Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Homemade Condensed Milk, and The Easiest No-Churn Rhubarb Ice Cream

I have lived in London long enough to not trust that first day in March when it is irrationally warm. I watch out instead for wild garlic in the fields and the first pink stalks of rhubarb in the markets. For me, the appearance of the earliest spring vegetables is the best indicator that the worst of the miserable months are over.

I got a tip off that the wild garlic's started, so last weekend consisted of a hike round the Heath with Sean (my favourite and only foraging partner), his super dog, and a new friend, fashion blogger Melody. We got back muddy (I'm sorry Melody) and starving, so we easily destroyed in minutes a whole wok of vermicelli fried with shiitake mushrooms, omelette strips and the freshly picked wild garlic. She had her big camera (again, sorry for the mud) and wrote a beautiful blog post about it so you can hop over to hers for more photos.

The next best thing about the change of seasons is the candy pink stalks of rhubarb. With that, I made ice cream (the third best thing about sunnier days).

This is the easiest ice cream you can make. There is no need for a fancy ice cream maker, or an alarm set at 20-minute intervals reminding you to hand-churn the mixture. The secret is condensed milk – a pantry essential in many Asian kitchens. The resulting ice cream might not be as perfectly smooth as a liquid nitrogen-blasted gelato, but it is good– wonderfully rich, creamy, and versatile enough to take on most flavours. It is quite sweet so I usually go for something tart as a contrast. Rhubarb is perfect now, but peaches and berries will be great in the later months.

serves 4-8
2 stalks rhubarb
1 tbsp organic butter
2 tbsp unrefined light brown sugar
600ml organic double cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
200ml organic condensed milk*

1. Chop up the rhubarb into small pieces. Cook with butter and sugar over medium heat, stirring once in a while, until the rhubarb is tender. Let cool.
2. Put the double cream and vanilla extract in a large bowl, and beat with an electric whisk until you get stiff peaks. Stir the condensed milk into the cooled rhubarb. Gently mix in a quarter of the whipped cream, then fold in the rest, until well-combined.
3. Pour into a loaf pan and cover with cling film. Freeze until firm, about 6 hours. For easy serving, take out and leave in fridge for 20 minutes or so before scooping.

*When I was in California last year, one of the most amazing discoveries I made was that you can get organic condensed milk at their insanely huge Wholefoods stores. In which case, please don’t waste your time with the following recipe.


Condensed milk is the sweetener of choice for many beverages, like Malaysian teh tarik and Vietnamese iced coffee. In many parts of Asia, where fresh milk is expensive or difficult to come by, condensed milk is seen as a wonderful shelf-stable solution. It might seem silly then, that I am writing a recipe for making your own condensed milk. However, if you, like me, are after the creamy caramel sweetness of condensed milk rather than its cheap convenience, it is definitely worthwhile making your own additive-free version, using milk from healthy cows. 

makes about 1 cup
500ml organic whole milk
200g unrefined light brown cane sugar
1 tbsp organic butter

1. Combine the milk and sugar in a saucepan, and bring to a steady simmer. Lower the heat so that it is barely simmering, and let cook for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from forming a 'skin' on top.
2. Stir the butter into the reduced milk mixture, before letting it cool completely. It should thicken further. If a 'skin' forms as it cools, simply lift off and discard. Pour into a clean jar and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Drizzle over toast/ add into coffees, teas and ice cream of course.