Dulce de Leche Recipe

Dulce de Leche Caramelized Milk Recipe

You know you’re on the right track if your most trusted recipe sources agree on procedures for classics such as this one. This recipe for dulce de leche, a thick caramelized milk sauce essential in South American desserts, is adapted from Alton Brown, Saveur, and Wayne Gisslen.

While the instructions and cooking times differ slightly, all three sources agree on the use of baking soda, a key ingredient which may be a bit unexpected. The baking soda tips the slight acidity of milk towards alkalinity. This is important for two reasons (excuse me while I put on my lab coat):

  • Alkalinity keeps milk proteins from curdling
    For the same reason adding vinegar to milk makes cheese, mildly acidic milk, along with heat, may cause grittiness when milk proteins solidify. Adding the baking soda controls curdling to a certain degree, giving you a smoother dulce de leche.
  • Alkalinity helps with browning
    Since dulce de leche is all about caramelization, a little help with getting that deep brown hue can’t hurt. One reason pretzels and bagels are boiled in a lye solution is the alkalinity of the liquid — it helps brown the crust while baking.

recipe adapted from Alton Brown, Saveur, and Wayne Gisslen’s Professional Baking

Dulce de Leche (Spanish)
Doce de Leite (Portuguese)
Confiture de Lait (French)
Caramelized Milk Sauce

makes about 1 cup / 250 ml

Ingredients:

4 cups / 1000 ml whole milk
1 1/2 cups / 375 ml granulated sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 vanilla bean, split OR 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Special Equipment:

Instructions:

  1. In a heavy saucepan, combine the milk, sugar, and baking soda.
  2. Slowly bring to a boil over medium heat without stirring. A foamy layer will develop on top as it reaches a boil.
  3. Remove from the heat when it reaches a boil. Skim the foamy layer on top and return to the stovetop over medium heat.
  4. If using the split vanilla bean, add it at this point.
  5. Continue to simmer gently for 1 hour over medium heat, skimming the top as needed and stirring occasionally.
  6. If using the split vanilla bean, remove and discard it at this point.
  7. Continue to simmer gently for 1 to 1 1/2 hours over medium heat, stirring often. Once the dulce de leche reaches a deep caramel color and thick consistency, watch it closely. Stir continuously to prevent the bottom from scorching.
    Dulce de Leche Caramelized Milk Recipe - Thickened
    Watch out for scorching when it gets to this stage
  8. Reduce the heat to low when dragging a spatula across the bottom of the pan leaves trails.
    Dulce de Leche Caramelized Milk Recipe
    Happy trail
  9. Fine-tune the consistency to your liking at this point, keeping in mind that dulce de leche will stiffen slightly as it cools. You can thin dulce de leche by adding small amounts of water if it gets too thick.
  10. Strain the dulce de leche.
  11. If using vanilla extract, add it at this point.
  12. Cool to room temperature before storing.

Dulce de Leche Storage:

Refrigerated in an airtight container, dulce de leche will keep for up to a month (as if it will last that long).

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51 Responses to “Dulce de Leche Recipe”

  1. Rosa says:

    I love that speciality and always make myself! I’ve never seen this recipe before (with baking soda)…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Vanessa says:

    this looks soo good!!!

  3. kat says:

    I bet this is fantastic, I just go the easy route & simmer sweetened condensed milk until its brown & thick

  4. Joelen says:

    This is dangerous… because now I want to have some! Thank you for sharing this!

  5. Cynthia says:

    Sooooo good!

  6. Caitlin says:

    I would never have thought to use baking soda – too neat! As a chemical engineer, I appreciate the lab coat comments :)

  7. Adam says:

    Haha nice face in the sauce. Thanks for the science reasons behind the baking soda, I love this stuff. It all makes sense.

    Good thing it’s called Dulce de leche… for some reason the Americanized “Caramel Milk Sauce” doesn’t sound right :)

  8. [eatingclub] vancouver || js says:

    I’m eagerly anticipating what magical goodies you’ll make with this elixir.

  9. lisaiscooking says:

    So delicious. I’d love to make my dulce de leche one of these days!

  10. Marc @ NoRecipes says:

    Great tip on adding baking soda. I made a dulce de leche baklava of sorts this week:-)

  11. katie says:

    Great Tutorial! My mom used to make dulce de leche for me growing up (in colombia it’s called arrequipe) I tried to make it for the first time mysel from scratch…mine was not as beatiful a color as yours though! Definitely gonna try your recipe next time!
    http://katiebarlow.blogspot.com/2008/10/cooking-with-apples-series-arequipe-dip.html

  12. Lori says:

    Great idea. Love the little face in the bottom of the pan.

  13. Caroline says:

    How cute, the happy face. Can’t wait to see what you do with this.

  14. Christina says:

    Nice spatula, *wink* =p

    At first I wasn’t sure what I saw in the dulce de leche, then I realized it was a smiley face!

  15. Gale Reeves says:

    I have made apple butter and pear butter in the crock pot on low. It eliminates the need to watch closely. I wonder if the ‘crock pot’ method would work on this recipe? I may try. Recipe sounds delicious. Thanks

  16. Sweatha says:

    Wow,I have abaked version of this-not sure whether authentic or not-with condensed milk :( . This looks very good-all the effort is worth the taste of homemade dulce du leche.Cheers and enjoy.I love this.Thanks for the step -by step pics.Great help it is.

