Q: What are the advantages or disadvantages of condensed milk over cream?
—Curtis Tuckey, Chicago
A: The biggest difference, I think, between cream and condensed milk can be found in the latter's alternative name: "Sweetened condensed milk." It is a mixture of whole milk and sugar "heated until about 60 percent of the water evaporates,'' according to "The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion," and "the resulting condensed mixture is extremely sticky and sweet."
Evaporated milk is unsweetened condensed milk. You'll find both side-by-side in the supermarket bakery aisle; check labels closely to make sure you're buying the right one.
Both condensed milk and evaporated milk have a thick, creamy texture. I've substituted both for cream (and vice versa) in pie recipes. Just remember condensed milk is already sweetened so cut back on any added sugar.
These condensed milks also have a somewhat "cooked" flavor as opposed to the taste of fresh cream or milk. I don't know if I'd want to drink either straight from the can without a few exploratory sips first.
Condensed and evaporated milks have the advantage over fresh cream in that they can be safely stored for months without needing refrigeration. This was particularly useful in the days before electricity or modern refrigerators when dairy products would spoil rather rapidly — especially in hot climes or seasons.
You can, of course, use condensed milk year-round in baked goods, desserts, coffee and drinks.
Speaking of drinks, curious tipplers planning a big to-do, such as for the upcoming Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3, may want to try this ponche crema, an egg nog-like drink from "Culinaria the Caribbean: A Culinary Discovery." (Ponche Crèma is also the name of a cream liqueur brand in Venezuela.) You'll note in contains both evaporated and condensed milks — and raw eggs. You might want to consider using pasteurized eggs if that's a concern for you.
To make ponche crema: Blend 12 eggs, 3 cans (12 ounces each) evaporated milk, 2 cans (14 ounces each) condensed milk, 1 cup rum, 1 teaspoon vanilla. Pour over cracked ice. Add a dash of Angostura bitters. Grate fresh nutmeg over the top.
Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.