Dulce de Leche

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The perfect dulce de leche has a gorgeous deep golden color, thick and luscious consistency, and irresistible silky texture. Its rich, caramel-like flavor is mellowed by the freshness of the milk. Spoon this sticky, sweet treat on cookies, ice cream, brownies, and more!

a hand lifting a spoon full of dulce de leche out of a colorful ceramic bowl

It’s never too early to start thinking about your Cinco de Mayo menu! I like to switch things up every year, but two things always find their way on the table: my tender pork carnitas (either Old School Mexican style, made in a Slow Cooker or Stovetop and Instant Pot options) and some sort of dulce de leche dessert.

But I almost never use store bought if I can help it. Why would I, when it’s so easy to make at home? There are a few ways to make it, actually. I prefer the traditional method that combines milk, sugar, and baking soda and is seasoned with optional vanilla and cinnamon. The process involves simply cooking the milk and sugar low and slow until the blend caramelizes and thickens, resulting in a sauce commonly known as Mexican caramel.

The other two methods involve boiling or baking sweetened condensed milk (can and all!) in a water bath — also known as the bain-marie method. 

I share my 2 reasons on using both homemade milk/sugar method and sweetened condensed milk method below.

overhead: ingredients needed for my dulce de leche recipe

So, what are some of the ways you can use this popular Mexican treat? It can replace caramel in most desserts. Its rich, warm flavor is a great complement to dark chocolate cakes and brownies, and the cinnamon in the sauce goes really well with churros.

side view: preparing the milk and sugar for dulce de leche

Tip From Kevin

Baking Soda

It might seem strange to add the baking soda to the milk and sugar for dulce de leche, but I’ve read a bit and found it’s crucial if you want a brown color. Use more for a deeper caramel color and less for a more pale type of hue.

Completely optional though.

closeup: a hand lifting a spoon full of dulce de leche out of a glass jar

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

(Be sure to check the recipe card for a full list of ingredients and quantities)

  • Whole Milk – Low-fat, nonfat, and even dairy-free milk can be used in this dulce de leche recipe for a lighter dessert sauce. 
  • Sugar – Use regular white granulated sugar, or brown sugar for an even deeper, richer sauce. 
  • Baking Soda – This ingredient is a chemical leavener that increases the pH of the mixture, which allows it to brown and darken. Don’t skip it… but don’t add too much, either — you’ll definitely taste the difference. 
  • Vanilla Extract Just ½ teaspoon adds so much depth and rounds out the flavors in dulce de leche. Some good substitutes include maple syrup, honey, and almond extract. 
  • Ground Cinnamon To add a bit of warm spice to the sauce. It’s not a necessary ingredient, and many recipes don’t include it, but I think it makes a huge difference!
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk This ingredient is only used in the boiling and baking dulce de leche recipe methods — and is also the only ingredient used in those methods!
a can on sweetened condensed milk

How to Make Dulce de Leche

  1. Combine Ingredients. Pour the milk, sugar, and baking soda into a large saucepan or pot. Set the heat to medium and whisk together.
  2. Boil. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking every so often so that the bottom of the mixture doesn’t burn. If it looks like it’s about to boil over, remove from the heat and whisk until the foam subsides, then return to the burner. 
  3. Simmer. Once a rolling boil is achieved without bubbling over, lower the heat to a simmer and let cook, uncovered, for 1 ½ hours. Stir occasionally as the sauce thickens and turns a beautiful golden caramel color. 
  4. Season. The dulce de leche recipe is finished cooking when the sauce thickens and sticks to the back of your spoon. Remove the pot from the heat and stir the vanilla and cinnamon into the sauce. 
  5. Store. Transfer to a glass jar. Do not cover until it cools.

The Boiling Method

  1. Place in Water Bath. Remove the label from the can of sweetened condensed milk. Place the can in a saucepan or pot and fill it with enough water so the can is covered by 1 or 2 inches. 
  2. Boil & Simmer. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, adding more water as needed. Simmer for 2 hours for a light brown sauce and up to 3 hours for a dark, amber color. 
  3. Let Cool & Whisk. Let cool, open the can, and whisk to remove any lumps. 

The Baking Method

  1. Place in Water Bath. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a pie dish or cake pan. Cover with foil. Place in a deep roasting pan and fill with 1 inch of hot water. 
  2. Bake. Place in the oven at 425 degrees F for 1 hour and 45 minutes, or a full 2 hours for a darker, richer sauce.
  3. Let Cool & Whisk. Let cool, then whisk to remove any lumps.
  • Large Saucepan or Pot – For the stovetop method, select a deep pot or pan that heats evenly. 
  • Deep Roasting Pan – You’ll need a pan with high walls if you want to use the baking method to prepare this dulce de leche recipe. 

