14 Surprising Ways To Use A Can Of Sweetened Condensed Milk

Sweetened condensed milk began life as many culinary innovations do: to solve a problem of preservation. In the early 1800s, French confectioner Nicolas Appert condensed milk by cooking it to remove about 60% of its water content, and British civil engineer William Newton added sugar a few years later to make it taste better. Sweetened condensed milk was not available commercially until Gail Borden created a more efficient process to produce it, making it a Civil War ration.

The flavor of sweetened condensed milk is unique. When sugar is added, and the condensed milk is cooked further to melt it, caramelization occurs, lending a toasted sweetness. The texture is creamy and smooth due to the lack of water and high concentration of milkfat, which gives it a lusciously smooth mouthfeel.

With the advent of refrigeration and freezers, many modern cooks and bakers might overlook a canned product like sweetened condensed milk — to their detriment. Sweetened condensed milk is a pantry staple that can help boost your baking in surprising ways. Here are 14 ways to use it.

Whip up a batch of classic fudge

Fudge is a classic confection that can be as simple or complex as you like it. Sweetened condensed milk is one consistent ingredient that ties all fudge versions together. It provides a near-foolproof texture and sweetness that requires very little fiddling or adjusting.

To make a simple chocolate fudge, combine a can of sweetened condensed milk, a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips, a couple of tablespoons of butter, pinch of salt, and splash of vanilla. Melt and stir until smooth, then pour into a buttered pan (or line it with parchment paper) and chill until firm.

You can add any number of delicious flavors to this basic recipe. Chopped walnuts are a favorite, as are mini marshmallows added to the top and drizzled with caramel for a rocky road version. Ditch the chocolate chips and opt for peanut butter, studding your fudge with mini chocolate chips before chilling. Add a layer of salted caramel and broken pretzel pieces. No matter what flavor combinations you choose, it's the sweetened condensed milk that makes the basic fudge recipe possible.

Add it to boxed cornbread mix

If you are from the south, feel free to skip right by this tip. Southerners prefer their cornbread with very little, if any, added sugar, and this use of sweetened condensed milk might ruffle some feathers below the Mason-Dixon line.

However, if you prefer a slightly sweeter, cake-like cornbread and are also a fan of the boxed cornbread mix that makes for a quick shortcut, this tip's for you. Boxed cornbread milk requires the addition of an egg and milk to activate the baking powder in the mix and create a fluffy rise. The next time cornbread's on the menu, skip the milk and add a can of sweetened condensed milk instead. The milk's sweetness takes on a richer flavor as it bakes, but it doesn't create an overwhelmingly sweet dish. If you'd like a contrasting flavor, chop up fresh jalapeños or crumble up some bacon for another tasty twist.

Sweetened condensed milk can also turn your boxed cornbread mix into a luscious corn pudding. Add a small can of drained sweet corn and a little extra milk, then bake until barely set. The texture will be slightly wet, as a good corn pudding should be.

Soak a tres leches cake

If you're unfamiliar with any other use of sweetened condensed milk, chances are good you have at least a passing acquaintance with tres leches cake. The tres leches — three milks — are heavy cream, condensed milk, and sweetened condensed milk, stirred together and poured over a baked vanilla-scented cake. The resulting heavenly texture melts in the mouth and somehow manages to feel both light and luxurious simultaneously.

Tres leches cake is certainly better when made with a homemade sponge cake, but if time's an issue and you need something that feels homemade but is less time-intensive, whip up a tres leches soak for a store-bought plain sheet cake. Add a can of condensed milk and 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream for each can of sweetened condensed milk. Mix thoroughly. Poke holes in your cake with a skewer (or a fork if you're really in a hurry), and pour the milk slowly and evenly over the top of the cake. Let the cake soak in the tres leches, then top with whipped cream and serve.

Kickstart your day with Vietnamese iced coffee

Vietnamese coffee tastes like what might happen if coffee-flavored ice cream and espresso had a baby. The coffee is strong-brewed and combined with copious amounts of sweetened condensed milk for a lusciously creamy caffeinated and sugared punch in the taste buds (and nervous system). True Vietnamese coffee is made with coffee from Vietnam, but its signature flavoring — sweetened condensed milk — allows you to make a similar coffee at home.

Traditionally, this dark-roasted robusta coffee is brewed using a phin. The phin is a metal filter with four separate parts: a plate, the main body of the filter, a pressing disk, and the lid. The filter rests on top of a coffee mug with a generous glug of sweetened condensed milk in it, and the coffee grounds are in the main body of the phin. Heated water is poured into the phin, dripping through fine metal holes before being pressed through at the end of the brewing time.

