One of your columns recently provided a lot of information about buttermilk. Speaking of dairy substitutes, can I use canned, condensed milk in recipes rather than fresh cream?
— Bill D., Central Point
Condensed milk used to be far more common in recipes. The biggest difference between it and cream lies in the alternative name: "sweetened condensed milk."
This is a mixture of whole milk and sugar "heated until about 60 percent of the water evaporates," according to "The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion," and "the resulting, condensed mixture is extremely sticky and sweet."
Evaporated milk is unsweetened, condensed milk. You'll find both side by side in supermarket bakery aisles; check labels closely to make sure you're buying the right one.
Both condensed milk and evaporated milk have a thick, creamy texture. Either substitutes nicely for cream (and vice versa) in pie recipes. Just remember to cut back on added sugar if using condensed milk because it's already sweetened.
Condensed milks do have a somewhat cooked flavor as opposed to the taste of fresh cream or milk. But they can be stored safely for months without refrigeration. This was particularly useful in the days before electricity or modern refrigerators, when dairy products would spoil rather rapidly, especially in hot climates or seasons.
Try condensed milks in coffee and other beverages. A Caribbean favorite is Ponche Crema: Blend 12 eggs, three (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk, two (14-ounce) cans condensed milk, 1 cup rum and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Pour over cracked ice. Add a dash of Angostura bitters. Grate fresh nutmeg on top.
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