Dulce de leche is beloved worldwide and for good reason: The amber-colored confection has a deliciously creamy texture that makes any dessert even more irresistible. This sweet sauce, similar to butterscotch and without the bitterness sometimes associated with caramel, is as decadent as it gets.
Traditionally, dulce de leche is served with fresh fruit, as a topping for ice cream, a dip for churros or spread over crepes. In the Woman’s World test kitchen, we love to stir into cheesecakes, drizzle over desserts, whip up into buttercream frostings and more. You can find dulce de leche at your local supermarket in the international aisle, or better yet, it’s easy to make it yourself with just one ingredient. Keep scrolling for the easy how-to plus delicious recipes for using dulce de leche.
What is dulce de leche?
Dulce de leche translates from Spanish into “milk candy.” Traditionally, a combination of milk and sugar is cooked low and slow for several hours until the sugars caramelize, the milk thickens and the whole thing turns into a delicious sauce. But more commonly, the easy shortcut to making a batch is to simply cook a can of sweetened condensed milk in a water bath. Either way, once you taste dulce de leche, you’re sure to be hooked.
Dulce de leche vs caramel sauce
Dulce de leche and caramel both have that sweet creamy texture and gorgeous amber color we love, but are they the same thing — and are they interchangeable? Well, yes and no!
Dulce de leche is milk based. The combination of milk and sugar (or sweetened condensed milk) is heated slowly until the sugars brown and the flavors intensify. The result is a smooth, creamy rich sauce that’s simply irresistible.
Caramel, on the other hand, starts with a mixture of sugar and water that is heated until the sugar turns golden brown, then cream or butter is added. It’s more labor intensive since the side of the pan needs to be brushed with water during cooking to prevent crystallization. That said, caramel and dulce de leche can be used similarly as a topping, a dip for cookies, stirred into cakes and other baked goods.
How to make dulce de leche
Classic dulce de leche is made with milk and sugar on the stovetop. It takes several hours — plus a lot of stirring. Fortunately, there’s an easier way:
- Pour the contents of 1 (14 oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk into small oven-proof dish and cover tightly with foil. Place the dish in a roasting pan and fill the pan halfway up the side of the dish with water.
- Bake at 425°F, until the milk is caramel color and thick, adding more water as necessary, about 2 hrs. Uncover and let cool.
For an adults-only kick, try stirring in a splash of bourbon. You can store any leftover dulce de leche covered in the refrigerator for up to a month. (Click through for more tasty ways to use sweetened condensed milk. You can even use it to keep Rice Krispies treats soft and give them delicious dulce de leche flavor.)
8 recipes inspired by dulce de leche
Now that you know how easy it is to make dulce de leche, here are 8 recipes to put it to good use.
1. Dulce de Leche Turtle Cake
We transformed cake mix into a stunning showstopper with an easy-prep dulce de leche buttercream — our frosting would be just as delicious on top of cupcakes or even brownies.
2. Apple and Spice Layer Cake
We jumpstarted this showstopper with spice cake mix and finished it with a drizzle of rich dulce de leche — for an extra treat, add even more dulce de leche between the layers.
3. Streusel-Topped Dulce de Leche Cheesecake
We whipped dulce de leche into the creamy filling of this decadent treat — an easy gingersnap crust makes it more irresistible.
4. Dulce de Leche Frosted Cupcakes
From-scratch frosting gives these mix-magic delights a deliciously easy upgrade — drizzle extra dulce de leche on top if you want even more decadence.
5. Dulce de Leche Spice Cake
Zingy pumpkin pie spice balances the sweetness of the frosting and dulce de leche drizzle on this bakeshop beauty.
6. Salted Turtle Cookies
Sweet, salty and absolutely delicious — dulce de leche and dark chocolate make the perfect pair top our crisp buttery cookies finished with sea salt.
7. Apple Dulce de Leche Cheesecake
Tart-sweet apples cooked in melted butter create the pretty pattern on our easy masterpiece finished with drips of dulce de leche.
8. Pecan Dulce de Leche Cookies
Nutty and chewy, this praline-inspired bite topped with dulce de leche is sure to be a hit — you can customize with your favorite toasted nuts.