Sweetened Condensed Milk Caramel

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  • Is it caramel or dulce de leche? Does it really matter? This golden, thick and creamy sauce is one of the most delicious things you’ll even make.

    Dulce de leche sauce over bananas with cookie crumbles

    Caramel Vs. Dulce de Leche

    What is the difference between caramel and dulce de leche?

    Caramel sauce is made from liquifying sugar by itself until it starts to brown and then adding cream and butter at the end. Dulce de leche is made by heating milk and sugar for a longer time, which creates the Maillard reaction.

    overhead view of homemade sweetened condensed milk caramel in a glass jar

    Technically speaking, this recipe is a sweetened condensed milk dulce de leche, however society happens to call this recipe caramel. Here is my recipe for traditional caramel sauce, if that is what you were searching for.


    Because this is technically a dulce sauce, it is also thicker and therefore can be used in so many more ways than just for a drizzle. Thick, like stick to your teeth, thick. And oh, so delicious!

    • Swirl it into brownies
    • Use it as the filling for thumbprint cookies
    • Heat and drizzle over ice cream
    • Swirl into milkshakes
    • Line a martini glass for chocolate martinis
    • Swirl into cheesecakes or other custards
    • Sweeten coffee
    • Use it as a fruit salad dip
    • Fill pastries and other desserts
    • Make Dulce de Leche Bars
    A close up of brookie bars

    Basically anything you can use for fudge sauce, you can also use with dulce de leche.

    Dulce de Leche Taste

    The best way to describe is, well, caramel. Which is why the two get used interchangeably so frequently.

    spoon with thick caramel sauce

    It is Latin in origin and used in many pastries and desserts. Sometimes it is just served in a dainty little bowl chilled, like a custard.

    Pair it with chocolate, cake, fruit and vanilla.

    sliced bananas with caramel sauce and cookie crumble
    Bananas + Caramel Sauce + Animal Cracker Crumble

    Heating the Can

    For many years people have been making an easy dulce de leche sauce by taking an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk (milk and sugar) and placing it in a water bath in a slow cooker or the oven.

    Well, as you can imagine, heating a metal can with liquid inside isn’t the safest thing to do. Especially if you open the can a little too early. It can literally explode.

    can of sweetened condensed milk

    Even if you use a can instead of our homemade sweetened condensed milk, we suggest transferring it to a baking dish.

    Water Bath

    What is a water bath?

    A water bath is simply a tray of hot water placed in the oven while baking certain baked goods and also some savory recipes. It has two major benefits:

    water pouring into water bath

    ONE. It adds moisture into the environment. Think about as a steam room for your food to prevent it from drying out. This prevents cracks in cheesecakes, pumpkin pies and more.

    TWO. That same moisture prevents some foods from getting rubbery and brittle, like baked custards and dulce de leche sauce.

    Easy Caramel Sauce (Dulce de Leche)

    The technique stays the same, we are going to heat milk and sugar (sweetened condensed milk) at a steady heat while in a water bath.

    You’ll want to use a shallow baking dish or pie plate so there is more surface space. Before you get started make sure you find two dishes that will nest inside each other and allow for a water moat. The more water you can get in, the less chance you’ll need to add more during the cooking process.

    sweetened condensed milk in a baking dish with water bath

    Less surface space will result in a longer cook time, which is why there is a range in the recipe card. Doubling the recipe also results in a slightly longer cook time.

    Tightly cover with aluminum foil to keep all the moisture and heat in.

    Pops and bubbles might erupt from your oven and that is normal. You are cooking it at 425 degrees and the boiling point of water is 212.

    sweetened condensed milk caramel right out of the oven

    It will turn from a dark creamy color to a golden, tawny hue and be very aromatic. Your kitchen will smell like sugar and you will love it.

    The trick is to make sure the water doesn’t totally evaporate.

