First things first. What is condensed milk, anyway? It's cow's milk from which the water has been removed and a sweetener added (condensed milk and sweetened condensed milk are basically synonymous these days). In its tin, it's shelf stable for years, making it a historically popular standby in places that had problems refrigerating their dairy (such as Key West, Florida, where it became the genesis for key lime pie.)
Ask some members of this staff what to do with leftover condensed milk—for example, if you had the remnants of a giant taste test to find out the best brand lying around your office—and they'd say: drink it straight. Or they might put it in their coffee or tea, Southeast Asian style. But condensed milk is actually the secret ingredient in a huge variety of sweets, so scroll below for some of our favorite ideas.
Thai Tea Cake with Condensed Milk Custard Sauce: Though this cake cannot be called Thai by any stretch, it's a wonderful dessert that creates another platform for one of the most loved traditional Thai ingredients, Thai Tea, to shine. Throw in the rich, silky condensed milk custard sauce, and you have a dessert that never fails to please a crowd.
Tres Leches Cake: In this classic South American dessert, sponge cake is soaked in sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream. But why stop there? It's then topped with Italian meringue or whipped cream and thoroughly chilled.
Grilled Pineapple with Coconut-Condensed Milk-Butter Sauce: Smokey grilled pineapple is great on its own, but add a coconut sauce? It's a reason to get your grill out from under all that snow.
Bocaditos de Corn Flakes y Leche Condensada (Corn Flake Clusters): Instead of Rice Krispies treats, many Latin Americans grow up eating these (no-bake!) clusters of cereal, sugar, and sweetened condensed milk. At a glance, the recipe appears too sweet, but the burnt sugar adds nuance and complexity to these irresistible morsels.
Coconut Macaroons: Condensed milk in macaroons? Yup. It's a trick we learned from Ina Garten and it creates a creamy and slightly tangy interior and a perfectly crisp outer crust.
Serious Eats' Caramel Sticky Buns: We don't want to toot our own horn too much, but these sticky buns from the Serious Eats book are soft, sweet, sticky, and over-the-top delicious. The condensed milk comes in the form of the caramel sauce. We even included extra in the recipe for on the side dipping.
Dulce de leche: The classic South American caramel sauce is perfect over waffles, pound cake, ice cream, or...by the spoon.
Key Lime Pie: This is a simple and great version of a classic key lime pie. Since the ingredients are few, make each one count by using real, fresh key limes for a pure and tangy flavor.
Coconut Cake: This is an extra moist, super-coconutty cake—and it calls for just 4 ingredients.
About the author: Carrie Vasios Mullins is the editor of Serious Eats: Sweets. She likes to peruse her large collection of cookbooks while eating jam from the jar. You can follow her on Twitter @carrievasios