening!

If you took a steaming hot can out of the slow cooker and broke the seal right away with a can opener, then the pressurized air inside might catch some of the hot, sugary mixture and shoot it out at your tender skin or face. Play it cool, wait for 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?” I can happily say that they will not!

How to Store Dulce de Leche

Store dulce de leche in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to one month.

You can also freeze it for several months.

Dulce de Leche Variation

One of the most common variations of dulce de leche is cajeta.

Cajeta is made the same way as dulce de leche but with goat’s milk. It’s very common in Mexico.

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Dulce de leche dripping off of a spoon
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4.29 from 7 votes

Dulce de Leche Recipe

3 ways to make dulce de leche at home
Course Dessert
Cuisine Latin American
Keyword dulce de leche, dulce de leche recipe, instant pot dulce de leche, slow cooker dulce de leche, stovetop dulce de leche
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Total Time 6 hours 5 minutes
Servings 12 servings
Calories 106kcal
Author Stef

Ingredients

Dulce de Leche

  • 4 cups milk stovetop method only
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar stovetop method only
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda stovetop method only
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract stovetop method only
  • 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk Instant Pot and slow sooker methods only

Instructions

Stovetop Instructions

  • Combine all ingredients except vanilla extract in a pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. (Make sure the pot is big enough so the milk won’t spill over the sides when it boils.)
  • Turn heat down so the mixture is just barely boiling and cook for about two and a half to three hours until it turns a deep caramel color. Stir and scrape the bottom and side of the pan periodically to guarantee even cooking. Note that it will thicken as it cools.
  • Remove from the heat and whisk in vanilla extract.
  • Use an immersion blender if necessary to remove any lumps.
  • If you find that your dulce de leche is still too thin after cooling, make a slurry of 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch with 1 1/4 teaspoons milk. Bring the dulce de leche to a very slow boil over medium heat, whisk this slurry into the dulce de leche, and continue to boil slowly for five minutes before removing from heat and cooling.
  • To store, pour cooled dulce de leche into airtight containers and refrigerate for up to a month or freeze for several months.

Instant Pot Instructions

  • Pour one cup of water into an Instant Pot. (It is very important that the sealing ring be completely clean and odor-free or your dulce de leche will end up tasting like the last meal you prepared in the Instant Pot.)
  • Pour the can of sweetened condensed milk into a stainless steel or oven-safe bowl that will fit inside of the Instant Pot.
  • Cover the bowl tightly with aluminum foil. This prevents condensation that results from pressure cooking from ruining the dulce de leche.
  • Place the bowl inside of the water bath in the Instant Pot.
  • Close the Instant Pot, set it to sealing, and pressure cook at high pressure for 90 minutes.
  • When finished, perform a natural release and carefully remove the hot bowl from the Instant Pot and remove the aluminum foil.
  • Use an immersion blender to blend the dulce de leche until it reaches a smooth consistency. Note that it will thicken as it cools.
  • To store, cool and pour into airtight containers and refrigerate for up to a month or freeze for several months.

Slow Cooker Instructions

  • Line your slow cooker with aluminum foil. This prevents the ceramic bowl from accumulating rust from the cooking process that is difficult to clean.
  • Remove the label from the can of sweetened condensed milk and place into the foil-lined slow cooker.
  • Fill the slow cooker with water, making sure to completely submerge the can of sweetened condensed milk. This can must remain covered with water during the cooking process.
  • Cook on low temperature for six to 10 hours, depending on how thick you want your resulting dulce de leche. After 6 hours, the slow cooker dulce de leche should have the consistency of caramel sauce. At this stage, it is great for pouring over ice cream or adding to coffee in the morning. After 10 hours, the dulce de leche should thicken to the point where you can spread it like a preserve.

  • When finished, remove the can from the slow cooker and allow to cool to room temperature before opening.
  • To store, pour into airtight containers and refrigerate for up to a month or freeze for several months.

Notes

The nutrition information shown is for the sweetened condensed milk methods and the time is for the slow cooker method.
When using the slow cooker method, always wait for the can to cool before opening it! If you do not, the can may explode from the pressure change.
With the stovetop method, trying using goat's milk instead of whole milk to make Mexican cajeta
 

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Dulce de Leche Recipe
Amount Per Serving (2 tbsp)
Calories 106 Calories from Fat 27
% Daily Value*
Fat 3g5%
Saturated Fat 2g10%
Cholesterol 11mg4%
Sodium 42mg2%
Potassium 123mg4%
Carbohydrates 18g6%
Sugar 18g20%
Protein 3g6%
Vitamin A 88IU2%
Vitamin C 1mg1%
Calcium 94mg9%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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22 comments on “Dulce de Leche Recipe (Stovetop and Slow Cooker/Instant Pot)”

  1. CBsays:

    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. Gigisays:

    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!

  3. Matthewsays:

    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.

  4. 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!

  5. Handesays:

    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.

  6. 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!

    http://www.flanboyanteats.com

  7. Rosiesays:

    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.

  8. Stefsays:

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

  9. Shannonsays:

    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

  10. Melisasays:

    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!

  11. 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…

  12. 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.

  13. Celisays:

    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.

  14. Perlasays:

    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.

  15. Anonymoussays:

    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!

  16. SRsays:

    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.

  17. wilhelminasays:

    5 stars
    I am of dulche de leche in any form! Thanks for all the great info!

  18. Lizsays:

    5 stars
    I tried your stovetop version and your directions were perfect! Boy, this was delicious!!!

  19. 5 stars
    I love this recipe. Thanks full

  20. Myrasays:

    I tried the Instant Pot method but after mixing with the immersion blender the bottom of my 2 cup canning jar fell off on my counter. The sauce was luscious though. What should I use next time?

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