If you love a good flan or Vietnamese coffee, then you’re probably a fan of sweetened condensed milk. This stuff is made by combining evaporated milk with a high percentage of sugar. If you don’t have any condensed milk on hand, you can cobble up a dairy- or nondairy-based substitute easily enough.

The Right Ratio

Sweetened condensed milk is shelf-stable and won’t curdle in acidic recipes because it contains enough sugar to stabilize and preserve milk, which would ordinarily be perishable. Whole milk would need about 20 percent sugar by weight; a nondairy milk would need around 45 percent sugar by weight once the milk is fully concentrated.

If you’re starting from scratch with real dairy milk or a substitute such as soy or rice milk, you need to reduce the milk before you add the sugar.

Liquid-Milk Substitutes

Things You'll Need

To make what’s equivalent to one can of sweetened condensed milk, you’ll need about 1 cup concentrated milk. If you’re using whole liquid milk, start with 2 to 2 1/2 cups—the more you use, the richer the result—and reduce it to 1 cup with a gentle, slow simmer, stirring regularly so it doesn’t scorch. Then stir in 2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar. The smaller quantity works in most recipes, but if you want more authentic condensed milk, go with more sugar.

You can also use canned evaporated milk, no stove time needed. Just use a blender or “stick” blender to dissolve the sugar.

Using Dry Milk Powder

Things You'll Need

Another simple substitution begins with dry milk powder, the ultimate form of concentrated milk. For every can of sweetened condensed milk your recipe calls for, you’ll need 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dry milk powder and 1/3 cup hot water. Milk powder is made from nonfat milk, so add the fat back in with 2 to 3 tablespoons melted butter. Add 2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar, and blend all ingredients until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved.

Dairy-Free Substitutions

Things You'll Need

If you don’t eat dairy products, you can make your own nondairy condensed milk with soy, rice, nut, or coconut milk. Reduce it just as you would dairy milk. Simmer 2 1/2 to 3 cups nondairy milk, stirring regularly, until it reduces to 1 cup. Then add 2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar. (For a vegan version, use raw or unfiltered sugar since some refined sugars are made with bone char from cattle.)

Nondairy milks vary pretty widely, so if one doesn’t do justice to your recipe, try again with a different type.

Store-Bought Vegan Alternative

In recipes where its flavor is appropriate, at least one off-the-shelf product might be a suitable replacement for sweetened condensed milk: creamed coconut. (Not coconut cream, which is a very different product.) Thick, rich, and heavily sweetened, creamed coconut makes a fine substitute in fillings for cakes, pies, and bar cookies. In candy-making it may or may not work, depending on your recipe, so be sure to make a test batch before you rely on it.