Making your own thick, rich caramel is unbelievably effortless — as in “put ONE ingredient into your crock pot and forget about it until your caramel craving hits” effortless.
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Wanna know a secret? We were going to call this recipe Crock Pot Dulce de Leche. But say “dulce de leche” to yourself in a romantic accent… doesn’t it sound sophisticated? We couldn’t call it that — because this recipe is truly anything but. So, caramel it is! And caramel it will be, drizzled all over everything you’ve ever wanted to put caramel on (or even just kind of wanted to put caramel on, because this caramel is so good you’ll want to put it on just about everything).
Dulce de leche literally means “candy of milk”, though, and that about sums up this recipe. Plop a couple of cans of sweetened condensed milk into your slow cooker, cover them with water, and wait about 8 hours. That’s it!
Most people think of dulce de leche as a South American confection, but this sweet sauce’s origin story is really all in the name you give it: the French lap up confiture de lait (“milk jam”); Norwegian kids put Hapå (a sandwich spread that’s like a caramel-flavored Nutella) on their morning toast; and every Russian home baker knows how to whip up a batch of boiled condensed milk, or varenaya sgushenka — now say that in a romantic accent.
We simply call it caramel, and though making it in a crock pot really is super simple, the reason it tastes so good is straight science. When the condensed milk reaches about 280°F to 330°F, there’s a chemical reaction between the amino acids and reducing sugars called the (push your glasses up the bridge of your nose at this point) Maillard reaction that forms hundreds of different flavor compounds, which, if you continue to heat it, break down and form even more new flavor compounds. Um, are we losing you? Basically, we’re talking about browning. (See: browned meat, caramelized onions, toasted bread, and roasted marshmallows — that’s your boy Maillard right there.) In this case, you’ll know that those luscious flavor compounds have come into fruition because the sweetened condensed milk will have gone from cream-colored to a rich brown.
Really the only part of this recipe that could be deemed mildly challenging is waiting the full 8-10 hours for the caramel to be fully caramelized. We believe in you! Just close your eyes and think about the fact that you’re saving a whole lotta money and a whole lotta stirring. Once it’s ready, crank off the tops of those tin cans and pour that caramel all over vanilla ice cream, spoon it onto pancakes and waffles, dip apple wedges into it, layer it over baked pears or peaches, top cheesecake, brownies, cinnamon rolls with an ooey-gooey glob — or even drizzle that homemade caramel right into your coffee!
If you’re concerned about the safety of heating food inside a tin can (and many manufacturers do not recommended heating unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk), you can accomplish the same results by transferring the contents of the cans to glass canning jars fitted with lids and
bands before cooking. Since they’re clear, you can also keep an eye on the color of the caramelization process. If you do want to make it right in the can, seek out canned sweetened condensed milk from a company that uses BPA-free can lining.
Store your leftover caramel (if you have any!) in a mason jar in the fridge — which would also make a cute gift for anyone with a sweet tooth!
Crock Pot Caramel
Makes two 14-oz cans of caramel
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Total Time: 8-10 hours
- 2 (14-oz) cans sweetened condensed milk
- Remove labels from cans of sweetened condensed milk.
- Add unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk to the crock of your slow cooker.
- Fill the crock with hot tap water until the water is covering the cans by about 1-2 inches. If needed, turn the cans on their sides to make sure they are covered with enough water.
- Heat on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 5-7 hours (depending on the desired color of the finished caramel).
- Allow cans to cool completely before attempting to open. You can speed up the process by covering cans with cold water and replacing with fresh cold water periodically.
- Refrigerate after opening.
We know you can’t wait to try this crock pot hack. So 8-to-10 hours from now, what are you going to do with your caramel?