Have you ever eaten a big spoonful straight from a can of sweetened condensed milk?
Did you feel just a twinge of guilt afterwards?
“This is not supposed to be eaten on its own, but its just too good to stop!” you probably thought to yourself.
Well, ease your anxieties, because you are not alone. We agree – S.C.M. is a thing of beauty. And it should most definitely be put to good use more often.
But purchasing loads of those little 14-ounce cans is not your only option. Did you know that you can make your own sweetened condensed treat at home?
What is condensed milk anyway?
You might be wondering what, exactly, is in that sticky, milky syrup?
Surprisingly, it’s much simpler than you’d think! S.C.M. is nothing more than sugar and milk.
Sweetened condensed is not to be confused with evaporated– which has no added sugar. The two are most definitely not the same!
The mixture in question is cooked until about 60% of the water content has been removed, which is what makes it so thick and smooth.
Can alternative ingredients be used?
For the dairy-free or the sweetener-leery, alternatives are available. Almond, coconut, or even rice milk will work just fine, though you should know that they will impart a slightly different flavor.
Honey and maple are not recommended substitutions for sugar, as they will overpower any other flavor. But Splenda, stevia, or erythritol will make a fine treat.
Milk Jam, Dulce de Leche, and Confiture de Lait
This darker, caramel-y cousin is known around the world by a variety of names. Just like S.C.M., it is made of cooked milk and sugar.
But the addition of baking soda sets off a tasty chemical reaction. By alkalizing the mixture, it promotes a Maillard reaction between the proteins and sugars, resulting in more complexity of flavor and a deep brown hue. The final result is also a bit thicker, more like the texture of jam.
Don’t try to achieve this result with the non-dairy or sugar-free alternative ingredients listed above though, as the chemical interactions just won’t be the same.
Instead, try using the dairy of different animals to provide a varied flavor. Goat or sheep’s milk is commonly used to enhance this delicate treat.
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step One: Mix It Up
Mix the milk and sugar together in a medium pot or in a crockpot. If cooking over the stove, the process will take about an hour and a half – but it will require vigilance to avoid burning! Using the crockpot might take significantly longer, but the decreased risk is well worth the added time.
Step Two: Cook and Stir
It is important to stir your ingredients in the early stages of cooking to ensure that the sugar dissolves. If cooking over the stovetop, keep the flame on low. If using a crockpot, crank the heat up to high. Stir regularly until all of the sugar has dissolved.
Step Three: Cook and Cook (and Stir Some More)
Let it cook slowly. Have patience – this takes time! It is probably tempting to turn up the heat in hopes of getting things done more quickly. But if it gets too hot, it will curdle. Low and slow is the way to go.
Make sure you don’t use a lid – nope, not even on that crockpot. You’ve got to let all that steam escape, or else it will never condense. Let it cook until it has reduced by about half. It might seem like it is still runny at this point, but trust me – once it cools, it will thicken up a lot!
Step Four: Chill
Pour the final product into a pint-sized glass jar or storage container and refrigerate. Your fresh treat will last about two weeks in the fridge (that is, if you don’t eat it all at once).
Variation: Milk Jam
If you’d prefer the thicker, darker flavor of confiture de lait, simply whisk in 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda after step two, once things begin to simmer. The mixture will foam up immediately, so it is best to use a large pot and cook over the stovetop, rather than in the crockpot.
Whisk vigorously until the foam subsides, and continue cooking slowly over low heat, picking up with Step Three above.
- Don’t rush! Let your ingredients reduce slowly, or else you just might ruin a beautiful thing.
- Experiment. Test out different types of milk and sweeteners. Not only does this make the recipe suitable for the allergy-prone, it opens the doors to dozens of various flavors as well. Just remember, if attempting to make a dulce de leche, dairy (whether from a cow, sheep or goat) and sugar are vital players for the necessary chemical reactions to occur.
- Experiment some more. Try adding in a few cardamom pods, a bag of tea, some dried rose petals, a vanilla bean, or other ingredients with your simmering milk and sugar to vary the flavor at that stage. These spices can then be strained out when transferring the milk to jars, when using either the slow cooker or stovetop method. The varieties that you’re able to make are endless!
- Eat it up! Remember, you are working with fresh dairy here. This is not the ultra-pasteurized product that comes in the can. Make sure you eat it up within two weeks, before it goes bad. Really though, it’s so delicious, I’m not sure how that could ever be a problem…
How To Eat It
Looking for something besides just gobbling it up with a spoon?
Here are some ideas and suggestions for enjoying your gooey treat:
- Slather it on toast
- Stir into coffee or tea, hot or iced. My favorite summer specialty is an iced S.C.M. latte!
- Fold with juice and whipped cream, then freeze to make a simple semifreddo.
Give this tasty concoction a try today. I promise, you won’t regret it. Not even the three large spoonfuls you will eat as soon as it’s cool, or the slice of zucchini bread dripping with it, or the iced tea sweetened with it…
Trust me, I speak from experience.
I’ve just eaten all of this batch in fact, and I feel no guilt. Maybe a bit of a tummyache, but not a twinge of remorse.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy condensed milk, or confiture de lait? Let me know in the comments! And enjoy!
Photos by Kendall Vanderslice, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.
About Kendall Vanderslice
Kendall’s love of food has taken her around the world. From baking muffins on a ship in West Africa and milking cows with Tanzanian Maasai, to hunting down the finest apfelstrudel in Austria, she continually seeks to understand the global impact of food. Kendall holds a BA in Anthropology from Wheaton College and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University, and has worked in the pastry departments of many of Boston’s top kitchens. Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Kendall helps to run a small community supported bread bakery and writes about the intersection of food, faith, and culture on her personal blog, A Vanderslice of the Sweet Life.