This sweet pantry staple is a key ingredient in some of our favorite desserts.

By Laura Rege
March 25, 2021
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At face value, sweetened condensed milk is a pantry staple, a no-frills can with old-fashioned labeling and no marketing gimmicks. It's understated, but sweetened condensed milk doesn't need anything more because what's inside is so perfect: a dreamy combination of creamy and sweet that we just love to cook with in our test kitchen. A key ingredient in classic baked goods, this sweetened syrup lends chewy texture and toasty caramelized notes to our favorite new and old sweet recipes and is the key to our easiest homemade cheesecakes and ice creams. And when we have an open can, a drizzle in our coffee upgrades our morning ritual to an extra special treat. If you're curious to know more about why we love this underrated pantry ingredient, read on.

pouring condensed milk into mixing bowl
Credit: Karpenkov Denis / Getty Images

It Makes Dulce de Leche

Need we say more? Condensed milk is the one ingredient you need for dulce de leche. Heat and time transform a can into Latin America's favorite thick and rich caramel sauce, dulce de leche. You don't even need to open the can! Just follow our DIY Dulce de Leche, then enjoy this versatile, spreadable caramel anyway you'd like—schmear it onto toast, spoon it over ice cream, swirl it into brownies or cheesecakes, sandwich some between cookies, or dip apple slices into it. You can't go wrong.

It Stars in the Most Irresistible Baked Goods

Underrated but definitely not underused, sweetened condensed milk is as much of a backbone in classic baking as sugar is. The thick syrup contributes both the sweetness of sugar and the benefits of milk without adding too much liquid since condensing milk removes moisture and concentrates the natural sugars. These sugars then take on toasty notes as they warm up and bake in the dessert. Try it in recipes like our Sweetened Condensed Milk Pound Cake, Everything Bars, Key Lime Pie, and Creamy Lemon Bars. To be a dessert star, it doesn't always need to be baked; condensed milk thickens and sweetens the milk sauce which is poured over a white cake in the classic Mexican dessert, Tres Leches.

It Can Be Used to Make an Easy Cheesecake

A classic cheesecake takes time and technique—sometimes we just don't want to go through the whole process. When that's the case, we evoke the flavors without the effort by making a No-Bake Cheesecake. The secret to a great no-bake cheesecake is lightening up cream cheese with sweetened condensed milk then spooning it into a crust and letting it set up in the fridge rather than oven. The result is a light and fluffy cheesecake that holds up when it is sliced. Keep it classic or try a flavor such as this No-Bake Key Lime Cheesecake.

It Creates Ice Cream Without Churning

Ice cream is is one of the greatest summer treats, and it's a whole lot easier to make at home when you use a no-churn recipe. This easy alternative utilizes the power of sweetened condensed milk and whipped cream to create a light and fluffy texture that freezes well and scoops even better, no ice cream maker required. For starters try our No-Churn Vanilla Ice Cream or No-Churn Mint Chip.

It Makes for the Creamiest Beverages

Worthy enough of opening up a fresh can, but also a great use for anything left after a baking project, just a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk transforms coffee, tea, and non-caffeinated beverages into rich, creamy, and irresistible treats. The concentrated creaminess stirs nicely into both hot and cold beverages, try it in iced coffee, iced tea, and horchata.

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