Monday, July 1, 2019

Homemade condensed milk + Vietnamese coffee + a recipe from Nigella

One of my favorite ingredients is sweetened condensed milk. It adds a terrific edge to a wide variety of Chinese desserts and beverages. Also, where would an afternoon break starring Vietnamese coffee (see the quick recipe below) be without it?

My main problem is quality. A small can of the regular stuff at a Chinese market isn't at all expensive (about $1.50), but organic condensed milk will set you back around $3.50. And, no matter what you get, it's full of sugar, and I for one can always do with a lot less calories in my food. 

I recently came across a recipe for homemade condensed milk in a French cookbook, but the proportions were so off the mark that I won't even mention the book's name. Let's just say that I went to work and came up with something really lovely.

Not so secret ingredients
To cut back on the glycemic load, I use coconut sugar, which is a lot easier on my metabolism than regular white sugar, and it also lends the condensed milk a gentle tan color that I like. Then, I got my hands on some organic powdered milk from Whole Foods and went to town. Powdered milk is almost always nonfat, which is why there's a healthy dollop of butter in the mix, and I like it with a bit of salt to tame the sweetness and round out the flavors.

The result has a good balance of that heady milkiness I love with a sweet note that doesn't curl my teeth, plus a caramel edge to the color and the flavor. It's great in drinks with boba (black pearl tapioca), dessert soups laced with tiny beads of tapioca, and also as a dip for deep-fried Chinese steamed bread. Feel free to play with this recipe and adjust the sweetness with more or less sugar, or with a sugar substitute (see Tips).

This recipe makes a whole lot - perhaps more than you think you'll need - but you can cut it in half with no problem, except for that you'll be wishing you'd made a whole lot more.

Highly recommended

Another way to enjoy condensed milk in all its glory is in the recipe below by Nigella Lawson that she was gracious enough to allow me to reproduce here. This delicious recipe is featured in her wonderful Nigellissima, and I must urge you to try both the book and this super indulgent recipe for coffee ice cream.

So, here it is au naturel, along with the usual personal variations at the end. I never can leave well enough alone...

Homemade sweetened condensed milk
Zìzhì liànrǔ  自制煉乳
Makes about 4½ cups

2 cups boiling water, plus more as needed
1¾ cups coconut sugar (see Tip)
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup salted butter, cut into small pieces
3 cups organic powdered milk

1. Pour the boiling water into your blender and add the sugar and butter. Blend them together on low to combine.

2. Add the powdered milk in a couple of increments, blending the mixture thoroughly on medium speed each time to combine. Continue to blend on medium to completely dissolve all of the milk granules. (If you blast it on high, a sticky foam will form, which is not bad, but it's just not all that useful.) Drizzle in more hot water if you want this thinner.

3. Pour the condensed milk into a very clean container, cool down completely, cover, and refrigerate. It will thicken up considerably once it has chilled. Use it up within a couple of weeks, but that should not be difficult.


I like coconut sugar here, but sugar substitutes like "light" sugar (half sugar, half Stevia) can be used, or you can use ½ cup of honey or agave syrup instead of 1 cup of the sugar to give it a richer flavor. 

Coconut sugar thickens the milk up quite a bit, so if you want to use plain sugar or other sugars, start out with only 1 cup of boiling water and add more in small increments until the milk has the consistency you like.
My Vietnamese coffee fix

When you come across a recipe that calls for a 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, do note that this equals the weight of the milk, not volume. So, substitute 1⅓ cups of this luscious homemade goo per can. 

Quick Vietnamese coffee
Makes 1 cup and serves 2

1 cup hot espresso

Sweetened condensed milk

Just stir however much of the condensed milk you like into the hot espresso. Done. Excellent over ice, too.


Nigella Lawson's one-step no-churn coffee ice cream
Makes 1½ pints

1¼ cups heavy cream
⅔ cup sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder (Medaglia d'Oro is good)
2 tablespoons espresso liqueur (like Kahlúa)

Whisk all the ingredients together until soft peaks form, and you have a gorgeous, caffe-latte-colored airy mixture, and then fill 2 x 1-pint airtight containers, and freeze for 6 hours or overnight. Serve straight from the freezer.


I have to admit that I am even lazier than this recipe requires, since I don't want to deal with whipping the cream and so just toss everything into my ice cream maker and let it do all the work. 

Here, now, are some variations to have and to hold:

All you need is love... & this
1. Soak ½ cup dried longans (dragon eye fruit) in boiling water until plumped up, and then add them to the ice cream. They go amazingly well with the coffee flavor, and the soaking liquid is delicious as a beverage, too.

2. Fold in a big handful of chopped toasted nuts (think pecans, please) or chopped dark chocolate.

3. Serve this on top of broken buttered toast – my favorite: Toast thin slices of your favorite bread until crispy, spread it with salted butter (the salt is important here), break it up into a bowl, and scoop the ice cream on top. Curl up on the couch and watch your favorite movie. You’re welcome.