Jump to the Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk Recipe
Sweetened, condensed milk has long been a mystery to me. In the days before refrigerators were a common household item, evaporating the water from milk and thereby condensing it created a shelf-stable milk product and became one solution to the problem of milk spoiling rapidly outside of the cow. It could be stored on a shelf for months or years and was carried into battle in the rations of the Union army’s soldiers and used to boost caloric intake of refugees in the early 1900s. It could be used straight from the can or mixed with water to make a thinner milk.
The manufacturing of condensed milk helped change the family dairy into industry, and the homogenization and sterilization techniques pioneered to extend the shelf life of condensed milk is applied today to commercially produced milks. These days, a refrigerator is as common in a home as a toilet and condensed milk is mainly relegated to tea or coffee sweetening, and dessert recipes – a far cry from its days as a valuable field ration.
The reason for sweetening condensed milk is to create an environment unsuitable for the growth of organisms which would spoil the milk. Compared to plain whole milk, which has about 12 grams of sugar and 150 calories per 8oz cup, condensed milk has nearly 15 times as much sugar – around 175 grams – and nearly 10 times as many calories – around 1000 per cup. Unsweetened evaporated milk has only about 330 calories and 25 grams of sugar in one cup. In addition to huge amounts of sugar and calories, factory canned sweetened condensed milk can have some serious health implications. It is stored in cans lined with the hormone disruptor Bisphenol-A. BPA is now also suspected to be linked to asthma. There is also no way you could verify how well the cow whose milk was used had been treated or fed or what kind of contaminates had been introduced to the milk prior to and during canning. While factory canned evaporated milk has a dramatically lower sugar content, it goes through even more processing and is essentially scorched in the can to prevent organism growth and heat causes toxic chemicals to leach into food products at higher levels.
I have been saving my last sugar pumpkin for a few months and I decided it was time for a late winter pumpkin pie. I didn’t want to buy a can of highly processed condensed milk so I decided to research homemade condensed milk recipes. Nearly every recipe I came across used powdered milk – another highly processed food item I wanted to avoid – and then I found this recipe for homemade condensed milk. It uses a dramatically lower sugar-to-milk ratio than most recipes and a little butter to thicken the milk. I still wasn’t completely satisfied – I don’t use granulated sugar and I didn’t necessarily need the milk to be extra thick – so I decided to experiment on my own.
I didn’t need my condensed milk to be particularly long lasting or shelf stable, since I planned to store it in the refrigerator. I wanted less sugar, since milk already tastes sweet to me. Finally, I didn’t want to spend hours babysitting it every ten minutes. My recipe produces a clean, white milk with a lightly sweet taste. It worked perfectly in my pumpkin pie and I’ve been using it in my tea for the last few days. I plan to use it to make some peanut butter coconut cookies sometime this week too.
Lightly Sweetened Condensed Milk
- 4 cups of whole milk, preferably from a local and grass fed cow. You could try with a lower milk fat percentage, but the milk will probably not thicken as well.
- 1/3 cup of honey, preferably local and raw. Honey has more calories per serving than sugar, but because it is thicker and tastes sweeter we are able to use less of it. This much of my local raw honey contains about 500 calories and 76 grams of sugar. Using one cup of granulated sugar would achieve the same level of sweetness, but contain nearly 800 calories and 200 grams of sugar.
Pour your milk into a pot. Stir in the honey until it dissolves. Heat your milk for three hours on a low heat, stirring frequently and skimming off any skin that forms on the surface, until it has reduced to about 50% volume, or two cups. Pour your milk into a container to cool, and use it in any recipe that calls for sweetened, condensed milk. This will keep in your fridge for a week, maybe longer.
You can cook the milk in a pot by itself, or you can rig up your own double boiler by finding a small pot which will rest easily inside a larger pan. Place the small pot inside the larger pot or pan, and fill the large pan with water to about halfway up the side of the small pot. Remove the small pot and bring the water to a boil. When it’s boiling, reduce it to a simmer I tried both methods and the first scorched my milk because I didn’t watch it closely enough, and gave the milk a pretty caramel color.
The second method kept the milk pure white, even when I forgot to check it exactly on time.
I know not everyone has three hours to sit at home and babysit a pot of milk, and I suspect it would be possible to condense your milk in a slow cooker set to low for six or eight hours. You could start a batch before bed and wake up to a pot of condensed milk to add to your morning tea or coffee! The crock pot might also be useful to make a large batch ahead of time for those heavy holiday baking sessions.
Compared to my limited experience using canned condensed and evaporated milks, this recipe produces a much more pleasant and subtle sweet flavor. It may not have an extra-long shelf life, but I think it’s worth the trade for freshness and absence of toxic chemicals.