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; and this sweetened condensed milk caramel couldn’t be easier!
The easiest way to make a homemade caramel sauce? Heating your favorite Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk until it turns into a one ingredient caramel sauce. It’s as easy as that! No candy thermometer or fancy equipment needed.
What's In This Article
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.
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.
How to Use Condensed Milk Caramel
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 sundaes
- 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
- Scoop of vanilla ice cream
- Dip apple slices or graham crackers into it
- Use it to make banoffee pie
- Pour it over pound cake
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 it is, well, caramel. Which is why the two get used interchangeably so frequently.
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 this condensed milk caramel with chocolate, cake, fruit and vanilla.
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, oven or even a pressure cooker.
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. It makes me nervous.
Even if you use a can instead of our homemade sweetened condensed milk, we suggest transferring it to a baking dish.
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:
- 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.
- That same moisture prevents some foods from getting rubbery and brittle, like baked custards and dulce de leche sauce.
Condensed Milk Caramel Sauce (Dulce de Leche)
The technique stays the same, we are going to heat milk (heavy cream) 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. The water level should come up at least halfway. It doesn’t matter if it is hot water or cold, it will heat up in the oven.
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°F and the boiling point of water is 212°F.
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.
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.
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
Storage: After being cooled, covered and stored properly, this sweetened condensed milk caramel sauce can be kept up to 1 month in the fridge. Many people prefer to store it in a mason jar for the next day.
Freezing: 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.
Recipes that use Sweetened Condensed Milk
Sweetened Condensed Milk Caramel Recipe
- 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk , 1 can is approximately 1.75 cups
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- 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.
Hi Jessica! I would love to try this recipe as I have promised my grandkids that I would make caramel apples for their Halloween party. Would this caramel stick to unwaxed apples and firm up a bit?
Nope- this is a saucey recipe, but we do have a recipe for caramel apples here!
We just need the recipe not a life story.
And there is a “jump to recipe” button right at the top.
This is a great recipe! It taste really great! I have always stood over the stove and stirred caramel for at least a hour and half. I enjoyed cooking it and it looks amazing!
Thanks! So glad it turned out well for you!
That was a great recipe. So, I used the tin can method, however, the dulce de leche didn’t come out as thick and brown I want it to be. So I have it in a glass jar right now. Is it possible for me to put that glass jar of the caramel in a pot of simmering water on the stove? Would it still work that way?
Sure would! It is just about evaporating out the water to get it thicker.
Seriously – this loooooong post on how to heat a tin of condensed milk??? Puh-lease
Hi Mariah, sorry you weren’t able to use this useful information that others have asked. There is a handy “jump to recipe” button right at the top for those who don’t need the LONG post. Your wellllcommmmeee.
I did the tin can method on the stove for 3.5 hrs, but it came out more like a custard than a sauce.What did I do wrong?
Hi! I think you cooked it a little too long. Should only take about an hour.
Querida; es mucho más fácil poner las latas de leche condensada en en una olla exprés tapadas de agua y cocinarlas por 30 mnts. sí lo quieres más claro ó 45mnts. Si lo prefieres más oscuro. Es bastante más económico que encender el horno, y tienes dulce de leche envasado en tu despensa . Saludos
Translation: Dear; It is much easier to put the cans of condensed milk in a pressure cooker covered with water and cook them for 30 minutes. if you want it clearer or 45mnts. If you prefer it darker. It is much cheaper than turning on the oven, and you have dulce de leche packed in your pantry. Regards
Hi Wendy, yes the pressure cooker is much easier, but many people don’t own one or don’t want to put metal in the pressure cooker for safety reasons. Thanks for the feedback!
No idea you could do it this way! Such a great idea and so easy!
I had no idea I could make caramel in the oven! This is great!
I tried this recipe it’s taken over an hour it is still not turned to caramel and the glass in my oven door shattered. Can you explain why this would happen.
This should have nothing to do with the glass in your oven door, which is tempered glass. I’m suspecting that your oven isn’t calibrated correctly and something is wrong with the actual appliance.