Condensed milk can be used to make great caramel. Photo: Theo Crazzolara.

Condensing your milk questions!

Over the years, I have answered a lot of questions around food.

What is tofu, how do you cook giant couscous and so on? These questions get more frequent in autumn when people start preparing for the big day in December, so I thought I’d answer some of the most frequently asked questions here over the next few weeks.

Someone asked me recently how to make fudge at home and my reply was that fudge can be made with cream, evaporated milk or condensed milk! The answer didn’t really help and I was asked what’s the difference between evaporated and condensed milk?

The only difference between the two milk products in cans is the sugar content. Evaporated milk is produced by reducing the water content by 60 per cent - in the beginning large cast-iron vacuum pans were used to evaporate (hence the name) the water from the milk. This was to extend the shelf-life of the milk which was dependent on the weather and only lasted a few hours or two days.

By removing the majority of the water content and canning the milk, the shelf-life was extended to several months. By adding water to the evaporated milk, fresh-like milk was created and made it useable for baby food.

My mum used evaporated milk to add to her coffee – it is actually sold as coffee milk (or Büchsenmilk – canned milk) in Germany. If you like your coffee, try adding a slug of evaporated milk – it gives the coffee a creamy texture with a slight caramel flavour note.

Condensed milk on the other hand is very similar to evaporated milk by having also almost 60 per cent of the water content removed but has the addition of sugar. The result is a thicker, creamier product with the sweet caramel flavour we know so well.

It is also canned and a thick dark brown caramel can be created by boiling the closed can in a water bath for a few hours (my aunt forgot the pot was on the stove, water boiled to nothing and the tin exploded – it took her days to clean the mess and I stayed away for the entire time).

When using either milk, you need to know what end result you want so exchanging one for the other is not a good idea based on their sugar content.

So, when making fudge, you can use either milk but you will have to adjust the sugar quite a bit as using evaporated milk instead of condensed milk will result in a bland fudge while using condensed milk instead without reducing the sugar content will result in an overly sweet product.

Evaporated milk can be used in savoury sauces to give it a creamier texture. Some people might even use it instead of creating a bechamel sauce when making a cheese sauce - it can be added to drinks too enrich smoothies etc. You can even make ice-cream from it (not forgetting to add sugar though).

Condensed milk on the other hand is better suited for sweet dishes like dulce de leche (thick caramel sauce), fudge, ice-cream including the Indian Kulfi, Scottish Tablet (which is a version of fudge but more crumbly) and you can even add it to hot chocolate for a real indulgent sweet drink.

Just be careful when buying a tin of either milk as the labels look very similar and you will have to check if it is condensed or evaporated milk.