  17. Manggy says:

    Omigosh! I almost missed your naughty, naughty reference! >:D Anyway, that looks so deliciously silky and rich– begging to be put inside something (or just eaten with a spoon). Thanks for the tips Jude!

  18. Sil BsAs says:

    Being an expert in tasting different dulces de leche =) I can tell by the photo that yours is great! very nice color and consistency which is not a minor issue… Congrats!!!
    Tip: you must try now a “dulce de leche cheesecake” it comes out perfect!

  19. grace says:

    who knew dulce de leche could be luscious and humorous at the same time… :)

  20. maris says:

    I saw this last night on Tastespotting and almost started drooling on my keyboard. Looks so good!

  21. Sandie says:

    I adore dulce de leche, and sometimes wish I could swim in the stuff (that and a vat of chocolate) ;-)

    All kidding aside, yours looks gorgeous–what great color and consistency!

  22. RebeccaC says:

    So interesting about the alkalinity. Very cool..and delicious sounding!

  23. Barbara says:

    I would have never thought to add baking soda. It looks amazing!

  24. MyKitchenInHalfCups says:

    You look beautiful in your lab coat Jude!
    Love this.

  25. Trisha says:

    Thanks for putting on your lab coat just for us! I love learning the “whys” of certain ingredients, and this alkalinity stuff is a new one for me.

  26. Madam Chow says:

    Thank you so much for posting this – I couldn’t figure out the grittiness that I’ve gotten with homemade dulce de leche. Now I know, and I WILL try this recipe.

  27. Jaime says:

    wow, thanks for the science lesson. i like this method much more than the boil a can of condensed milk method!

  28. Audax Artifex says:

    Interesting facts that are very useful – never heard of dulce de leche but looks a lot like caramel sauce that you make from condensed milk (place unopened can in a low oven for 2 hours which can lead to a caramel bomb in the oven)). Thanks for the comments on my blog.

  29. Pearl says:

    Love the recipe – thanks for sharing.

    Question: why do we stir vanilla extract in towards the end?

  30. CookiePie says:

    Oh YUM – that looks delicious!!!! Is it wrong that I want some right now, and it’s not even 9 a.m.??

    Thanks also for all the scientific info! I love learning about all the whys and hows in the kitchen :)

  31. Natashya says:

    I am a wimp and just bought a jar. You make me want to try it though, if only for the happy face… :)

  32. dawn says:

    You have a wonderful website here. Love the photos!

  33. Lore says:

    Love that happy trail you did: it’s fun and it shows the consistency so well! Now on to the nom-nom part hehe.

  34. hanne says:

    Wow, this is going on my Must-Make-Immediately list. I made dulce de leche ice cream last year and it was fantastic– I know it’d be even better with homemade dulce de leche!

  35. Jo says:

    This looks so very good. I have made it myself several times and it’s amazing! :) well done!

  36. Kevin says:

    I have not been able to find dulce de leche. Now I am going to have to try making it.

  37. Andrea says:

    Yum Jude! I can’t wait to see what you come up with to use it!

  38. noble pig says:

    As a scientist, it’s the science of cooking that is my favorite part! Thanks for bringing it here.

  39. We Are Never Full says:

    i’ve been meaning to comment on this post since i saw it on t-spotting (or was it f-gawk?)…anyways, jude, whoa. whoa, whoa,whoa. this is one of those treasure “keeper” recipes. I am book marking this as my go-to dulce de leche recipe. thank you! this looks perfect and, you’re right, their ain’t no way it would keep for a week b/c i would use a spoon to eat it all way before that!

  40. Peter says:

    I’m happy-happy too! It’s good to know that there’s another route to Dulce de Leche other than with condensed milk.

  41. Ben says:

    Hmmmm dulce de leche! In Mexico we call it cajeta, but that word means other (not too pleasant) things in other countries. Hehe. Happy Holidays!

  42. Olga says:

    ooh, this looks so good! I’ve never made it, but I did buy sweetened condensed milk for a recipe this weekend and I wonder if it’s the same taste!? It was so good, I had to take every single drop out of the can and cut my finger!

  43. Leela says:

    First time I made confiture de lait, I followed a famous food blogger’s recipe. The taste was great, but the confiture looked very anemic. That was before I saw Alton Brown and was enlightened on the subject of Maillard reaction. Great post, Jude. Thanks a lot.

  44. ap269 says:

    This recipe looks really good. Do you know if I can use UHT milk? UHT means ultra-high temperature processing, and means that you don’t have to store this milk under refrigeration. It’s pretty popular in Germany…

  45. ggirl says:

    i tried making this, but it didnt really work. it looks delicious in the photos, but can’t seem to make it ! maybe its cause im not from there..

  46. Sandra Mort says:

    Anybody know how it comes out with non cane sugar? I was thinking of locaw dairy milk with local maple syrup or granulated maple sugar, depending on how long I wanted to let the stuff boil for locavore dulce de leche.

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