It is easier to brew directly over the sweet milk for iced Vietnamese coffee. Trying to melt sweetened condensed milk in a cold beverage can be challenging. But if you're up for it, simply pack a pint glass full of ice and drizzle sweetened condensed milk over it. Pour your freshly brewed coffee over the ice, and enjoy.

Use it as an ice cream shortcut

Few things are more delicious than homemade ice cream, but when it comes down to it, the process is time-consuming and messy. The first step, making the custard, requires careful attention and a long chilling period before it can be churned, and then you still have to wait for it to be frozen. Fortunately, sweetened condensed milk is a great option for making an ice cream that skips custard-making and churning in an ice cream maker.

All you need is a can of sweetened condensed milk, the flavoring of your choice, heavy cream, and a hand mixer. Add your milk and flavoring (any kind of extracts work here) to a large bowl and stir to combine. Use a hand mixer to beat your heavy cream in another large bowl until it holds stiff peaks. Add a large spoonful of whipped cream to your sweetened condensed milk and stir to loosen the mixture. Stir in the rest of the whipped cream, pour into a freezer-safe container, and freeze for four to six hours. Serve with your favorite toppings.

Sweeten your key lime pie

Key lime pie is a classic dessert with a contentious origin story. Some say that it originated not in the Florida Keys (where the limes for which it is named were grown) but on the back of Gail Borden's sweetened condensed milk can (what started as a Magic Lemon pie gradually migrated to the Sunshine State, replacing the lemons with limes grown in Florida until a hurricane devastated the commercial lime industry). Steadfast southern pie chefs argue that the Borden empire swiped the original Florida recipe from a baker known only as Aunt Sally, who wrote her pie recipe down in the late 1900s.

Regardless of its origin, Key lime pie perfectly combines tart, seedy Key limes with silky sweetened condensed milk in a filling cradled by an earthy graham cracker crust. Most Key limes in this iconic dessert are now sourced in Mexico or Central America, but Persian limes sometimes make an appearance. No matter where the limes and the pie itself are from, one thing is clear: Key lime pie is one of the best uses of sweetened condensed milk.

Add it to your chai

Chai is a beautiful remnant of an ugly colonial past. The British colonizers in India brought their tradition of drinking strong black tea with milk and sugar to India, a place where black tea was grown but not harvested in the massive amounts that tea in China was. To save money in exports, the British exploited Indian labor to plant and harvest Indian tea, and the resulting hot beverage became a symbol of the oppressor (and a drink reserved for the wealthy).

But even the most determined colonizers cannot keep the people down. The British sold lesser-quality black tea back to the people who produced it; Indians added strong spices and created masala chai, a vibrant drink that spread into tea shops and across a culture that followed the tea with revolution and reclamation of cultural heritage and independence.

Today, a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk perfectly complements the spicy brew. Every chai stand in India has its own combination of spices, boiled with equal parts milk and water. Make your chai the Indian way, boiling the milk, tea, and spices together, or simply swirl sweetened condensed milk into your cup when the tea is ready.

Make some magic (bars)

Magic bars (also known as 7-layer bars or Dolly bars) may be named after the alchemy that occurs when ingredients are layered and baked. Some food historians posit that the bars were a favorite of the early stars of the musical Hello, Dolly, but others think that the recipe originated from the back of the Borden can. Whether musical theater birthed this confection or it's just another instance of Borden's marketing genius, the resulting cookie is a sweet, chewy, crunchy dessert bar greater than the sum of its parts. And the glue that holds these mysterious baked treats together? Sweetened condensed milk.

It starts with a base layer of graham cracker crust. From there, add sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, coconut flakes, butterscotch chips, and chopped nuts in individual layers. Once baked, each layer melts into the others — the ingredients are no longer in distinct layers but meld together in a gloriously sweet confection.

Cool down with Thai iced tea

Thai iced tea has no problem being spotted in a crowd. The orange milky drink is easy to identify and has a distinctive flavor that can also be floral, slightly spicy, or faintly tinged with licorice and tamarind (the flavor that separates it from its Indian cousin, chai). However, Thai iced tea's uniting essence is the tooth-enamel-melting sweetness imparted by a heavy-handed pour of sweetened condensed milk.

The best Thai iced tea has a strong tea taste with gentle undertones of spices and flowers — without even a hint of bitterness. It can be made from a powdered mix (common in many Thai restaurants) or homemade from black tea and a signature spice blend (this is less common, even in Thailand). Homemade Thai iced tea is not typically as orange as the powdered variety, which has added coloring.

