2 Easy Swaps For Sweetened Condensed Milk In A Recipe

Sweetened condensed milk is typically something you break out for special occasion desserts, like a bright and tangy key lime pie. But that's far from its only application, as sweetened condensed milk has all sorts of uses in the kitchen, like making homemade ice cream without a machine or sweetening iced coffee and bubble tea. It's worth keeping a can or two on hand in your pantry in case your sweet tooth comes calling, but if you find yourself out of stock, the easiest option (and to avoid a trip to the grocery store) is to make a version yourself. 


Condensed milk is simply evaporated milk with sugar added, so if you have a can of evaporated milk, you could simply heat it in a saucepan and dissolve some sugar into it. However, you can also evaporate your own milk, which means that all you really need to substitute for a can of sweetened condensed milk is sugar and fresh milk. It won't be identical to the sweetened condensed milk you'd find in the can so you may have to adjust your recipe slightly (pay special attention that your recipe is the right consistency and sweetness), but it should be quite similar.

Make condensed milk with a reduced blend of milk and cream

To replicate the creamy condensed milk sold in a can, you first need to start with a few cups of fresh milk and some white sugar in a saucepan. You should have about three to four times as much milk as sugar, although you're free to adjust the ratio to your liking. More sugar will not only make the condensed milk sweeter, but will also thicken it. You'll need to simmer the milk until it reduces by half. As the water content of the milk evaporates, the flavor will become more concentrated, and by the end, you'll essentially have a thick and creamy syrup.


When you heat up milk, you risk having it curdle, but you can avoid this by increasing the fat content. Using whole milk is good, but you'll want a bit more fat than that to ensure a smooth end product. To achieve this, you can add a bit of heavy cream or butter to the mix. With this swap, you also have the option of adding flavorings. Vanilla extract is a classic addition, but you can also add spices like cinnamon to simmer in the milk as it reduces. Even though condensed milk is a sweet food, a little pinch of salt is a great way to boost the flavor.

Use coconut milk for a vegan alternative

Another option — and if you are looking for a plant-based alternative to sweetened condensed milk – is to make a substitute for sweetened condensed milk from coconut milk. The process is virtually identical to making sweetened condensed milk from cow's milk, except that you don't need to add any cream or butter. All it takes is a can of coconut milk and some sugar. Again, you'll want to use about three times more milk than sugar, combining them in a saucepan and simmering until reduced by half. At the end, you can add whatever flavorings you like. You can use condensed coconut milk for any recipe that calls for sweetened condensed milk, including pies, coffee, and ice cream. Keep in mind, however, that it will have a coconut flavor that will affect how it pairs with other ingredients.


The hardest part of making condensed milk, vegan or not, is patience. Both of these methods take about an hour for the milk to reduce. During that time, you'll have to keep a close eye on the saucepan, stirring frequently and scraping down the sides so that the mixture doesn't burn. It is an undeniably tedious process, but the end results are worth it.