REAL FOOD 101: How to Make Sweetened Condensed Milk

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk (no BPA, no white sugar)

This post is part of a series.  To buy Volume One of the e-book containing several REAL FOOD 101 tutorials, click here: REAL FOOD 101 E-book: Traditional Foods, Traditionally Prepared.

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!

Equipment Needed:

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)

  1. 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!)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

This post is a part of Pennywise Platter, Simple Lives Thursday, Full Plate Thursday, Fight Back Friday, Fresh Bites Friday, Weekend Gourmet, Monday Mania, Fat Tuesday, Real Food Wednesday, The Mommy Club, Allergy-Free Wednesday.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.
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Comments

  1. I can’t believe it’s just those simple ingredients! I love sweetend condensed milk but never seem to have it when I get the urge to make something with it. now this solves my problem cause I could make up a big batch!

  2. Im just curious.. I wonder if it could be home canned, and wonder if the added sugar would keep it from curdling at the point once its done.

  3. Is this something that could be done in a slow cooker?

  4. This is awesome! I wonder…do you think after making the milk that it might be possible to can it? Would it be safe enough to avoid curdling? I might have to try that and return and report :)

    • Yes, please do! I’m hopeful that it would work. Fingers crossed?

    • It’s not generally safe to can dairy. It’s also usually not advised to can fat (I’ve done it though). Dairy they definitely say not to can though.

      • Linda Alumbaugh says:

        “They”….I’m always suspicious of what “They” say. And since the only way I have ever seen sweetened condensed milk in the grocery store is in a can, I’m curoius why “They” say you cannot can dairy products.

      • If you use a pressure canner, why would there be a problem? I say go for it!

  5. Are you stirring this for 4 hours or just stirring until the sugar is dissolved and then letting it simmer for 4 hours? Also, if you are using raw honey, will the heating kill all the nutrients or is it a low enough temp that all the raw goodness remains in tact? I’d like to know about the slow cooker version too…I’d think that would keep the milk from scalding on the bottom.

    • Oh no! You don’t have to stir it for 4 hours. Just occasionally, like every 30 minutes or so. You really only need to stir it to combine the sugar at the beginning, and then you can just let it go.

      • thank you for asking this question I was wondering that myself! and has anyone tried canning this? I’m curious of the outcome

  6. Hi Kendahl,
    This is a great post with so many good ideas. Hope you are having a great weekend and thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

  7. Does this freeze well? If you know. Thanks.

    • I’m really not sure. I would suspect that the milk solids may separate during the freezing process giving the sweetened, condensed milk a grainy consistency when thawed. But I don’t know that from personal experience. I hope that I’m wrong, because that would be handy to freeze this in large jars. Let me know if you try it.

    • I was wondering the same thing about freezing! It would be so handy to make a large batch and then just pull a little jar out of the freezer when you need it. Do let us know the results if you try it!

    • I have frozen condensed milk lots of times with no problems. In the days when I used to consume lots of evil sugar I would eat frozen condensed milk out of the can like ice cream!

  8. How long does this keep in the refrigerator?

  9. I have a blender recipe which uses boiling water, powdered milk, sugar, and butter….. It’s super easy, but this sounds even yummier, and I have a source for raw milk, so I will try this. But what is your opinion on powdered milk?

  10. Maybe this is a really dumb question, but why use raw milk if you’re going to cook it???

    • Lol! You don’t need to. But there are more benefits to raw milk than just the rawness. If it’s grass-fed, for example. But you can certainly use grass-fed pasteurized milk or organic whole milk for this and it would be very close. I used organic whole milk in this case (ran out of raw, and prefer to drink the raw if we had it).

      • This was my initial reaction. (Great recipe by the way) I think I’d prefer to simply used one of the pretty good organic non-homogenized, lightly pasteurized brands for this, rather than using the raw milk we usually have around. As you said, I’ll save that for straight drinking. :)

  11. Jenny compton says:

    Can you make this dairy free? I use coco Lopez when making key lime since its dairy free. But it is so unhealthy. Would coconut milk work from the cartoon or cans?

  12. You always post the greatest recipes! I can’t wait to try this! My mother-in-law makes this cinnamon tea by boiling down cinnamon sticks and then mixing with (canned) sweetened condensed milk. I can’t wait to try it with this homemade sweetened condensed milk. I feel like it might be tasty to put a little bit of it in coffee too!

  13. Woot! Thank you so much for linking this up last week in The Mommy Club. I always love your contributions to the weekly linky! Your post was one of my most clicked.

    Thanks for stopping in again this week!

    Crystal
    http://www.crystalandcomp.com/2012/10/the-mommy-club-share-your-resources-and-solutions-64/

  14. I’ve made two batches today and both separated. I had them on very low heat, 2. Now what do I do? I’m going to keep the first batch for putting in coffee, but can the second batch be saved? I’m desparing. My homemade Irish Cream will now be made from a can of sweetened condensed milk.

    • I made a couple of batches that separated too, before I finally was able to keep the heat low enough. You really need to ease into it, because as soon as it boils, it separates and you’re toast. I sometimes buy the organic sweetened condensed milk from my health food store, but I like to make it myself if possible. It’s just really difficult to get the heat just right.

  15. Nancilynn says:

    Are you simmering over electric or gas heat? I know they have a diffuser of sorts that fits over electric burners to reduce the heat…I just prefer gas. Could also imagine a double-boiler for consisten low heat… Things my mom taught me…:-)

  16. Just stumbled on post this after I found your toothpaste recipe (oh the irony!).

    My favourite mind-blowing icecream recipe simply uses equal parts condensed milk and double cream. Throw the two into an icecream maker and be prepared for a moment of silence after your first mouthful. The texture is also just perfect.

