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 Houston.
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 graininess disappeared.
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 sink.
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 be good!
- 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.
Homemade Condensed Milk
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, organic preferred
- 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 before using.