Homemade sweetened condensed milk traditionally requires ultra-low heat and up to 6 hours of constant stirring, but with a splash of heavy cream added to prevent scorching, I can crank up the heat and be done in 45 minutes. The result is thicker, creamier, and more luscious than anything from a can, with a rich dairy flavor and subtle notes of caramel. If you like chai tea, be sure to try the cinnamon-spiced variation.
4 cups | 32 ounces milk (any percentage will do)
3/4 cup | 6 ounces heavy cream
1 cup | 7 ounces sugar
1/8 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (half as much if iodized)
Key Point: Even slightly acidic ingredients will cause hot dairy to curdle, including raw cane sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, and agave. Take care when experimenting with ingredients not listed in the variations.
Combine milk, cream, sugar, and salt in a 5-quart stainless steel saucier. If using a scale, weigh the pot and ingredients together so you can digitally track the reduction. Place over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a heat resistant spatula, until the milk begins to simmer, about 12 minutes. Continue cooking another 30 minutes more, scraping continuously to prevent a milky buildup from forming around the sides. When the thickened milk-syrup suddenly begins to foam, it’s almost done. Keep simmering and stirring until the foam subsides and the dairy has condensed to exactly 2 cups or 19 ounces. If using a scale, the pot will weigh 26 ounces less than when you started.
Pour into an airtight container, seal to prevent evaporation, and refrigerate up to 1 month. To mimic the consistency of canned milk, bring to room temperature before using.
The timing of this recipe may vary considerably depending on the heat output of your stove and the size, shape, and heaviness of your pot. If it takes considerably longer than 12 minutes to bring the milk to a simmer, you can safely increase the heat to medium-high in order to reduce the dairy within the allotted time. Conversely, should the milk begin to simmer much faster, reduce the heat to medium-low to prevent the dairy from cooking too hard.
Mix it up!
Chai Spice: Along with the sugar, add two 4-inch cinnamon sticks, 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1/2 teaspoon whole allspice berries, 10 whole black peppercorns, 5 whole cloves, and 6 white cardamom pods, gently cracked. Proceed as directed. For an easy chai latte, stir 1 tablespoon of the spiced milk into 6 ounces (3/4 cup) hot black tea, such as Assam.
Dulce de Leche: This rich and nutty variation owes its caramel flavor and color to baking soda, which raises the dairy’s pH, allowing the lactose to brown at lower temperatures than normal. Add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda to the sugar and proceed as directed; though the mixture will foam more vigorously, there is no risk of overflow. Made with goat’s milk in the variation below, dulce de leche is known as cajeta. As the browning process will resume with continued exposure to heat, neither dulce de leche or cajeta can be used as an ingredient in baked goods.
Fresh Ginger: Peel and roughly chop a 2-inch piece of fresh ginger; add along with the sugar.
Goat’s-Milk: This variation is more easily digested by those with lactose intolerance, and because goat’s milk won’t curdle when it’s boiled, there’s no need for cream. Trust me, there’s nothing “goaty” about it—just gentle creaminess anyone can enjoy. Replace milk and cream with 38 ounces (43/4 cups) goat’s milk and proceed as directed. Note: This variation requires “ultra-high temperature” pasteurized goat’s milk, as raw or low-heat pasteurized versions may turn grainy with prolonged cooking.
Lavender: During the cooking process, lavender mellows into something soft and aromatic, without any hint of the soapiness that can so often be its downfall. Add 1 tablespoon dried lavender buds along with the sugar.
Rosemary: Wonderfully herbaceous, this variation is my absolute favorite way to make Pumpkin Pie. Add a 4-inch sprig of fresh rosemary along with the sugar.
Vanilla Bean: I make this variation whenever I have an empty vanilla bean left over from another project, as the cooking process will extract considerable flavor from even the most withered pod (the sheer volume of seeds in a “fresh” pod can turn the milk gray). Add scraped vanilla pod to the milk and proceed as directed. To deepen the flavor, leave the vanilla pod in the jar of Quick Condensed Milk.
Recipe reprinted with permission from BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts by Stella Parks. Copyright 2017 W.W. Norton & Company.
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