Sweetened condensed milk is one of those flavors you expect to outgrow. I’m 42 and I’m still waiting.
I love Vietnamese Coffee, Carrot Halwa, Nanaimo bars, and Foolproof Fudge – and my recipes for all of these treats owe their flavor to Gail Borden. Lately, I’ve been wondering if I could make my own sweetened condensed milk, mostly so I could use local milk, but also to tone down the cloying sweetness just a tad. Most of the recipes I found on the web called for powered milk, or when they did stick to real milk, thickened it with butter, which wasn’t an addition I wanted.
After a few tries, I created a formula that works. My condensed milk isn’t as thick as the canned version, but so far it’s worked beautifully for me in David Lebovitz ’sVietnamese Coffee Ice Cream (from The Perfect Scoop), as the base for hot fudge and steamed and frothed for a latte.
If you want to try it, plan for the process to take somewhere between two to three hours – you’ll want to keep an eye on it, but that’s all pretty much all hands-off time. I used the time to clean my house and to consider my motivations for cooking from scratch.
I was talking to a friend last week about my ongoing quest to make pizza dough. (I’m working with sourdough starter – and if you ever read about it here, you’ll know that I’m finally happy with the results.)
My friend’s reaction caught me off guard. “Why bother? You can buy perfectly good premade pizza crust, and perfectly good pizza for that matter. And it’s probably cheaper.”
I was a loss for words; not because his question was so difficult to answer, or so alien to me – it wasn’t that long ago that I didn’t shop at my local farmer’s market, because I felt the prices were too high. But I stammered, laughed and said something like. “For me, it’s about the process, as much as the end result. I love knowing exactly what’s in my food, and watching it come together.”
That’s true. But I missed the chance to talk about the larger issues involved – everything from the true costs of what we eat, to the dangers of our conventional agricultural system. I did email my friend the link to Mark Bitman’s “Is Eat Real Food Unthinkable?” column later, in an attempt to demonstrate the complexity of some of the issues involved.
For a long time I held out on the edges of food politics – somewhat concerned but never quite taking the plunge, worried that becoming informed would be one more layer of cultural guilt.
But instead, I feel like I’ve taken back some control, simply by cooking more and putting more thought into the decisions I make as a consumer. If I make my pizza dough, or sweetened condensed milk from scratch, I know exactly what’s in it and where the ingredients came from. And most of the time, those choices add up to something that tastes better too, even if takes time to get it just right. For me, that’s time well spent, and if I also get to feel like a rebel in some small way, that’s an added bonus.