It’s a classic recipe blunder: You’ve assembled your mise en place, preheated the oven, even carefully buttered and floured the pan. Then, you see it: “1 cup evaporated milk.”
It was right there in the ingredients list the whole time, of course, but you’re definitely just seeing it for the first time now. You poke around the pantry in hopes you’ll get lucky. While you do find four cans of pumpkin, there’s no evaporated milk to be found. What now? Go back to the store? Uh, no thanks. Abandon the recipe and make something else? Less than ideal. The answer: neither, because there are actually plenty of substitutes for evaporated milk.
Evaporated milk is canned, shelf-stable, highly concentrated (typically 2 percent) milk. It’s often used in recipes like pumpkin pie and tres leches cake. To make the product, about 60 percent of the water is evaporated from cow’s milk, after which the liquid is canned and heat-sterilized. This process makes the milk shelf-stable for months, sometimes even years. Technically, when mixed with 1 ½ parts water, 1 part evaporated milk can be reconstituted into the proportional equivalent of regular milk.
Unsurprisingly, the milk you already have in the fridge will be a fine substitute for evaporated milk—with a bit of tinkering. For the most foolproof evaporated milk substitute, make your own: Into a saucepan, place 60 percent more milk than called for in the recipe, bring it to a boil, and gently reduce it until the desired amount is reached. Cool the mixture, then move on with the recipe.
2. Non-Dairy Milk
You can also substitute evaporated milk through the above method with non-dairy milk like soy, rice, oat, or almond instead of cow’s milk.
3. Half and Half
Half and half’s thicker consistency is similar to evaporated milk, and can easily be used as a substitute in recipes. Your end result may be a bit richer, but who will be mad at that?
Ditto for cream—again, the fattier liquid will make the recipe turn out richer than if you’d used evaporated milk, but it won’t be bad. If you happen to have both cream and regular milk on hand, mix together half cream and half milk and use that as a substitute.
5. Powdered Milk
In the unlikely chance you have powdered milk somewhere in your kitchen, you can also rehydrate the powder into evaporated milk—that’s not even really a substitute. Simply add 60 percent of the amount of water called for to reconstitute the product into regular milk, and you’ll be good to go.
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Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. Her writing has appeared in TASTE, The Strategist, Eater, and Bon Appetit's Healthyish and Basically. She contributed recipes and words to the book "Breakfast: The Most Important Book About the Best Meal of the Day." Once upon a time, she studied theatre design and art history at Smith College, so if you need a last-minute avocado costume or want to talk about Wayne Thiebaud's cakes, she's your girl. You can follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.