Christmas time is treat time. Even if you rarely bake, this is the time of year you might be tempted to start your oven and whip up some dough.

Christmas baking doesn’t have to be hard, you just have to plan. One of the things that I like to keep in my pantry to make last minute treats is sweetened condensed milk. This combination of evaporated milk and sugar processed until its creamy goodness is thick and smooth is the beginning of many a delicious treat.

Sweetened condensed milk was first introduced in 1856 as a safe, shelf-stable milk product by Gail Borden. He was interested in finding such a product because milk at that time was unpasteurized and responsible for lots of illness. While the introduction of the product was met with a bit of wariness, the Union Army ordered the new product to feed men in the field during the Civil War. When they returned home the product was familiar to them and its place in the American diet was secured.

As progress was made in dairy safety by implementing improved sanitation at dairy farms, pasteurization and refrigeration, sweetened condensed milk became a staple for making sweet treats.

The cookie that I make often make for Christmas is a classic from the folks at Borden who still make Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk. My grandmother loved these simple coconut macaroons and they are so easy you can make them when you are very short on time but still need a treat for a cookie exchange or hostess gift.

The bars I often make for Christmas are on Gregg’s favorite list. They are the 7-Layer Bars that were in almost every fund-raising cookbook in the 1970s and I made them the first time for Christmas shortly after we were married. The sweetened condensed milk that is poured over the other 6 layers bakes to a thick caramel topping that is absolutely delicious.

If you love apricots and coconut together, Apricot Coconut Balls are what you need to have in your sweet Christmas stash. Whether you sprinkle them with powdered sugar or coat them with chocolate, they are delicious.

Over the last several years, I have also found that a can of sweetened condensed milk added to candy coating makes a creamier product that I prefer. The Creamy Almond Candy recipe is an example of how this works and I have used the same process with other recipes and I am very happy with the results.

All of these recipes are found at the Eagle Brand website – You will find many more helpful ideas to make your Christmas baking a pleasure.


1 can (14-ounce) sweetened condensed milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 packages (7 ounces each) flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk, vanilla and almond extract. Stir in coconut. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets. With spoon slightly flatten each mound. Bake 15 to 17 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven. Top with half of a candied green or red cherry.

7-Layer Bars

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup butterscotch chips

1 1/2 cups coconut

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 can (14-ounce) sweetened condensed milk

Melt butter in a 13-inch-by-9-inch-2-inch pan. Sprinkle crumbs evenly over butter. Layer top with chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut and walnuts. Pour condensed milk over the whole thing. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes; cool; cut into bars.

Recipe Note: I always use a spatula to make sure the graham crackers are evenly spread over the bottom of the pan. If I don’t, the uneven crust makes for misshapen bars.

Apricot Coconut Balls

1 package (6-ounce) or 1 1/2 cups dried apricots

2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

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2 cups flaked coconut

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 teaspoons all-vegetable shortening

Chop apricots by pulsing in a food processor until finely chopped or mincing on cutting board with sharp knife. Mix apricots and coconut in a large bowl until well blended. Stir in sweetened condensed milk until evenly blended. Shape into 1-inch balls. Chill thoroughly. Microwave chocolate chips and shortening in an uncovered microwave-safe bowl on HIGH power for 1 minute or until chips are melted and smooth when stirred. Dip balls in melted chocolate to coat. Remove with a fork, allowing excess chocolate to drip off before placing on a sheet of waxed paper. Let stand until chocolate is set. Store in refrigerator.

Recipe Note: I use dark chocolate chips to coat these and I don’t recommend using milk chocolate chips. Even the semi-sweet can be a bit too sweet but the dark chocolate is perfect.

Creamy Almond Candy

3 cups whole almonds, toasted

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 can (14-ounce) Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 1/2pound vanilla-flavored candy coating

Melt candy coating, sweetened condensed milk and salt in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat. Stir in almond extract, then almonds. Spread evenly into a parchment lined 15-inch-by-10-inch sheet pan. Chill until firm. Turn onto cutting board. Peel off paper; cut into triangles or squares. Store tightly covered.

Recipe Note: You can easily do the melting in the microwave oven. Just heat until candy coating is melted and easily combined with the sweetened condensed milk and smooth. To toast almonds, spread in a single layer in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Cook over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until nuts are lightly browned. Remove from skillet immediately. Cool before using.

Quote of the Week: Baking is love made visible. -- Anonymous

Ellen Lund

of Fremont is a freelance food columnist.



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