Caramel-y Milk Jam (or Dulce de Leche)

Milk jam. Or Dulce de Leche. Now eating milk jam sounds truly wholesome… almost cozy… a treat spooned out of a vintage jar at a farmhouse table.  Dulce de Leche, on the other hand, feels more exotic and alluring–like a seductive temptation on a sultry night.  [Jump to recipe]

A spoonful of milk jam carmamel

A spoonful of milk jam

Musical fans may remember a famous scene from Guys and Dolls.  The leading lady is visiting a Cuban night spot and really (as in seriously, deliriously) enjoying a drink called Dulce de Leche, that was described to her as milk with Bacardi rum “as a preservative.”   Although food historians believe the drink was created for the production (Bacardi has since produced a recipe), it has added some ongoing mystique to the term.

Alas, mine is more the former…

Milk Jam

Milk Jam

Milk jam is a sweet, caramel-y liquid made by cooking milk, sugar and vanilla for hours until thickened and caramelized.  Milk jam recipes are relatively consistent but may vary on the addition of baking soda and salt as well as the amount of sugar.  I tried my second batch without the baking soda and it seemed to cook (even) more slowly until I broke down and added it late.  When I searched for an explanation, I read that baking soda raises the boiling point of water allowing a liquid to cook at a higher temperature, improving caramelization and shortening cooking time.  When I used a lower sugar version, the thickening was even slower and I again broke down and added it late.  So the moral of this story is alter the recipe at your own risk…

So… what do you do with milk jam?  Basically anything you’d do with caramel–like use it as an apple dip.  Here are some of the other things we’ve tried:

Apple Pie Topping

Milk Jam with Pie

Milk Jam with Pie

Caramel Latte

Caramel latte

Milk Jam Latte

Ice Cream Sundae

Caramel Sundae

Milk Jam Sundae

Eating by the spoon (shhh)!


Milk Jam

recipe originally from here


  • 1 quart (4 c)  milk
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1 t vanilla (or a vanilla bean pod scraped with seeds and pods added to milk)


1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large pot (it will boil up a lot, so make sure the pot is deep).

Combine milk jam ingredients

Combine milk jam ingredients

2.  Bring the mixture to a boil on medium high heat, stirring just until the sugar dissolves.  It will rise quickly when it boils, so keep watch and be ready to turn it down quickly.

3.  Turn the heat down to a simmer and skim the foam. Simmer uncovered for an hour, stirring occasionally, then remove any visible vanilla pod pieces, if using.  Continue cooking for another 1 – 2  hours (or even a bit longer),  stirring periodically and taking care to scrape the sides and bottom of the pan.

Milk jam cooking

Milk jam cooking

4.  When the mixture has thickened to the desired consistency (less time for a viscous liquid, longer for  thicker –note that it will thicken as it cools), remove from heat.  I tested by spooning out a little into a small bowl and popping in the refrigerator–which makes a nice taste test too!

5.  Strain (to remove any lumps and/or missed vanilla pod bits) and store in the refrigerator.

Strain milk jam

Strain milk jam

The recipe was really very easy.  The only real touchy spot was catching the initial boil up.  Although the cooking time is long, since it is a low simmer, you can do a lot while it cooks (I did a ton of baking yesterday).  Alton Brown says it will keep refrigerated for a month.  It would never last that long here!

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17 thoughts on “Caramel-y Milk Jam (or Dulce de Leche)

  1. Sharan

    Can non dairy milk be used for this caramel? I’ve been making the chocolate syrup for years!

    1. Inger Post author

      Interesting question Sharan. This is not something I’ve tried, but I’ve read it’s possible. My gut would be to try full fat coconut milk assuming you like coconut, since it tends to be thicker than some of the other vegan milks. If you try it, I’d love to hear how it goes. Right now I’m picturing a coconut cake with coconut milk jam in the center and thinking of trying it myself!

  2. Julie Dixon

    Is there any way to do this in a slow cooker? I don’t have the patience to stand and stir but this sounds wonderful!

  3. Pingback: Extra Milk? Make Homemade Feta Cheese | Art of Natural LivingArt of Natural Living

  4. Needful Things

    Milk Jam is an excellent name! I’ve often made my own dulce de leche with a can of condensed milk (oven method) but never thought to cook it down this way. This stuff is literally quite dangerous hanging around in my pantry since I’m tempted to eat it by the spoon!

    1. Inger Post author

      I cooked down a whole gallon of milk last time I made it! I think that if you have it around often it goes from super special to just really good and gets safer to keep around. It’s also a great way to use up extra milk if you have it. My kids will drink a ton one week and very little the next and I hate waste (but love milk jam)! The idea of boiling the can of condensed milk always scared me–though I can eat that with a spoon straight!

  5. Tammy

    I know that David Liebowitz also has a terrific recipe for this. I don’t make it and therefore I don’t eat it. That’s self preservation.

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