Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Good to know: Evaporated Milk vs Condensed Milk

On a recent visit to my mom's, she'd made a dessert she was quite excited about after someone at work had brought it in to share: Key Lime Cloud Squares.

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At first she was all compliments for the one she had tasted, saying how good it was, but as we got talking about the one she'd made, the picture wasn't so rosy (or would that be lime-y?). Apparently it had put up a bit of a fight. When trying to mix the cream cheese and the milk together, instead of getting a 'creamy' result as the recipe stated, hers went all over the place (literally, she had to clean it off the cupboards) and remained slightly separated with small flecks of cream cheese throughout. But she finished it and it was in the fridge waiting for us to finish our dinner.

We each had a small piece and upon tasting that first bite.... our faces puckered up like we'd both just sucked on a lemon. Wow... it was tart. Eye-wateringly tart. If you powered through a few more bites it was certainly edible, but how could this be the dessert she'd raved about so much just a few hours earlier? Turns out it wasn't... something was different. She was very disappointed and couldn't figure out why it had turned out so differently. She'd followed the recipe exactly, even putting a bit less lime juice in than called for!

After asking a few questions, turns out she didn't follow the recipe *exactly*. She'd gotten everything on the list, exactly as listed, down to getting Honey Maid brand graham cracker crumbs and Jell-o brand lime gelatin. The one thing she hadn't gotten right was the milk.

Turns out she had used evaporated milk when the recipe actually called for condensed milk. It was an honest mistake however, as to her they were both just those cans of milk you get in the baking aisle, and when she grabbed one for her recipe, she didn't notice she'd grabbed the wrong one. Heck, even I've done that before, as they are usually on the shelf right next to one another and look mighty similar.

So they're both canned milk... what's the big deal using one instead of the other? Well, a heck of a lot of sugar, for starters, which would account for the tartness. Evaporated milk is simply milk that has had a large amount of water removed, or evaporated, and has been processed to make it shelf-stable. While it may contain some added sugar, it is generally considered unsweetened and retains milk's liquid consistency. Condensed milk (often labeled 'sweetened condensed milk') on the other hand has had water removed and a heap of sugar added in it's place which results in a more golden color and an extremely thick, syrup-like consistency. That thickness can also be an important factor in a recipe like this one, where using condensed milk would probably have helped the cream cheese blend in better (and would have kept it from flying out of the bowl when mixed ;) and would have helped it set more firmly in the fridge.

Now, if you find yourself in a situation like this where you grabbed evaporated instead of condensed milk and don't have time to run back out, you can still work with it. Simply mix 1 part evaporated milk with 1.25 parts sugar in a saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. It won't be as thick as the commercial stuff, but it'll do the trick and keep you from having, to quote Priscilla Queen of the Dessert, "a face like a cat's arse". ;)

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