Fudge is a delicious, decadent, and delightful dessert. Its rich chocolatey flavor and smooth, creamy texture is unlike anything else in the world.
Many traditional fudge recipes call for an ingredient known as condensed milk, or sweetened condensed milk: essentially, canned milk that has had its water content evaporated and is pretty heavily sweetened to preserve and flavor it.
But what if you don’t want condensed milk in your fudge, for any of a variety of reasons? Can fudge be made without it, and will it still taste as good?
The good news is that you absolutely can have the fudge without the condensed milk. What’s more, it usually doesn’t complicate your cooking process very much to make the switch.
First, we’ll look at the basics of both fudge and condensed milk: what they are made of, how they are made, and why you might want or need to skip the condensed milk especially.
Then we’ll dive into substitutions for condensed milk, recipes that don’t call for condensed milk at all, and finally, we’ll discuss vegan fudge.
Typical Ingredients in Fudge
There are a lot of different recipes and ways to make fudge, which is great because this means that it is easily customizable according to taste preferences and dietary needs.
There are four basic elements in fudge: chocolate, some kind of sweetener (usually sugar), some kind of fat (usually butter), and dairy (milk, often sweetened condensed milk).
Most fudge recipes will call for some form of all four of these, even if sometimes the elements are already combined into one ingredient; for example, if frosting is used to make fudge, it already contains sugar, fat, and sometimes even the chocolate.
Condensed milk can serve as both the dairy and the sweetener, though usually you will have to include another.
What Is Condensed Milk and Why Is it Used?
It’s pretty simple, actually. Condensed milk is just normal milk taken from a cow that has had all or most of the water removed: the milk is simmered over low heat until the water evaporates.
Next, sugar or other sweetener is added to the milk, both to sweeten it and to prolong its shelf life.
Sweetened condensed milk is an ingredient in many baking recipes. It helps baked goods turn out creamy and have a more solid consistency, and of course, it also helps sweeten them.
Sweet, creamy, solid, and smooth — that description sounds like the perfect fudge. There’s a lot of good reasons to make fudge with sweetened condensed milk, but next we’re going to cover the reasons not to do so.
Reasons Not to Use Condensed Milk
There are more than a few reasons why you might not want to use condensed milk, whether in fudge or anything else. After all, you may see this ingredient pop up in your next key lime pie or fruit tart recipe.
The first reason to skip it is practical: condensed milk obviously contains dairy, so anyone with a dairy allergy or intolerance can’t eat it or anything cooked with it. In addition, it is off limits to vegans since they choose not to eat any products derived from animals.
Condensed milk is also high in calories. Fudge is not exactly a low-calorie treat, but if you can reduce it in any way, that is a good thing. After all, now you can eat more of it!
Condensed milk is very sweet. Again, you want your fudge to taste sweet, but some people find that adding condensed milk makes fudge taste overpoweringly sugary and you lose the deep chocolate flavor.
Finally, some (but not all) brands of sweetened condensed milk contain high fructose corn syrup and/or non-natural ingredients. While there is some disagreement about how harmful these elements are in relatively small amounts, many people are trying to minimize their intake of them as a precaution.
What Can Replace Condensed Milk in Fudge?
There are a lot of ways to make fudge without the condensed milk. There are fudge recipes that substitute regular milk for condensed milk; these typically will include another type of sweetener, such as extra sugar, powdered sugar, or vanilla extract.
You can also make very easy fudge using store-bought ready-made frosting, such as the kind that you use on cakes and cupcakes. Keep in mind, though, that these frostings typically contain several non-natural ingredients, so if minimizing those is a reason why you’re eliminating sweetened condensed milk, this is not a good method for you.
If you’re hoping to just substitute the condensed milk in your existing recipe for fudge or any other dish, your best option is cream of coconut (not coconut cream, which is an entirely different thing). Keep in mind, though, that it will add a bit of coconut flavor to your fudge.
Rather than substituting cream of coconut for sweetened condensed milk in a recipe, you’d be better off looking for a fudge recipe that specifically calls for cream of coconut.
In addition, there are food companies that make sweetened condensed coconut milk, which will be a more exact substitution. You may have to visit a vegan supermarket or order this item online.
Make Your Own Condensed Milk
You can also make your own condensed milk. This is especially good if you’ve stumbled upon this article because you have a fudge craving and a good recipe, but no sweetened condensed milk in the house.
You’ll need to find a good recipe for the condensed milk (look for one that has been reviewed well by multiple people), but essentially you combine milk and sugar and simmer slowly, allowing it to reduce by about half. Then you may need to add butter and/or pure vanilla extract.
You can also make your own using other types of milk, such as soy, rice, oat, and almond. Make sure that you follow a recipe that specifically calls for whatever type of milk that you plan to use.
Is Vegan Fudge a Thing?
Yes! There are many good ways to make fudge without ingredients derived from animals.
If you’re making vegan fudge, it is a better idea to find a specifically vegan fudge recipe rather than to swap out your dairy and animal ingredients with vegan alternatives.
Keep in mind that in order to make vegan fudge, you will also need to replace the butter. Luckily, there are several substitutes for butter available, but they often are not 1:1.
There are vegan recipes that use nut butter, coconut cream, and cocoa powder, and there are others that use vegan butter and soy milk. In the next section, we’ll look at some more recipes that at least leave out the condensed milk.
Sample Recipes for Fudge Without Condensed Milk
We’ve collected some good, highly rated recipes for making fudge without condensed milk. Let’s run through some fudge scenarios to help you choose a recipe to begin making your own condensed milk-free fudge.
As we said above, the problem that has led you to this article might simply be that you don’t have any sweetened condensed milk in the pantry. Unless you bake often, it isn’t something that a lot of people have lying around.
Speaking of reduced fat, there are even low-fat or fat-free recipes for fudge out there. No promises on the flavor, though!
For our friends with a lactose intolerance, you can try one of the vegan recipes above or any of a number of other vegan fudge recipes. If your system can tolerate butter but not regular milk, try a recipe that calls for soy milk.
Follow Your Recipe Exactly
A recipe for fudge made without condensed milk needs to replicate not only its taste, but also what condensed milk does for the texture of the fudge. This can be difficult to achieve and often involves particular instructions.
For that reason, it is very important that whichever recipe you choose, you make sure that you follow the instructions exactly. Often, the methods used are designed to manipulate the chemical reactions between the ingredients to yield a certain outcome.
Your Final Step: Enjoy Your Fudge!
The bottom line is that fudge is almost as versatile as it is delicious, with lots of different ways to prepare it.
Whether you decide to go with a vegan recipe, substitute your condensed milk, make your own, or try some other creative method, the most important part of baking anything is enjoying it. Plan to test a couple of different fudge recipes until you find the perfect treat for you and your loved ones!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.