Milk originally just came from cows. But because it's so hard to keep milk fresh, people started to invent ways to extend the shelf life of milk. And what's the main way to extend the shelf life of anything? Put it in a can! You will find that many recipes for Latin postres call for milk from a can. Why is this? Because since these recipes have been passed down from generation and generation, when the recipes were originally being created, people had to use the canned stuff because refrigeration hadn't been invented yet! Canned milk can last for years before going bad. So what types of canned milk are predominantly used? There are two types of milk that are used very frequently in Salvadoran postres. They are condensed milk, also called sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk. Let's take a look at both of them.
Although canned condensed milk is usually known by its more common term, sweetened condensed milk, condensed milk does not have to be sweet, and there are some products of condensed milk that do not have sugar - some countries, such as Germany, prefer them this way. In Latin American though, condensed milk is most always sweet. Condensed milk came into existence around the 1850's. The most common brand of sweetened condensed milk in Latin America is La Lechera, which is actually just the local Nestle brand. How do you make sweetened condensed milk? First, all water must be removed. Removing the water serves three purposes: it kills microorganisms, it decreases fat separation, and it inhibits oxidation. Once the water has been sucked out, if this is going to be a sweetened condensed milk, sugar is added. The sugar helps to increase osmotic pressure and thus further prevent microorganism growth. The finished product is then clarified and heated to 85-90 degrees Celsius for a few seconds. It is then canned, sterilized, and ready to be sold. Sweetened condensed milk can last for years in the heat, which is why it is such a great option for hot countries. One classic tipico that uses sweetened condensed milk is pastel de tres leches, or tres leches cake.
Evaporated milk is the second type of milk you will see in many Latin dessert recipes. Evaporated milk came into being around the 1870's. Evaporated milk is created by dehydrating 60% of the water from milk, then chilling it, stabilizing it, and canning it. Evaporated milk contains slightly less fat that regular milk as well. Evaporated milk has a shelf life of a few months to a few years depending on how well it was canned. You often will see evaporated milk used in recipes for doughs such as bollos de canela or bunuelos. Evaporated milk lends a more chewy, doughy texture to the flour. Evaporated milk is also used is tres leches cake.
- If you want to make something that calls for sweetened condensed milk but have evaporated milk only on hand, you can easily make it by doing the following: by added 1 part evaporated milk with 1 1/4 part sugar and heating in a saucepan
- If you only have evaporated milk on hand but want to make a recipe calling for real milk, you can substitute 3/4 cup evaporated milk and 1/4 cup water for every cup of milk called for.
- Sweetened condensed milk was first used in America during the civil war because there was no other way to keep milk fresh. After the war, soldiers went home and told their wives about their new favorite type of milk. It wasn't long before women were coming up with recipes using the sweet stuff.