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Dulce de Leche Without the Time Commitment

February 5, 2011

Thanks to my proclivity for adding sweetened, condensed milk to frosting and other sweet treats whenever possible, I often find myself with a partial can of the stuff left over.  This is a happy burden to bear, since it means I have to make dulce de leche.

The classic method for making homemade dulce de leche is to submerge an unopened can of sweetened, condensed milk in simmering water (in a pressure cooker or a pot on the stove) for 3 to 4 hours.  If you go the pot-on-the-stove route, you have to monitor and refill the pot with boiling water whenever the water level drops.  Another option is to vent the can on top, and then simmer it for 3 to 4 hours, maintaining the water level just below the rim of the can.  There’s quite a lively debate on the internet about whether the “unopened” method introduces the risk of an exploding can or not.  Fear of explosion aside, I just can’t be bothered to sit around closely monitoring a pot of hot water for 4 hours.  Fortunately, there is an easier way.

Dulce de Leche


sweetened, condensed milk


microwave oven

LARGE glass bowl


About 2/3 of a can of sweetened, condensed milk in a large, glass bowl.

USE A LARGE GLASS BOWL.  I really can’t stress this point enough.  You may be starting with what looks like a very small amount of sweetened, condensed milk (in my case, it’s usually about half  or two-thirds of a can) but that sugary concoction is going to foam up like crazy, and you really, really do not want to try to clean it off the inside of your microwave if it spills over the edge of the bowl.  So, use the largest glass bowl your microwave can accommodate.

The heated mixture starts to foam up.

Heat the lone ingredient on high for 1 minute.  Stop and stir the mixture with a whisk; this will help distribute the heat throughout the sticky, syrupy milk without creating any potentially dangerous “hot pockets.”  Heat for another minute on high.  Whisk again.  At this point, I recommend backing off to 30-second intervals.  Heat for 30 seconds, then whisk.  Heat for another 30 seconds, then whisk.  And so on.

Whisking the caramel smooth after each heat cycle.

The sugar will start to foam up more vigorously with each heating, and the mixture will start to take on a strangely puckered, almost curdled appearance after heating.  This is normal; just whisk until the mixture is smooth.  Continue this process for about 5-7 minutes of heating time (so, 10 to 14 cycles of 30 seconds, followed by whisking).  Use caution, because the syrup will be very, very hot.  As the liquid evaporates, the caramel will get thicker, but remember that it won’t thicken up to a solid caramel state until it cools, so you want to halt the process while the caramel still has a somewhat pourable consistency.

Cooling dulce de leche.

Use a rubber spatula to help pour the caramel into a container and let cool, uncovered (either at room temperature, or in the refrigerator, if you’re impatient).  When cool, store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to a month.  I usually pour the dulce de leche into a plastic tub and just scoop out what I need with a spoon (which I then either put directly into my mouth, or spread on a piece of toast, a cracker, a cupcake, or some other delightfully carby vehicle).  You could also pour the mixture into a well-buttered, shallow dish or pan, and then cut the cooled caramel into individual candies.  Individually wrap the candies in bits of parchment paper and keep them in a ziplock baggie in the refrigerator for as long as they last (which is usually not very long!)

  1. Rappenwolf permalink
    February 5, 2011 10:05 am


  2. Molly permalink
    February 5, 2011 3:47 pm

    Yum! That’s a great idea. I never know what to do with that stuff… also, do you take requests, for what to do with weird leftover ingredients? I often end up with extra coconut milk, from making curries. Just in case you have a thought.

  3. February 5, 2011 4:50 pm

    Oh my. Yum. What a great shortcut!

  4. February 7, 2011 4:16 pm

    Molly, I will start experimenting with coconut milk… I love it in rice pudding, but there are bound to be many other ways to use it up, too.

  5. Molly permalink
    February 15, 2011 1:19 pm

    Rice pudding – brilliant. I wonder if it would be any good in bread pudding, which is a guilty pleasure, too. I’ve never tried, and always through it out. I’m going to add you to my Google reader, because every time I check in I end up reading a couple entries. 🙂

  6. February 15, 2011 4:20 pm

    Aw, thanks Molly!

  7. February 20, 2011 5:25 am

    No way, you can do this in the microwave?! genius. One tip I use for other spill-able, hard to clean things cooked in the microwave: Cut a disk of parchment paper to fit the dish in your microwave (I actually cut mine larger to be extra careful) and put it under your dish. If anything should spill over, just throw away the paper.

  8. February 20, 2011 10:43 am

    That is a great tip — thanks!

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