This truly is the best recipe for dulce de leche, that wonderful sweet milk jam from Argentina, where I'm from. In this post, you'll find the traditional way of making it from scratch, and the most useful tips EVER that were handed down from generations in my family making it.
Let me start by saying this is an area I'm familiar with.
Dulce de leche arguably hails from Argentina - we have an ongoing discussion with our neighbor Uruguay about that, but today I'm standing my ground - and I have generations before me making it from scratch, perfecting the recipes, and understanding its ins and outs.
What can I say about dulce de leche? I'm a huge fan. Most of us are here.
Several recipes use it, but this is the first time posting the from-scratch recipe. I can't believe it took me so long!
Let's start with the basic recipe, the one my grandmother and many others before her made. It's a simple process, and I have the best tips to make it easier.
They are few, and you probably have all of them in your kitchen right now.
- Whole milk.
- White granulated sugar: I tried it with powdered sugar, but the result is grainy. Brown sugar might work, but sometimes the consistency is not correct.
- Baking soda: this ingredient is crucial if you want a brown color. Use more for deeper caramel color and less for a more tea-with-milk type of hue. Arm & Hammer baking soda is a popular one.
- Vanilla: I use pure vanilla extract or pure vanilla paste when available, but a good vanilla essence (artificially flavored) also works and is infinitely cheaper.
- Salt: it's optional, but a small pinch deepens the flavor and makes this milk jam so much tastier! I like using kosher salt or fine sea salt when baking. But regular table salt works just fine.
- Saucepan: it should be deep because the milk when it boils can creep up quickly and you don't want it to spill, and heavy-bottomed because there's way less possibility of it scorching or sticking.
- The plate inside: this is a peculiar tip and you can see it in the video tutorial above, but it's what they did in the old days, back when most of the food was homemade and took all day. My grandmother used glass marbles, but those are hard to find nowadays. The next best thing was a plate upside down, though I also use the super small glass things I show in the video also. The idea is to have something that moves around, mimicking stirring, so you don't have to do it manually. Because you need to stir very often otherwise.
- Ingredients: use whole milk and white sugar. They work much better than any other variation. Don't be tempted to use powdered sugar as the final result will be grainier. I know, it sounds like the opposite will happen as powdered sugar is so soft, but it doesn't work.
- Ice water: if you cool down the dulce de leche over a bowl with ice water (as shown in the last steps in the video below 👇🏻) it will not only help in cooling it down faster but also avoid some crystallization, so the jam has less chance of being grainy. If you skip this tip you'll also make a great batch of dulce de leche, but the details help.
This is my favorite way because, as with anything made from scratch, you know the quality of your ingredients.
From condensed milk
First of all, I never make it from condensed milk because I can easily find a million brands in the supermarket here, or I make it myself from scratch, as explained above.
That said, I don't know in your part of the woods, but here they don't sell the can anymore, but a plastic container that I don't like at all, and most of my friends don't either. But we're stuck with it.
So here are the links to make dulce de leche from condensed milk:
- In the oven: the David Lebovitz homemade dulce de leche recipe is the best and stands the test of time because it doesn't matter if you don't have a can and it can be made in an oven.
- Boiling the can: there are a lot of recipes online and there's not much science to it, simmer the can of condensed milk for 3 hours. This recipe for making dulce de leche from a can works great.
- In the microwave or stovetop: I tried both, and it doesn't quite work. The dulce de leche doesn't happen before the milk boils or becomes a solid mess.
- Darker dulce de leche: use more baking soda, up to a teaspoon per 4 cups (1 liter) of milk.
- Cream: I like to add cream sometimes, 1 tablespoon per cup of milk. It renders a somewhat creamier and more unctuous jam.
- Sweeter: you can add up to ¼ cup more sugar per cup of milk.
- Refrigerator: this is the best way to keep dulce de leche and it keeps indefinitely, or pretty much. I never saw a dulce de leche go bad, ever. What does happen is that it will eventually turn grainy due to crystallization, and it dries out. But for this to happen it usually takes months.
- Containers: I like glass jars with tight fitting lids, they are the best way to keep it. Plastic containers also work.
You can, in theory, freeze it. But there's no point since it keeps for so long in the fridge.
There are two types of dulce de leche: regular and pastry dulce de leche (repostero in Spanish) which is thicker and made especially for fillings.
- Regular dulce de leche doesn't have the right consistency for filling. You should always use pastry dulce de leche. For example when you make the cornstarch Alfajores recipe or this easy banoffee cake. It's too thin and it will drip down the sides and you'll have a mess. Not good.
- Pastry dulce de leche is thicker, similar to commercial peanut butter, and used for fillings because it stays put and doesn't drip. You can buy it online, and you're good to fill whatever you want. Amazon sells the most popular one here, dulce de leche repostero Vacalin
- Thickening regular dulce de leche: but I also devised a way to thicken it without changing the flavor much. And that is by adding cornstarch. It's all explained in the recipe. And there is a shortcut that works as far as thickening goes, but the flavor is mellower, which might be completely fine. Also, I haven't tried it, but I think dulce de leche La Lechera, which comes in a can similar to condensed milk, is quite thick.
Uses for dulce de leche
- On its own: a spoonful of dulce de leche as dessert is common among fans, especially my father.
