Dulce de leche is an essential ingredient in bakes like our Super Easy Banoffee Pie and Chocoflan, where it’s drizzled on top to give desserts a final punch of sweetness. And while you can buy it at many grocery stores, it’s super-simple to make your own. If you have a can of sweetened condensed milk, you’re already halfway there. 

What is dulce de leche? 

Dulce de leche, popular in Latin America, is a glossy, creamy, caramel-like spread made by cooking milk and sugar together, or, more commonly, simply heating sweetened condensed milk as a shortcut. Over time, the sweetened condensed milk turns from a milky beige to a deep golden brown color as the sugars in the milk caramelize, which also deepens its flavor. It also thickens from a viscous, pourable consistency to a more stable, spreadable texture. The result is a caramel-like sauce perfect for drizzling on top of pies and swirling into brownies.

Super Easy Banoffee Pie Photography by Rick Holbrook; Food Styling by Kaitlin Wayne
You can't make banoffee pie without a thick layer of dulce de leche at the bottom. 

How to make dulce de leche 

There are two primary methods you can use to make dulce de leche: Boil a can of sweetened condensed milk in water on your stovetop or bake it in a water bath in your oven. Both methods produce equally caramelized, delicious sauce; it’s merely a matter of which method works better for you.

Homemade dulce de leche: boiling method 

Place a sealed can of sweetened condensed milk into a pan filled with water one to two inches above the can. Bring the water to a boil, then lower to a simmer. The label will fall off while it boils; if you're saving a can for later, you can write directly on the can so you remember what it is! Simmer for 2 to 3 hours, refilling the water as needed to keep the can fully covered. 

This method is beneficial if you prefer to make multiple cans of dulce de leche at once, as you can boil several cans in your pot at the same time. If you’re going to dedicate three hours to making one can, you may as well get more mileage out of it and pop in another can or two if your pot can fit it since it can last for up to a month in the fridge when sealed. Future you will be grateful!  

Cola de Mono Alfajores (dulce de leche sandwich cookies) lined up, coated in different garnishes
Dulce de leche is the key ingredient to fill alfajores

Homemade dulce de leche: baking method 

This method, used in our recipe for Cola de Mono Alfajores, is done entirely in the oven. Pour the entire can of sweetened condensed milk into a glass or ceramic square pan or pie plate, tightly cover it with aluminum foil, then place it into a larger roasting pan filled halfway with water. Bake it at 425°F for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check the water levels every half hour or so, and refill as needed to maintain the original water level. Once it’s thickened and deeply golden brown, remove the pan from the roasting dish, stir briefly, and allow to cool before use. 

If you have desired thickness or color you’re looking for in the dulce de leche, this method is preferable to the boiling method, since you can peek under the foil and assess whether it needs more time in the oven.  

Can I make vegan dulce de leche? 

Yes! Sweetened condensed coconut milk is an excellent dairy-free substitute to make vegan dulce de leche, using the same methods above. If you use the baking method, the consistency may seem thinner and waterier than you expect, but after cooling and chilling in the fridge, it will thicken to a spreadable paste.   

Ready to bake with your own homemade dulce de leche? Use it in Super Easy Banoffee PieChocoflan, and Cola de Mono Alfajores. Or just eat it by the spoonful! 

Cover photo (Super Easy Banoffee Pie) by Rick Holbrook; food styling by Kaitlin Wayne. 

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Super Easy Banoffee Pie
Super Easy Banoffee Pie
2 hrs
one 9" pie
Recipe in this post
Filed Under: Tips and Techniques
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The Author

About Tatiana Bautista

Tatiana Bautista is a writer, editor, and avid home baker and cook. She grew up on Long Island, New York, where her family helped instill a lifelong love of food through homestyle Toisanese dishes and weekly outings for dim sum. From a young age, she’s had an interest in baking thanks to her aunt, w...
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