    The Finished Product

    After it finished cooking, it might have a thin crusty layer on top or a gummy film, like pudding. You will need to make a very telling decision. You have two choices. Other times, there won’t be an issue at all. The one thing to note is to do it while the sauce is hot or it will get lumpy.

    caramel sauce in glass jar

    Skim the top… and eat it! – Listen, that top layer is the like burnt sugar on a creme brulee or delicious pudding. You can use a spoon and gently lift it off. It is best consumed immediately while still hot. Don’t let it go to waste!

    Blend It- Use an immersion blender and mix it all up while the sauce is still hot. The crusty or gummy pieces will melt right back in.

    Double Boiler Caramel

    The other option is to make this in a double boiler, two nesting saucepans, one with water bath on the bottom and the sweetened milk in the top.

    glass jar of dulce de leche

    I’ve found that this takes the same amount of time, but is more hands on, having to stir it to make sure all of the liquid gets to the bottom/heat source to caramelize. It also has a higher risk of burning even though you are using a double boiler.

    Heat the water to a low simmer then stir every so often for 1 hour.

    Storage & Freezing

    After being cooled, covered and stored properly, this sweetened condensed milk caramel sauce can be kept up to 1 month in the fridge.

    It also freezes well. Place in an airtight container or plastic bag and keep for up to 3 months. Past that it starts to develop ice crystals. To thaw, leave at room temperature until it softens. I don’t recommend defrosting in the microwave.

    sweetened condensed milk caramel recipe for pinterest

    Recipes that use Sweetened Condensed Milk

    Chocolate Truffles
    Easy Chocolate Truffles only use 4 ingredients, including sweetened condensed milk, to make a rich, decadent dessert. Roll them in chocolate sprinkles, powdered sugar or cocoa for the the finished touch! #chocolatetruffles #easytruffles www.savoryexperiments.com
    Easy Chocolate Truffles only use 4 ingredients, including sweetened condensed milk, to make a rich, decadent dessert. Roll them in chocolate sprinkles, powdered sugar or cocoa for the the finished touch! 
    White Chocolate Truffles
    White Chocolate Truffles are an easy truffle recipe made with just a handful of ingredients. Creamy white chocolate rolled in toasted pecans, cinnamon and nutmeg. #whitechocolatetruffles #easytrufflerecipe www.savoryexperiments.com
    White Chocolate Truffles are an easy truffle recipe made with just a handful of ingredients. Creamy white chocolate rolled in toasted pecans, cinnamon and nutmeg.
    close up of homemade dulce de leche for pinterest

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    glass jar of dulce de leche
    Print Recipe
    4.57 from 16 votes

    Sweetened Condensed Milk Caramel

    This delicious caramel sauce comes together like a dream in the oven- just 1 ingredient and an hour is all you need. Top on cakes, fruit and any dessert.
    Prep Time5 mins
    Cook Time1 hr
    Total Time1 hr 5 mins
    Course: Condiment, Sauce
    Cuisine: American, Mexican
    Keyword: dulce de leche, sweetened condensed milk caramel
    Servings: 1 cup
    Calories: 1065kcal
    Author: Jessica Formicola



    • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
    • Pour one can of sweetened condensed milk into a shallow casserole dish or pie plate.
    • Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
    • Place in a larger pan and create a water bath up 50-75% of the dish with the sweetened condensed milk. It really depends on the size of your pans as to how much it can handle. Don't overfill, but don't let it get dry either.
    • Bake 60-90 minutes or until condensed milk has reached a golden brown color. Check it periodically and also replace water as needed.
    • Remove thin crust from the top or use an immersion blender to melt it back in.
    • Cool completely and transfer to an airtight container or glass jar.
    • Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 month.
    • If you’ve tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or ratings.



    Calories: 1065kcal | Carbohydrates: 242g | Protein: 39g | Sodium: 532mg | Sugar: 242g | Vitamin A: 968IU | Calcium: 1452mg
    image of jessica formicola

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