- Banana or apple slices: serve them alongside a dollop of dulce de lehce or drizzled on top, and you're in for a treat.
- Fillings for chocolate and vanilla cake: these flavor pairings are fantastic and you should try them asap!
- Sauce: thin it slightly with water, milk, cream or liquor and use it to top ice cream, apple crumble, granola, pancakes, waffles and french toast.
- Cookie sandwiches: almost any cookie can be filled with dulce de leche, from chocolate chip to walnut to chocolate butter cookies.
- Toast: slather a piece of homemade bread with butter and dulce de leche.
- Old-fashioned desserts: from flan to rice pudding and floating island or bread pudding, dairy-based desserts turn extraordinary when served with this sweet jam.
- Substitute: most peanut butter or Nutella recipes can be made with dulce de leche. I regularly make the chocolate oat bars, carmelitas and our wildly popular peanut butter brownies with it (same volume).
Let me know in the comments below if you made this recipe and loved it and if you had issues so we can troubleshoot together. I love to hear what you think, always. Thanks for being here. It's much appreciated.
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For regular dulce de leche:
- 4 cups (1 lt.) of whole milk
- 1 cup (200g) white granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream (optional; I use it because it makes a richer dulce de leche)
- Vanilla drops (optional)
- Pinch of salt (optional)
For thicker dulce de leche:
- 1 cup regular dulce de leche (homemade or store-bought)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ tablespoon milk
For regular dulce de leche:
- Heat the milk (and cream if using) over medium heat in a large saucepan with high sides and double or triple bottom.
- Add the sugar when it’s warm and mix.
- Add the baking soda and stir until it dissolves.
- When it starts to boil, lower the heat to a minimum but keep it simmering.
- At this point is where you can add a plate upside down, glass marbles, or some other small glass object that can withstand the heat. What they do is move around so it ‘stirs’ the mixture and also helps with crystallization.
- Let it reduce, stirring every so often, about an hour, or an hour and a half. This depends on the amount of milk you’re using and the amount of heat.
- It darkens from the bicarbonate and thickens. If you added a plate you can stir once in a while, but it not, you should stir more often.
- At some point, usually an hour from the moment it starts to simmer, it gets quite dark and thickens. At this point, it’s almost ready. Maybe a few minutes more. Make sure you take out the plate and stir constantly during these last moments.
- If you put a little on a plate it will run immediately, be quite liquid. It will thicken a lot as it cools and even more in the refrigerator.
- Remove from the heat, add vanilla and salt if using, transfer to a bowl and let cool. If you stir over a bowl with ice water it will cool faster and generally makes it creamier because there’s a smaller chance of crystallization.
- Whisk at the end before refrigerating to make it as creamy as possible.
- Fill a jar and keep refrigerated.
For thicker dulce de leche:
- Mix cornstarch and milk in a small bowl or cup.
- Put the dulce de leche in a small saucepan over low heat.
- Stir constantly, and when the dulce de leche becomes more liquid, add the cornstarch slowly while stirring with a wooden spoon.
- Bring the mixture to a slow boil, stirring all the time. You don't want the mixture to stick.
- Boil for about 2 minutes, being careful it doesn't burn in the bottom of the pan. Check that it has somewhat thickened, but remember it will completely set after it's cooled and refrigerated.
- Let cool completely and refrigerate for 1 hour before using, or for several weeks in a closed jar.
- Melt 50g (3 ½ tablespoons) butter in a medium saucepan.
- Add a can of condensed milk (400g / 14oz) and 200g (7oz) regular dulce de leche.
- Stir over low heat until it thickens and let cool before using.
Milk - use whole milk for the best results. This is a jam and the richness and fat in regular milk make for a more luscious product.
Cream - it adds even more richness, so I hardly make it without if I have some at home.
Sugar - regular granulated sugar is what you want. I did try it with powdered sugar but the result is grainy. Brown sugar might work, but sometimes the consistency is not right.
Baking soda - this ingredient is crucial if you want a brown color. Use more for deeper caramel color and less for a more tea-with-milk type of hue.
Vanilla and salt - these can be categorized as optional, but I think a few drops of vanilla and a small pinch of sea salt deepen the flavor and make this milk jam so much tastier!
Saucepan: it should be deep because the milk when it boils can creep up quickly and you don't want it to spill, and heavy-bottomed because there's way less possibility of it scorching or sticking.
The plate inside: this is a peculiar tip and you can see it in the video tutorial above, but it's what they did in the old days, back when most of the food was homemade and took all day. My grandmother used glass marbles, but those are hard to find nowadays. The next best thing was a plate upside down, though I also use the super small glass things I show in the video also. The idea is to have something that moves around, mimicking stirring, so you don't have to do it manually. Because you need to stir very often otherwise.
Commercial dulce de leche: you can buy it online. The best one available to use for fillings right now is Vacalin dulce de leche repostero, which is the one we use here, so I recommend it. Others that are usually available for the regular type are Cachafaz Dulce de Leche, Havanna Argentina Dulce de Leche sauce, and DDL&Co. premium dulce de leche.
- Prep Time: 5
- Cook Time: 120
- Category: Sauces
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Argentinian
Keywords: dulce de leche recipe