Storing and Reheating

This dairy-based dessert sauce must be refrigerated. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week. If you’d like to heat it up for serving, reheat in a hot water bath until soft.

tongs lifting a can of condensed milk out of boiling water

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a hand lifting a spoon full of dulce de leche out of a canned of condensed milk

Tip From Kevin

My Preference and Why

I found the original method of cooking the milk and sugar down a delicious treat and the flavor matched the sweetened condensed version. I also found that even AFTER the milk and sugar dulce de leche cooled and thickened, it just did not compare in texture to the condensed milk one. I’m sure adding maybe another 30 minutes would have done the trick, but after 3 attempts, I was done.

Needless to say I would use the milk and sugar method for mixing in and drizzling over things like ice cream, muffins etc. and the thicker, more spreadable sweetened condensed milk version for fillings and topping cakes, cupcakes, cookies, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most authentic way to prepare dulce de leche?

The traditional recipe is made with fresh milk and sugar, slowly cooked down and thickened on the stove. 

Heating sweetened condensed milk in a hot water bath gets you pretty close, but the flavor just isn’t the same! The combination of milk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon is simply more delicious — other methods taste a little “flatter” in comparison.

How do you thicken homemade dulce de leche?

Wait for it to cool before you get carried away, because it thickens considerably as it falls to room temperature. If it still isn’t to your liking after cooling, you can stir in a bit of powdered milk or a cornstarch slurry made from equal parts milk and cornstarch.

What can you do if dulce de leche is too thick?

On the other hand, if you wish your sauce were just a bit thinner, you can add a bit more milk or cream. This is more effective while the mixture is still warm, so do this before it cools. Or, heat it up again in a hot water bath before adding the milk.

lifting a spoon full of my dulce de leche recipe out of a ceramic bowl
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spoonful of dulce de leche and bowl

Dulce de Leche

Golden dulce de leche cascades over your favorite desserts as a luxurious, thick, creamy caramel sauce. And it’s so easy to make at home!
Servings: 10
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total: 1 hour 35 minutes


Dulce De Leche Classic version

Dulce De Leche with Sweetened Condensed Milk

  • 14 ounce sweetened condensed milk


Classic version

  • In a large saucepan or pot over medium heat, stir together the milk, sugar, and baking soda.
  • Bring to a boil uncovered. Whisk occasionally so bottom of saucepan doesn't scorch. Remove the saucepan from the stove if it looks like the mixture is going to boil over. Keep whisking until the foam subsides and then return to the stovetop. Once mixture is boiling consistently without foaming, reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally, until the milk has caramelized and thickened. Cooking the milk and sugar low and slow until it caramelizes and thickens, resulting in a deep golden brown sauce. Be patient!
  • When the mixture has thickened to where it sticks to the back of a spoon, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and cinnamon.
  • Carefully transfer to a glass jar to cool. Dulce de Leche will thicken as it cools.

Boiling Method (sweetened condensed milk)

  • Remove the label from sweetened condensed milk can. Place can(s) in a saucepan or pot large enough to accommodate them. Fill with water so the cans are submerged by 1-2 inches.
  • Bring to a boil over medium high heat. As soon as the water comes to a boil reduce to low and simmer for 2 hours for a light golden color and 3 hours for a dark amber color with a richer flavor. Add more water if needed to keep can(s) covered.
  • Allow to cool and whisk to smooth out any lumps.

Baking Method (sweetened condensed milk)

  • Preheat oven to 425°F. Pour sweetened condensed milk into a pie dish or cake pan and cover tightly with foil.
  • Transfer to a deep roasting pan and fill with hot water until 1-inch of depth. This is what's called a bain-marie.
  • Bake for 1 hour 45 minutes. You can add 15 more minutes time for a darker amber color and richer flavor.
  • Allow to cool and whisk to smooth out any lumps.


Calories: 175kcal | Carbohydrates: 35g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 12mg | Sodium: 65mg | Potassium: 148mg | Fiber: 0.03g | Sugar: 35g | Vitamin A: 158IU | Vitamin C: 0.002mg | Calcium: 121mg | Iron: 0.02mg

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

Course: Desserts, Sauce
Cuisine: Mexican, South American
Have You Made This Recipe? Let Me Know on InstagramTag @keviniscooking or tag me #keviniscooking!
titled image (and shown): how to make dulce de leche


Whether in the kitchen or on the grill, you’ll find me cooking American favorites with a love for BBQ, Mexican and Tex Mex. I’m passionate about making tasty food because life’s too short to be bland!

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