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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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Sweetened Condensed Milk Caramel
- 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk , 1 can is approximately 1.75 cups
- 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.