how to make easy 1 ingredient caramel sauce (the safe way!)

One of my very favorite side dishes to take along to barbecues or potlucks is a big plate of apples with creamy homemade caramel sauce. Everybody loves it (and I mean everybody!), it’s great for kids who might be a little picky, it’s inexpensive, and best yet it’s SO EASY to make! My favorite homemade caramel sauce is technically not actually caramel – rather it’s dulche de leche – but it tastes just like the most sinfully delicious caramel sauce you’ve ever had and you only need one ingredient to make it: sweetened condensed milk.

Now, I wasn’t sure whether to even post about this because using sweetened condensed milk to make caramel sauce has shown up on lots of blogs over the past year or so. However, many of those blogs instruct you to cook the milk in the can (or in a closed canning jar), which can be dangerous. I cook it in the oven instead, which is super simple and totally safe, so I thought it was worth sharing this method.

how to make easy caramel (dulche de leche) from sweetened condensed milk the safe way - in the oven

You may have seen pinterest pins showing sweetened condensed milk cooked right in the original can, which is super cool because when it open it you have caramel inside! (And yes, I know it’s technically dulche de leche, but I’m just gonna call it caramel.) The only problem is that you have to simmer the can on the stovetop for a few hours (or cook it in a crock pot for 8 hours) and it must stay covered with water the entire time. If you remember to check it regularly to ensure the water hasn’t boiled off it’s probably perfectly safe, but if (like me!) you have a tendency to get distracted, you run the risk of letting the water boil off –  and that can cause the can to explode, shooting hot caramel and sharp pieces of can all over the place! Using a crockpot is a better bet than simmering on the stove because it’s much less likely to boil dry, and if you watch the water level I’m sure you’d be fine, but comments like this one make me a little wary:

“I blew up a crockpot and covered my kitchen in caramel and glass doing this recipe(a few years ago now), the pan was on very low with a lid on but over the hours the steam escaped and it still boiled dry as I left it overnight! If I had been in the kitchen I would have been very badly burned and cut as glass, bits of pot and caramel went everywhere! We had to repaint the walls and roof once we had scraped off the caramel, not fun 😛 Please can I warn your lovely readers to use LOADS of water and check it/top up if needed!”

how to make easy caramel (dulche de leche) from sweetened condensed milk the safe way - in the oven

This caramel sauce is delicious, but nothing’s delicious enough to risk life and limb! So, cook it the safe and easy way instead. Here’s how:

how to make easy caramel (dulche de leche) from sweetened condensed milk the safe way - in the oven

1 – Pour a can of sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk) into a pie plate or wide glass dish, as shown. Place that dish inside a larger baking dish. 2 – Cover the milk tightly with foil, and then pour in enough water in the larger pan to come 1 inch up the side. 3 – Place in a preheated 400 degree oven and bake for approximately 75 minutes, or until it’s as dark as you’d like. When you take it out of the oven it will look a little clumpy. 4 – Give it a quick whisk and it will smooth right out. Serve immediately or store in the fridge.

I like my caramel sauce a little on the light side – it stays very smooth and doesn’t get too thick to scoop up with apples, but if you want a slightly stronger flavor you can cook it up to 2 hours – just check it at 90 minutes to be sure there’s still water in the pan and add a little if needed. When I want to make this in the summer I do it first thing in the morning, so the oven can be on and off again before it starts to get hot. It keeps beautifully in the fridge – probably for a few weeks – but it’s never lasted more than a few days at our house.

how to make easy caramel (dulche de leche) from sweetened condensed milk the safe way - in the oven

Little pots of caramel and a few apples would make a lovely gift – just remind people it needs to be refrigerated.

how to make easy caramel (dulche de leche) from sweetened condensed milk the safe way - in the oven

You can also use this sauce on ice cream or brownies. It will get a little thick in the fridge, but it loosens up nicely when microwaved for a bit. When I serve it with apples I usually cut up 7 apples to go with 1 can’s worth of caramel (you end up with about 1 cup of sauce). It’s always a hit!

how to make easy caramel (dulche de leche) from sweetened condensed milk the safe way - in the oven


  1. 1

    Lara says

    I always cook mine in the can, however I always leave 3-5 hours to do so and NEVER leave the house, I check on it about every 1/2 hour or so. If you cook it in the original can, you can do several at a time and not open it, it’s then shelf safe and you can open it later.

  2. 2

    Sara Dimmick says

    I’ve always wanted to try this!! So glad i never did it in the can, I know for sure I would have an accident on my hands! For sure trying it soon! 🙂

  3. 3

    Ange says

    Thanks for the great post, love your pictures. Have been wanting to try the crock pot method was concerned about all the issues people have had using that method. Your way is the safe way. Thank you!

  4. 4

    CTY says

    Thank You, THAnk YOu, THANK YOU! I have seen this done in the can all over Pinterest and couldn’t help but think this is an accident waiting to happen. Another concern was what chemicals/metals/can liner would leach into the caramel when heated in the can.
    Just wanted to say, I love bringing apples to a get together because, 1. I slice a few right away & the rest on demand (with one of those whole apple push slicers) which cuts down on waste due to apples turning brown from sitting too long. 2. At pot lucks they can be placed on the side dish table, appetizer table or the dessert table (depending on which table needs it most). 3. They are healthy for anyone on a restricted diet (they can skip the dip). 4. Inexpensive and easy to find in all kinds of stores. 5. Can be even healthier by swirling in some all-natural peanut butter (DH’s preferred way).

  5. 5

    Loretta says

    This sounds great and I can’t wait to try it! But… If you are using as glass pan for the water bath, DO NOT add more water after its been in the oven. The glass pan can explode from the difference in water temp. Just put more water in at the start of you think you might want darker caramel.

  6. 6

    Lexy says

    Any hints on how to keep apples from turning brown if one would take this to a function where it won’t be eaten for several hours?

    • 9

      esa3316 says

      Orange juice works best for keeping apples from turning brown and doesn’t make them as tart. I usually slice the apples and coat them with orange juice and store them in a sealed plastic container with a little juice in the bottom. They will keep a couple of days without turning brown.

    • 11

      Jen says

      If you soak sliced apples in sprite (or any lemon lime soda pop) for approximately discounted then drain they will not Brown. Have done this for my son’s lunches and they stay unchanged f or days s. Plus they arrenot soured from ‘re lemon

  7. 13

    Diane says

    Okay, I want to take this one step farther. Any suggestions on how to turn this into caramel candy WITHOUT adding corn syrup or store bought caramels?


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