Regardless of the brewing method (powder or homemade), Thai iced tea is sweetened with condensed milk that mellows everything out and brings all the flavors together. Some tea shops offer the chewy addition of boba — tapioca balls — or chunks of fruit or jelly.

Cook up some dulce de leche

Dulce de leche (sweet milk in Spanish) is arguably the easiest dessert sauce to make. All you need is a can of sweetened condensed milk and either some hands-off time to monitor the process occasionally or a slow cooker.

To make this easy cooked caramel sauce, peel the labels off your can of sweetened condensed milk and cover it with water (at least 1 inch above the can, but 2 inches is better). Alternately, place the can in a slow cooker, cover it with water, and cook on low for eight to 10 hours. For both methods, make sure the can is fully submerged for the cooking duration. If the can becomes exposed, it may explode.

Dulce de leche is typically used as a dessert sauce, but it can also be used in crepes, as the base of a banoffee pie, as the filling in a layer cake, and sandwiched between two cookies (alfajores de maizena, a popular sandwich cookie in Argentina). You can also go the direct route and eat it right from the can after it's cooked. Uh, we're not judging — promise!

Layer it into banoffee pie

Banoffee pie is the delectable mashup of banana and toffee that gives the pie its name. It's a traditional British dessert that has all the perfect elements: crunchy graham cracker crust, decadent dulce de leche caramel, and gooey banana, topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate. Everything hinges on the caramel, though, and sweetened condensed milk makes everything 10 times easier.

With a little planning, the whole pie comes together in minutes. Make a simple graham cracker crust and spread a layer of dulce de leche made with sweetened condensed milk. Beat heavy whipping cream until it forms stiff peaks, then fold sliced bananas into the cream. You can also slice the bananas and layer them on the dulce de leche, then add the whipping cream. Add another layer of sliced bananas on top of the whipping cream, then drizzle more dulce de leche on top. Add shaved chocolate if you like, or serve as is.

Crank up the party with Brazilian brigadeiros

Brigadeiros are arguably the most popular dessert in Brazil. With a wartime history that is wrapped in women's voting rights and the rights of the people, they are named for a famous general (Eduardo Gomes, known as The Brigadier) who advocated for a more populist political structure. Served on all occasions, from birthdays to anniversaries to political rallies, this chocolate truffle-like confection is rich and sweet with its base of sweetened condensed milk and cocoa.

The original recipe contained eggs, but today's brigadeiros have just three ingredients: sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder, and butter. The ingredients are combined in the correct proportions to form a velvety ball that is then rolled in chocolate sprinkles. Some other versions might be rolled in peanuts or coconut, and the ball itself might contain fruit or nuts. No matter what it's coated or filled with, the confection should be sized to be eaten in just one bite.

Flirt with flan

Flan is a creamy caramel custard with a silken, wobbly texture and a sweet, smoky sauce that is created during baking. It's a Spanish dessert developed to use excess eggs. It eventually migrated to Mexico, where it became traditional to use the whole egg (as opposed to just the yolks in Spanish flan). When milk was scarce, sweetened condensed milk stepped into the breech and rescued this dessert, especially in areas where Americans were stationed during wartime.

Flan is baked in a water bath — this regulates the temperature of the custard and prevents the eggs from curdling. Start by preheating your oven and boiling water to pour into the oven-safe pan in which you'll bake individual custards. Use sugar and water to cook a simple caramel that gets poured into buttered ramekins before mixing other ingredients — eggs, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and vanilla — and pouring on top of the caramel.

Cover each ramekin with foil that has a slit in the top, and place them into the ovenproof dish. Pour boiling water into the dish and bake until the custard is just set (the center should be slightly wobbly). Let it cool on a rack to room temperature, then chill for at least six hours. Use a knife to loosen the flan from the ramekin, then invert onto a plate to serve. These need no garnish, but a few fresh berries are always welcome to cut the sweetness of the caramel.

Bake up a batch of gluten-free coconut macaroons

Macaroons are often confused with macarons, but these two sweets couldn't be less like each other if they tried. Macarons are finicky, almond-flour-based cookies filled with delicate ganache. They take hours to make and can be waylaid by the slightest changes in humidity or temperature. On the other hand, macaroons are easier to put together and are less susceptible to weather-dependent disasters. And while they both use beaten egg whites and are gluten-free, only macaroons use sweetened condensed milk as a lusciously flavorful binder.

The best macaroon recipes toast the coconut before mixing it with sweetened condensed milk (or, indulgently, dulce de leche) and vanilla paste. After this, whipped egg whites are folded in, and cookies can be scooped into mounds onto parchment-lined baking sheets. They bake in less than 20 minutes, and no one would blame you if you drizzled or dipped them in chocolate after they cooled.