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Homemade Dulce De Leche

Homemade Dulce De Leche – caramel’s thicker, creamier, amazingly delicious cousin – is super easy to make in either your Instant Pot or slow cooker. The secret ingredient? Sweetened condensed milk!

It’s officially apple pickin’ time! I just got my first basket of apples from our local orchard, BUT I didn’t make an apple recipe (yet).

My first order of business was making a batch of luscious, caramel-y dulce de leche for dipping those fresh, crisp apples. It’s one of the most delicious things EVER!

I’ve had a thing for caramel ever since I was a little girl. My grandpa would bring me Kraft caramels as a special treat when he would come to visit, and I thought they were just about the best thing I ever ate.

One year, I had a caramel apple at the fair, and I’ve been obsessed with anything and everything caramel apple ever since. What an amazing flavor combination!

Much more recently, I got my first taste of dulce de leche and – you guessed it – obsessed. I actually think it’s better than caramel! Dipping my apples in it makes me so very, very happy!

apple slice being dipped into a jar of homemade dulce de leche

WHAT IS DULCE DE LECHE?

Dulce de leche (pronounced like: dool-say-day-leh-chay) has its origins in Latin America, and it’s made by slowly heating sweetened milk until it has a color and flavor similar to caramel. The translation from Spanish is (roughly) “candy made of milk” or “sweet made from milk.”

Caramel, on the other hand, is made from heating sugar until it’s brown in color. Milk or butter might be added if you were making a caramel sauce or candies, but true caramel is just sugar.

Caramel can be difficult to make. You have to watch it very carefully, as it can go from that beautiful caramel color to burnt in just a matter of seconds. If you cook it too long or too hot, it will be as hard as a rock when it cools.

That’s all a little too stressful for me.

Dulce de leche is much, much easier to make, especially in the Instant Pot or slow cooker. You basically set it and forget it and, when you come back, you have the most delicious caramel treat. It works every time…no stress!

The taste of dulce de leche is very similar to caramel, but it is a bit different. It’s creamier, and it has a unique milky flavor that, like I said, (to me) is even better than caramel!

WHAT IS DULCE DE LECHE USED FOR?

Traditionally, dulce de leche is used in sweet treats like candies, cakes, cookies, flan, and ice cream. It can also be spread on toast, waffles, or pancakes. Use it however you want!

Like I said, my favorite way to use it is as a dip for apples. A spoonful is also really good in a cup of coffee (or just on its own if no one is looking!).

homemade dulce de leche in a mason jar with a spoonful being scooped out

DIFFERENT WAYS TO MAKE HOMEMADE DULCE DE LECHE:

There are several different ways to make dulce de leche: on the stove top, in the oven, in the Instant Pot, and in the slow cooker.

I’m going to share the two easiest methods with you today: the Instant Pot and the slow cooker. For both, all you need is about 5 minutes of prep time, and then you walk away and just let it do its thing. No babysitting required!

One thing to remember is the longer you cook dulce de leche, the darker the color will become and the thicker it will be. I prefer mine lighter in color and a little less thick, so that’s what the cooking times in the recipes will give you. If you want it darker or thicker, just cook it a little longer.

INGREDIENTS YOU NEED:

  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Water
  • Vanilla extract (optional)

EQUIPMENT YOU NEED:

  • Instant Pot (and trivet) OR
  • Slow cooker
  • 4 4-ounce mason jars with lids

HERE’S A QUICK LOOK AT HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE DULCE DE LECHE IN THE INSTANT POT:

three images showing you the steps to make homemade dulce de leche in the instant pot
three images showing the steps to make homemade dulce de leche in the instant pot
three images showing the steps to make homemade dulce de leche in the instant pot

Total time using the Instant Pot method is about 2½ hours from the time you open the can of sweetened condensed milk to the time the jars are cooled and the dulce de leche is ready to eat.

HERE’S A QUICK LOOK AT HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE DULCE DE LECHE IN THE SLOW COOKER:

three images showing the steps to make homemade dulce de leche in the slow cooker
three images showing steps to make homemade dulce de leche in the slow cooker
two images showing the steps to make homemade dulce de leche in the slow cooker

Total time from start to finish using the slow cooker method is about 7½ hours.

With either method, after your dulce de leche has cooled and you open the jars, you have the option of stirring in some vanilla extract. The dulce de leche is just fine and super delicious without it, but I really like the added flavor of the vanilla.

If you don’t add the vanilla, I would recommend giving the dulce de leche a stir anyway (especially with the Instant Pot method) before you use it or store it in the refrigerator. It can look not-so-smooth when you first open the jar, but a quick stir will smooth everything out nicely. Here’s what I mean:

two mason jars of homemade dulce de leche, one before stirring and one after stirring

Keep your dulce de leche stored in the refrigerator. Even though those mason jar lids might have “sealed” during the cooking process, this is not a canning recipe, so you must store it in the refrigerator. It will get pretty thick in there, but just let it sit out at room temperature for a bit or heat it up if you want to thin it out.

