Can You Really Make Sweetened Condensed Milk in the Microwave?

Milk. Sugar. Microwave. Is it possible that these three simple items are all you need to make sweetened condensed milk at home in under 15 minutes?

It’s 9 p.m. and you’re suddenly inspired to whip up something sweet in the kitchen. You find a tantalizing recipe for Creamy Pineapple Pie, but you’re missing one of the key ingredients: sweetened condensed milk. While you could put it off until your weekly grocery run, you’d rather get to work on your masterpiece.

Well, we have good news (maybe). If you have milk, sugar and a microwave, it may be possible for you to make sweetened condensed milk at home in a matter of minutes. Keep reading as we put this microwave hack to the test and see how it stacks up to the stuff in the can.

What Is Sweetened Condensed Milk?

It’s exactly what it sounds like: milk that has been condensed to remove excess water from the milk solids, and then sweetened, most often with cane sugar. The sugar and milk solids caramelize as the milk is heated, which gives the condensed milk its golden color and faint caramel flavor. We use sweetened condensed milk in a variety of dessert recipes like pies, ice creams, fudge and baked goods.

Learn the difference between evaporated and condensed milk.

How to Make Sweetened Condensed Milk in a Microwave

homemade condensed milk ingredientsLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar

Instructions

In an extra-large, microwave-safe bowl, whisk together the sugar and milk. Then place the bowl, uncovered, in a microwave. Warm the mixture in the microwave in intervals of 1-2 minutes at 50-60% power. Repeat until the mixture remains frothy and bubbly on top after warming; two or three cycles in the microwave should suffice.

Remove and transfer to the refrigerator to cool. As the milk chills, it will thicken slightly.

Editor’s Note: If you have a lower wattage microwave (under 1000 watts), you probably don’t need to reduce the power as much or at all. Keep an eye on the milk as it heats to prevent it from bubbling over. This is how to find your microwave’s wattage.

Initial Thoughts

At a glance, the recipe makes sense. After all, the only ingredients in most popular brands of sweetened condensed milk are sugar and milk. The one question we had is if 3 to 6 minutes in a microwave would be enough to condense milk into the same thick, golden substance that comes out of the can.

The Results

What happened when we tested this Internet kitchen hack? Here are our findings.

comparison photo of homemade and canned condensed milk in glass bowlsLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Color:

There’s a clear difference between the canned and homemade sweetened condensed milk. The canned has a lovely pale, buttery yellow hue. Meanwhile, the homemade condensed milk is still whitish in color. It doesn’t seem like any caramelization of the sugar has occurred.

comparison photo of homemade and canned condensed milk on spoonsLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Consistency:

The canned sweetened condensed milk is definitely thicker than its homemade cousin, with a consistency of Elmer’s glue. On the other hand, the homemade condensed milk only thickened slightly once cooled. It went from the consistency of milk to a watery heavy cream.

Texture:

Canned sweetened condensed milk should be smooth, like icing, with a slight stickiness to the touch. Our homemade version was surprisingly silky smooth. There was no trace of undissolved sugar granules but it lacked any tackiness.

Taste:

Your sweetened condensed milk should be sweet and almost buttery with the beginnings of a caramel-like flavor. The best comparison we can provide is that of a Werther’s Original hard candy. While our homemade condensed milk tastes close, it’s not quite the same—it’s definitely sweet, but doesn’t have the same buttery caramel flavor. It still tastes more like raw sugar.

Troubleshooting

We attempted to microwave the milk and sugar longer to see if we could further condense the solution and get it to caramelize, but to no avail. Perhaps different results are possible depending on the model and wattage of your microwave. We suspect a stovetop method would yield better results since you can simmer the milk and sugar together at a lower heat, for longer, to get it to thicken and caramelize.

Final Thoughts

Overall, we could see this microwaved sweetened condensed milk working in a pinch. You could likely achieve successful results substituting this microwave version for canned sweetened condensed milk in some recipes. However, the final product would lack some of the richness that comes from the caramel flavors in the canned milk.

We also suspect that a recipe made with this homemade sweetened condensed milk may result in a thinner final product, so add a thickening agent, like cornstarch, or reduce the amount of condensed milk used altogether.

Overall, we recommend sticking with the canned condensed milk, if you have it in your pantry. It’s affordable and readily available at most grocery stores in the baking aisle!

Recipes Made with Sweetened Condensed Milk
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Note: Recipes submitted by our trusted contributors are created and tested in their kitchens.

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Lauren Habermehl
Lauren Habermehl is a recipe developer, food photographer and creator of the blog, Frydae. She is a prolific quoter of FRIENDS, lover of weekend DIY projects and procrastinating fitness enthusiast who enjoys exploring the Milwaukee-area with her husband, daughter and ugly mutt named Tyson Doodles.