There are many foods that I take for granted — until I make
them myself. The process of doing so helps me to understand and appreciate
those foods more. Pho noodle soup, banh cuon, soup dumplings, tofu, and butter
are among them. Last week I added condensed milk (sua dac, literally thick milk in Vietnamese) to the list.
I saw a recipe for “milk jam” in Bon Appetit magazine and
thought, man, that sounds like DIY condensed milk. Then I read the recipe
headnote (introduction) and indeed, the BA editors said that you could sub
condensed milk for the milk jam, which was mixed with creme fraiche for a dessert
topping at Oxheart restaurant in
The recipe was ridiculously simple, and got me thinking
about making condensed milk from soy milk as well as regular cow’s milk. So I
gave it a try.
I went two rounds with the DIY condensed milk. First, I used
unsweetened soy milk from the box, purchased from Trader Joe’s. After about 45 minutes of simmering, the soy
milk and sugar turned a dark color. The condensed milk developed a nutty taste.
There was a slightly acidic flavor that lingered on the palate. Texturally, it
was silky, if not a bit slick. My bet is that the soy milk from the box is not
the best for this application.
Freshly made soy milk, purchased at an Asian market or
homemade (make the medium soy milk from the Master Soymilk recipe in Asian Tofu), would likely be better. I
was in the weeds this past week prepping for a consulting project and didn’t
have time to make my own soy milk. I’ll circle back to it soon.
Then, I used regular cow’s milk and organic sugar. The
simmering seemed to take a bit longer (about 1 hour) and the yield higher than
with the soy milk. That further made me question the richness of the boxed soy
milk. As for flavor, it was really wonderful. A little caramel edge but not as
cloying as regular canned sweetened condensed milk.
Color-wise, it didn’t darken as much as the soy milk condensed
milk did. The only thing that I didn’t like was its texture. That batch of homemade
condensed milk was a tad grainy.
You can see the sugar grains on the spoon below. I was
disappointed but then, once I added it to my inky cup of morning coffee, the
Making my own condensed milk made me realize this: It’s just
cooked down milk and sugar, just like the label says. (Duh, I should have had a
V-8!) Most of the time, the process was
passive cooking, meaning that I was free to do something else. However, toward
the end, I had to watch the pot. The bubbling action was similar to that of making
Vietnamese caramel sauce. I had to adjust the heat downward in the last 15
minutes or so. When the pot threatened to boil over I picked it put and ran to the
Every time I tackle a
DIY food project, this goes through my mind: Is it worth it? Can I make
something that’s as good or better than commercially made stuff? What is the
benefit of making your own X?
With regard to homemade condensed milk, the answer is: Yes,
try it out. The recipe is dead simple. You use everyday ingredients. Plus, you
can control the flavor and quality of ingredients.
Tips for tinkering
with homemade condensed milk:
- Try raw milk and see what that’s like. My guess is that it’ll
- If you are lactose intolerant, you can make condensed milk
from soy milk or another type of milk. (Almond milk, perhaps?)
- Use full-fat or whole milk for good flavor.
Yield: About 1
cup (235 ml)
- 2 cups / 470 ml whole cow’s milk or full-fat soy milk
- 1 cup / 7 oz / 196 g sugar,
- In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and sugar. Bring to a
boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve. Simmer for 45 to 60 minutes,
stirring occasionally, until the mixture has darkened a bit, thickened, and a good 1/3 the original volume. There should be about 1 cup. You can measure and reboil, if you want.
- Remove from the heat, cool for 15 minutes, then strain into
a jar. Cap and refrigerate. Let sit out at room temperature for about 15 minutes