Sweetened condensed milk is easy to make at home—you just simmer milk and sugar on the stovetop to thicken and reduce. A dairy-free version, made with coconut milk, is just as simple. Combine coconut milk and sugar in a pot, then leisurely reduce by half.
Though it’s practically one-step, the mixture does require a little babysitting as it cooks. Stirring frequently keeps it smooth and prevents scorching. Put a separate, heatproof utensil (not the one you’re stirring with) into the mixture at the beginning, note the level that the liquid comes up to on the utensil, and remove. This will serve as a handy guide as the mixture reduces. Remember that it will thicken more as it cools, and ultimately should be thick enough to coat and slowly fall off a spoon.
Use sweetened condensed coconut milk as a one-to-one replacement for classic sweetened condensed milk (either store-bought or homemade) in any kind of recipe. Stir into iced coffee or tea, fold into a no-churn ice cream base (such as this coffee one from Nigella Lawson), whisk into pumpkin pie custard, or whip into frosting or soft cream.
While totally optional, a pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract, both adjusted to taste, add a delicious flavor boost to the condensed milk. You can double or triple the recipe to make a larger batch. But in that case, you may want to use a larger pot to increase surface area and prevent it from taking hours to reduce. —Erin Jeanne McDowell
In a medium pot, cook the coconut milk over medium heat until it’s fluid, whisking occasionally until the solids have liquefied and it’s one uniform consistency, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the sugar and stir until fully dissolved. Bring the mixture to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced by just over half and is thick enough to coat a spoon, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (I like to place a spatula or spoon—not the stirring utensil I’m using—into the pot at the beginning, to visually mark the height of the liquid, then continue to do this as a check-in until it’s reduced properly.)
Cool completely, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, The Book on Pie, came out on November 10th, 2020, and my pie merch collaboration with Food52 is out now too: https://food52.com/shop/merchants/manifest-food52/food52-x-erin-mcdowell