Start with a can of condensed milk, end with a smile.
Sweetened condensed milk is an ingredient I’ve long taken for granted. I often keep it in my pantry. Around the holidays, grocery stores stack towers of cans in baking-themed displays. It’s as if it always existed.
So it’s fun to see the current creative resurgence of condensed milk. It’s both a time-tested touchstone of midcentury recipes and a trendy ingredient hack to save a bunch of steps and shorten your shopping list. There’s another side to condensed milk, too: in many tropical countries where refrigeration was uncommon, condensed milk became a go-to for its ease of storage.
You’ll see examples of each condensed milk genre in this list, from old favorites to new approaches. Whatever the recipe, you know opening a can is the beginning of something special.
Layering Ritz crackers with a key lime pie-esque filling may seem a little odd, but it all comes together in this no-bake dessert with just 6 ingredients.
Get Recipe: The 5-Ingredient, 10-Minute, No-Bake Dessert of Your Dreams
A Latin American classic meets Indian flavors in this lovely reimagining of tres leches cake. Infuse a condensed milk syrup with spices and pour it over the sponge cake for a decadent dessert that’s practically inhaleable.
Get Recipe: Pistachio Cardamom Tres Leches Cake
Contributor Lany Phlong tells us that in Thailand, this refreshing drink is not made at home; instead, people buy it from street vendors as a part of their daily routine. But outside of Thailand, a restaurant is not your only point of access. Make it at home for a fresher drink that’ll make a big dip in your weekly beverage budget.
Get Recipe: Thai Iced Tea (Cha Yen)
We don’t want to bum you out with a spoiler, but condensed milk and two common ingredients (okay, it’s chilled cream and vanilla) come together for an ice cream that adults and kids likewise can pull off with very little active time.
Get Recipe: This 3-Ingredient Ice Cream Is the Easiest Dessert You’ll Make All Summer
Before this, my favorite banana pudding recipe was a tour de force involving many pans, bowls, and whisks. But this dead clever version has me rethinking my strategy. Condensed milk makes it all possible.
Get Recipe: This Is the Best No-Cook Banana Pudding Recipe
If you want key lime pie but need to feed a crowd, here’s your answer. Because doesn’t everyone want seconds of key lime pie anyway?
Get Recipe: Key Lime Bars
“Cassava cake is a scrumptious snack or dessert,” writes Berry Ann Quirino in this special family recipe. “At a Filipino party, you’ll likely find it at the center of the table with other goodies.” Betty Ann uses frozen pre-shredded cassava and coconut for ease. Condensed milk makes the cake custardy and rich.
Get Recipe: Cassava Cake
Traditionally, condensed milk isn’t part of this cooling Mexican drink, but in this recipe it sweetens the horchata and adds that certain something.
Get Recipe: Horchata
A fixture of holiday cookie trays, these morsel-packed bars go by a few names, including Hello Dollys. Condensed milk is the glue that melds the chips, coconut, and nuts over the graham cracker base.
Get Recipe: 7-Layer Magic Bars
A magic bar variation with peanut butter plus salty and crunchy pretzels? It just might supersede the traditional version of magic bars.
Get Recipe: Peanut Butter Pretzel Magic Bars
Chocolate pervades every layer of this suave and sexy tres leches cake.
Get Recipe: Chocolate Tres Leches Cake
We don’t need no stinkin’ ice cream makers! It’s peach cobbler a la mode, all in one super-simple dessert.
Get Recipe: No-Churn Peach Cobbler Ice Cream
A blender and five minutes are all you need to make this South American drink to quench your thirst when it’s hot and balmy. Blend the lime—peel and all—with water, sugar, and condensed milk, then strain and serve over ice.
Get Recipe: This 3-Ingredient Limonada Is the Most Refreshing Drink You'll Make This Summer
A microwave. Chopped chocolate. Condensed milk. The best ice cream sundaes ever are just minutes away.
Get Recipe: This 2-Ingredient Hot Fudge Is My Family’s Ticket to Ice Cream Heaven
The graham cracker crust and lemony custard filling get a quick stint in the oven, and then bam! Add whipped cream, chill, and this beauty is done.
Get Recipe: Lemon Icebox Pie
The boots-and-sweaters crowd often eagerly awaits the arrival of fall so they can indulge in their favorite seasonal delights. But really, is there ever a wrong time for pumpkin spice? We say no.
Get Recipe: No-Churn Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream
I know a few people who annually forgo birthday cake in favor of key lime pie. Considering the charms of this creamy, sweet, and tart classic, I endorse their preference one hundred percent.
Get Recipe: The Best Key Lime Pie
Contributor Karishma Pradhan married a traditional Indian dessert with winter squash inspired by her New England home. Ladoos can vary in character; these are creamy and fudgy, almost like bon bons.
Get Recipe: Pumpkin and Coconut Ladoo
In the classification of low-lift pies, banoffee pie is the UK’s counterpart to key lime pie…only with a completely different flavor profile. A layer of dulce de leche (the Latin American caramelized condensed milk that you can buy ready-made in cans) sets off the sliced fresh bananas and whipped cream.
Get Recipe: Banoffee Pie
Christmas is the time when Puerto Ricans bust out this chilled, spiced punch made with condensed milk, cream of coconut, and (of course) rum.
Get Recipe: Coquito (Puerto Rican Coconut Eggnog)
Yes, you can make your own condensed milk! It takes a bit of time but the ingredient list is short, and the results will make you rethink the canned version. It shines in a cup of hot coffee or our Thai iced tea recipe.
Get Recipe: Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk