Who was the first person who thought of condensing milk to a thicker consistency anyway? I mean, sweetening it up totally makes sense. But the combination of the sweetness with the thicker milk…genius! So smooth and velvety, and so versatile.
Sweetened condensed milk is a staple in many modern recipes, especially certain cookie bars and pies. In short, I find it incredibly handy to have a jar of this real foodified sweetened condensed milk in my fridge. Especially because the holidays are just around the corner and (as you may have noticed) I love making all kinds of pies, cookies, and candies.
Yet again we find ourselves faced with the compromise of convenience food over an original real food version of an ingredient. Perhaps you think that sweetened condensed milk isn’t that bad in a can. You may be right. But I personally find that Bisphenol-A (BPA) lining the cans is a deal-breaker for me.
Particularly damning is this finding (source):
Bisphenol A is an endocrine disruptor which can mimic estrogen and may lead to negative health effects. Early developmental stages appear to be the period of greatest sensitivity to its effects, and some studies have linked prenatal exposure to later physical and neurological difficulties. Regulatory bodies have determined safety levels for humans, but those safety levels are currently being questioned or are under review as a result of new scientific studies. A 2011 study that investigated the number of chemicals pregnant women are exposed to in the U.S. found BPA in 96% of women.
BPA is in the vast majority of cans used in canned foods at the grocery stores you frequent, even health food stores. There are some companies that have stopped using BPA, but you have to be vigilant in calling them specifically to make sure that there are no plastics lining their canned foods. I find it easier to simply avoid cans in the first place.
Before I jump right into all the yummy things we can make with sweetened condensed milk (don’t even get me started, just stay tuned because I have some ridiculous recipes in the works), let’s first talk a little bit about how to make this delicious baking elixir.
Historically, sweetened condensed milk arose out of the need for storing milk longer on the shelf for those who didn’t have easy access to a cow for fresh milk. At first only the condensing process was used, but eventually sugar was also added, presumably to increase shelf life. (source)
Unfortunately, now sweetened condensed milk is not made with fresh milk from grass-fed cows, and the sugar used is bleached, highly processed white sugar. Add that to the aforementioned BPA issue with the cans used for sweetened condensed milk, and I am convinced that making my own is worth the trouble.
Plus, you can double or even triple this recipe and make a good-sized amount to keep in your fridge in a larger jar to use in various holiday recipes. Go nuts!
- saucepan and wooden spoon
- pint glass jar and storage lid
Note: I cannot stress enough the importance of heating the milk over the lowest heat possible. I learned this the hard way. Twice! (Three times the charm?)
Sweetened Condensed Milk
3 cups whole milk (find raw milk here)
1 cup whole cane sugar OR 3/4 cup honey (buy whole cane sugar here and honey here)
2 tablespoons butter (optional) (buy grass-fed butter here)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional) (buy extracts here)
- In a medium saucepan, pour in the cold milk and set over low heat. Stirring with a wooden spoon, add whole cane sugar or honey and stir until combined. Let the mixture warm up over low heat until steam is rising off the top. If needed, adjust the temperature to get the milk to start to simmer. Keep the temperature as low as possible so the milk doesn’t curdle and separate (I learned this the hard way!)
- Let the mixture steam to half it’s volume, for about 4 hours or more. A skin will form on the top of the mixture. You can remove it occasionally, if desired.
- When the sweetened milk has reached the desired consistency, remove the skin from the top of the mixture and pour into a clean glass jar. Add the butter and vanilla, if desired, stirring to combine, and then cap tightly. Place into the refrigerator to let cool completely and thicken up a bit more. This mixture will keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator.