I have used condensed milk all my life. There was always a can of condensed milk in the cupboard when I was growing up. I have fond memories of my dad making us thick slices of warm baguettes with creamy condensed milk drizzled on top. While we ate, my dad would make himself chicory coffee with a big dollop of condensed milk. As an adult and a mom, I am now the parent who puts condensed milk in her mug of coffee.
Whenever I travel to Southeast Asia, the first thing I do is visit a cafe to get a strong iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk. According to my parents, condensed milk was popular when they were growing up in Cambodia, primarily because of the lack of available refrigeration for fresh milk and also the fact that most cows were used for manual labor, not milk. Interestingly, across Asia, condensed milk diluted with water was fed to babies and used as creamer in coffee.
What Is Condensed Milk?
Condensed milk is milk that has been condensed by means of heat. As the milk cooks, the majority of the water evaporates, and the texture of the milk becomes gooey. And it becomes sweeter; another very important ingredient in condensed milk is sugar. (If there was no sugar added it would be evaporated milk.) Sugar is added not only for sweetness; it prolongs shelf life. Typical microorganisms are not able to grow and multiply due to the high content of sugar in condensed milk, allowing it to last longer.
History of Condensed Milk
In the 1850s, there was little available refrigeration for dairy products. An inventor named Gail Borden boarded a ship that carried farm animals on a journey from Europe to the US. The ship was carrying livestock to provide food for passengers and the crew. During that trip, the cows became sick and died. Children on the ship drank milk from the sick cows and they became very ill. Through this experience, Borden became passionate about finding a way to preserve milk for safe consumption.
Inspired by the Shaker community, Borden tried to use a vacuum evaporator, a device that reduces the interior pressure of the evaporation chamber below atmospheric pressure. In doing so it eliminates the requirement of heat in the condensation process. Unfortunately, his first two attempts using this technology failed. Then, Borden found a successful technique and in 1858 opened the New York Condensed Milk Company that manufactured and marketed the iconic Eagle Brand that established the industry.
Homemade Is Better
Homemade condensed milk is not only cheaper, but it tastes more delicious, as making it requires less heat and sugar, allowing the flavor of the milk to come through. Also, canned condensed milk can contain preservatives or additives, while homemade condensed milk only takes two ingredients to make. Finally, you can personalize your homemade condensed milk by adding different spices and extracts such as cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, or nutmeg.
How to Store Homemade Condensed Milk
Before storing condensed milk, cool it completely, and transfer it to an airtight container, such as a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Label and date; it will last for 1 month in the refrigerator.
The condensed milk will become thicker as it cools. To make it pourable, you can microwave the condensed milk in 10-second intervals until it has reached the desired consistency when you want to use it again.
Condensed Milk Recipes
Once you make your condensed milk here are examples of exciting recipes you can use it in:
- Tres Leches Cake
- Cassava Cake
- 7-Layer Magic Bars
- Key Lime Pie
Begin cooking the ingredients:
Combine the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Turn the heat to medium high. Whisk the milk until the sugar is dissolved. Allow the milk to come to a very gentle simmer.
Lower the heat and simmer:
Once the sugar is dissolved, lower the heat to maintain a simmer. Do not whisk again (more whisking will create crystals on the sides of the pan). Do not allow the milk to go beyond simmering. If you see the milk foaming up, lower the heat immediately to prevent burning and spilling.
Simmer the milk uncovered, stirring occasionally to scrape the bottom of the pan, until the volume is reduced by half. This may take 30 to 45 minutes.
Check the color and consistency:
When the body of the condensed milk is similar to maple syrup and deepens in color somewhat, the condensed milk is ready. Stir in the vanilla. Remove from heat. If there are solids or foam in the condensed milk, pour it through a wire strainer. Allow to cool.
Place cooled condensed milk in a container with a tight-fitting lid and label with the date it was made. It will last for 1 month in the refrigerator.
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