COMMON QUESTIONS:

  • Do I have to use mason jars? I’ve seen recipes where you just cook the sweetened condensed milk right in the can. YES, you must use mason jars! Do not cook the sweetened condensed milk in the can. It is not considered safe. In addition to who knows what from the can possibly being leached into your dulce de leche, there is a risk of the can exploding. It only takes a minute to transfer the sweetened condensed milk to mason jars. Be safe!
  • Can I use a different size mason jar? I recommend using the 4-ounce mason jars because they are short (a little over 2 inches high with the lids on). In the Instant Pot, you will need to add water up to the bottom of the lids. In the slow cooker, you will need to cover the jars with water by an inch. If you use taller jars, you may not be able to cover the jars properly without overfilling the Instant Pot or slow cooker. Two 8-ounce wide-mouth jars would work, but I wouldn’t recommend anything taller.
  • Does the dulce de leche look and taste the same whether you use an Instant Pot or slow cooker? Yep, pretty much! Flavor-wise, both taste identical to me. Texture-wise, the Instant Pot dulce de leche can be just slightly “lumpy” and weird-looking after cooling – but a quick stir smooths it right out. The dulce de leche from the slow cooker is much more smooth after cooling.
spoonful of homemade dulce de leche being taken out of the jar

Look at that! So smooth and creamy and caramel-y. Irresistible, I tell you! Try it in my Caramel Apple Crisp for an amazing dessert!

I hope you try this recipe for Homemade Dulce de Leche and love it as much as I do. Thanks for visiting today!

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a mason jar filled with homemade dulce de leche with a spoonful being taken out

Homemade Dulce De Leche

Homemade Dulce De Leche – caramel's thicker, creamier, amazingly delicious cousin – is super easy to make in either your Instant Pot or slow cooker. The secret ingredient? Sweetened condensed milk!
5 from 1 vote
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Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Cooling Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 20 (1 tablespoon each)
Calories: 65
Author: Michelle / Now Cook This!

Ingredients

  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • water
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, divided (optional)

Instructions

INSTANT POT INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Pour the sweetened condensed milk into 4 4-ounce mason jars.
  • Put on the lids; tighten them finger-tight (you don't want them to be super tight).
  • Place the jars on the trivet in the Instant Pot. Note: You must use the trivet. Do not place the jars directly in the Instant Pot, as there is a risk they will shatter if you do. Add enough water to come up to the bottom of the lids.
  • Place the lid on the Instant Pot and turn the steam release valve to SEALING. Cook on high pressure for 30 minutes. Note: It will take the Instant Pot about 15 minutes to come up to pressure before the cooking time starts to count down.
  • When the cooking time is complete, quick-release the pressure. Carefully remove the jars from the pot and place them on a folded kitchen towel. Allow to cool completely (this takes about 1½ hours or maybe a little longer). Don't open the jars until they have cooled.
  • Once cooled, if desired, stir ⅛ teaspoon of vanilla extract into each jar. Note: Even if you don't add vanilla, go ahead and give the dulce de leche a stir at this point. After cooling, it can look a bit lumpy and weird, but giving it a quick stir will smooth it out nicely.

SLOW COOKER INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Pour the sweetened condensed milk into 4 4-ounce mason jars.
  • Put on the lids. Make sure they are on tight.
  • Place the jars in the slow cooker. Add enough water to completely cover the jars by one inch.
  • Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on LOW for 6 hours.
  • Carefully remove the jars from the slow cooker and place them on a folded kitchen towel. Allow to cool completely (this takes about 1½ hours or maybe a little longer). Don't open the jars until they have cooled.
  • Once cooled, if desired, stir ⅛ teaspoon of vanilla extract into each jar. Note: Even if you don't add vanilla, go ahead and give the dulce de leche a stir at this point. After cooling, it can look a bit lumpy and weird, but giving it a quick stir will smooth it out nicely.

Notes

  • For both methods, the cooking times will give you a thick, creamy, caramel-colored dulce de leche. If you like a thicker and darker dulce de leche, just cook it a little longer. 
  • Store dulce de leche in the refrigerator. It should keep for a few weeks.
  • If you would like to use the dulche de leche as a drizzle or sauce, gently heat it up to thin it out.
  • The times shown above are for the Instant Pot method. For the slow cooker method, the times are as follows: Prep Time = 5 minutes. Cook Time = 6 hours. Cooling Time = 1½ hours. Total Time = 7 hours, 35 minutes. 
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Recipe Rating




jonell

Saturday 7th of May 2022

Can these be made in plastic mason jars? or if you have 4 oz glass jars with lids, but are not the Mason brand, can those be used?

Michelle

Saturday 7th of May 2022

Hi, Jonell! I would say no to anything plastic, as the pressure and heat could cause it to crack and/or possibly melt. I've only ever used Ball or Kerr glass mason jars, so I can't really comment on any other brands. But as long as the glass jars are of high quality and meant for canning, I don't see why you couldn't use a different brand. Just don't use any jars from food you bought at the store (for example, a small jelly jar or sauce jar), as they could break.

Jasmyn

Saturday 5th of December 2020

I made this recipe in the 8oz wide mouth jars and added an extra 15 minutes in my Instant Pot for a darker dulce de leche and it was perfect! Going to serve warm with apple pie a la mode later this evening. Thanks!

Michelle

Saturday 5th of December 2020

Hey, Jasmyn! I'm so happy that you enjoyed it. It should be awesome with your apple pie. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and rate the recipe!