Question: I've heard you can make caramel by boiling an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk. Is this safe?
Answer: No, an unopened can should never be heated in boiling water or the oven. We last printed this precaution in the June 19, 1986, "You Asked About . . . " column, so it's no doubt time to remind people that although some consumers have used the method for a long time, it is hazardous.
Borden Inc., manufacturer of Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk, has developed and tested the following three safe and convenient methods of caramelizing their product:
OVEN METHOD: Pour one (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk into a 9-inch pie plate. Cover with foil; place in larger shallow pan. Fill larger pan with hot water to just below pie plate rim. Bake at 425 degrees 1 1/2 hours or until thick and caramel-colored. Beat until smooth.
STOVE-TOP METHOD: Pour one (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk into top of double boiler; place over boiling water. Over low heat, simmer one to 1 1/2 hours or until thick and caramel-colored. Beat until smooth.
MICROWAVE METHOD: Pour one (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk into a 2-quart glass measure. Cook on MEDIUM (50% power) 4 minutes, stirring briskly every two minutes until smooth. Cook on MEDIUM-LOW (30% power) 12 to 18 minutes or until very thick and caramel-colored, stirring briskly every two minutes until smooth.
To reheat in microwave: Place desired amount of caramel in a 1- or 2-cup glass measure. Heat on HIGH (100% power) 40 to 50 seconds or until warm, stirring after 20 seconds.
Note: Microwave ovens vary in wattage and power output; cooking times may need to be adjusted.
Borden suggests enjoying caramelized sweetened condensed milk in the following ways:
--As a pudding with whipped cream and shaved chocolate
--As a topping for ice cream, pound cake or angel food cake
--Combined with whipped cream to fill cream puffs or layer in parfaits
--As a frosting or filling for cookies, cakes and tortes
--Spooned over baked apples, poached pears, rice pudding, bread pudding
They also offer the following variations:
--For Spicy Caramel Topping: Caramelize one (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk; stir in 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract; add water to desired consistency; mix well.
--For Nutty Caramel Topping: Caramelize one (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk; stir in one teaspoon vanilla, 1/3 cup chopped toasted nuts and two tablespoons flaked coconut.
--For Chocolate Caramel Topping: Caramelize one (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk; stir in one teaspoon vanilla, one (1-ounce) square unsweetened, melted chocolate and 1/3 cup chopped nuts, if desired. Mix well.
Address questions on food preparation to You Asked About ..., Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. Personal replies cannot be given.