    Now I am going to try and make my own condensed milk. Thanks!

  17. Can you use Stevia instead of honey in this? Or does it change the consistency? I limit my raw honey use, but for sure don’t use sugar. Thanks!

    • Christina says:

      That’s my question too! I looked at other sited & there are sites that do use stevia but they use powdered milk, not raw milk….any suggestions would be helpful!! :-)

      Thanks!

      -C

    • I wouldn’t recommend using stevia here, and if I may ask why you limit your sugar and honey intake, that might help. Sugar is pretty vital to health, and here in a homemade ice cream recipe, it’s definitely a must!

      • The reason I do not use sugar is because I am hypoglycemic and it really makes me feel bad to eat it. It makes my heart beat fast and all sorts of issues. So, I use Stevia, Just Like Sugar, Xylitol, pure maple sugar in small amounts. So, I would be interested in knowing how this would work with alternative sweeteners.

  18. This looks divine! Quick question, though. You add the butter and vanilla after you pour the mixture into the glass storage jar? Not before?

    Thank you! Great post.
    Melissa

  19. Can you substitute honey for maple syrup? I personally prefer the taste of syrup over honey. Thanks!

  20. hmmm, can this be done in a crock pot kinda like concentrating down bone broth??

  21. I generally don’t put hot items (to cool) in the refrigerator because of bacteria. What would happen if you let it cool before placing in the refrigerator?

  22. Always wondered how this was made. Now I can make it myself. One caution I want to put out there. Food 101-NEVER put a hot mixture in the fridge to cool. You risk creating a perfect environment for bacterial growth. Let it sit out on the counter to come down to room temperature and then move to the fridge.

  23. can pure maple syrup be used instead of honey?

  24. I have a gas stove and have a hard time regulating the burners to cook on low. Could this be cooking in a double boiler in order to keep it from getting too hot?

    Thanks!

  25. Kacey Bostrom says:

    This is me blowing you kisses! mwah, mwah, mwah! I am so excited to make this and then, of course, to use it! Thank you for your willingness to lose 6 cups of raw milk in the trial process just to make my day.

  26. While simmering the mixture, do we need to keep stirring constantly, occasionally, or none at all? What temperature would you suggest?

  27. could you use stevia instead of honey?

    • I have never tried it, and stevia is a very sweet sweetener, so the recipe measurements wouldn’t work. You can try playing with it and let us know, though!

  28. I use organic sugar made from vaporized cane juice. Can I use that in this receipe?

  29. Jo Ann Manns says:

    I just wanted thank you for posting this again, I have Fibromyalgia and anything that I can find that I can make on my own is a god send. It is hard for me to avoid foods with chemical additives because I am not the only one that does the shopping in our house so even if there is one little thing that I can switch for use in my baking and in making creamer for out coffee I will gladly do it. I was wondering if anyone has tried to make this in their crockpot? This would help so that I don’t have stand at the stove for a long length of time as I am unable to stand for long lengths of time.

  30. Megan Matthews says:

    I often joke that my cooking is a challenge to see how much sweetened condensed milk and real butter you can sink into a recipe, and it still be edible!
    This brings me to a really probably simply stupid question …… can you make this in bulk, and if anyone has are there any tricks?
    I know you cant just double cake etc recipes for balancing glutens or whatever reason…..
    Also…. sugar, honey or would you say Golden Syrup could be a substitute?
    Lets talk Honey. I have found that pure Manuka Tasmanian honey is very strong compared to other varieties….. one would therefore assume to cut it back to adjust the sweetness, does this inturn alter the final thickening….ie do you need that ration of honey to milk to allow the sweetened con. milk. to do its thing? Honey…. 1 cup!!!!! thats alot .
    So Im off to the shop now to get pure tasmanian organic milk and start on this process of mass sweetened condensed milk, which is Manuka Honey sweetened. I reckon I will have the answer to the above questions before you. Lets see if they match?
    Its unfortunate you have to wait several weeks before the Home made Irish cream is ready!.

  31. This recipe looks great! Thank you! Do you think this could be made in a crockpot on the lowest setting?

  32. Thank you so much for the recipe! I just made this but my condensed milk never thickened. Did I do something wrong? After 4+ hours on the stove I eventually just had to add organic cornstarch to thicken it.

  33. I WISH it could be canned but pressure canning it is how I make caramel sauce for candy’s and fillings. I was tempted to do it again but greatly reduce the time and pressure…still not sure if that would be safe though. Let me know if anyone comes up with anything.

  34. We have a dairy cow and when we r done milking the milk as you would suspect is very warm. Instead of tryna cool it down real fast, couldn’t I (after filtering of course) pour it directly into sauce pan and lessen the chance of it separating? We also have our own bees and most of the honey harvested this year wasn’t all honey some nectar mixed in, could that compromise the end results?

Trackbacks

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  4. [...] The other part of this recipe is the sweetened condensed milk. Naturally you can buy cans of this from the baking aisles, but if you’re a hard core frugal-or-real-foodie, you might make it yourself. Plus if you love sweetened condensed milk and all the deliciousness it brings to your table, you can make a big batch of it to store in your fridge. Try this recipe that uses unrefined sugar, or one that uses honey. [...]

  5. […] cake, I wanted to give this challenge a go. So I diligently started completely from scratch by making my own sweetened condensed milk. I used a jug of organic milk produced regionally. More of the same organic milk went into the […]

  6. […] macaroons, sharing with others…. not a big issue considering other more sinister elements I may unknowingly ingest.  However, in a simple search online, there are plenty of recipes available  for homemade sweetened condensed milk and with some planning, I think I would probably go that route if future recipes call for sweetened condensed milk. […]

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