FOOD & DRINK / On the shelf: Condensed milk

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RICH and almost unbearably sweet, condensed milk has a way of finding its way to the back of a shelf. What can you do with all those spare tins? We continue our series on ways of using up ingredients originally bought for a specific dish.

In its day condensed milk was the new technology, the milk sweetened and condensed by boiling to one-third of its original volume. Reconstituted with water, it was the milk our boys put in their tea during the Normandy landings, and was used in many a rice pudding at home.

It is now desperately unfashionable except in Indian restaurants where it is the basis of sticky desserts. It's a godsend to them, since it is quicker than concentrating milk in the traditional way - slowly simmering it in a wide pan until the liquid evaporates, leaving a sweet paste of milk sugars (lactose).

With condensed milk it is child's play to make Indian coconut sweets. Mix enough grated coconut (fresh coconut is tastier than dessicated) with a tin of condensed milk until it is firm. Shape into small balls between your palms, roll in more coconut and leave the sweets on a plate to dry out.

In some South American countries they make a toffee-rich dessert by simmering an unopened tin of condensed milk for 2 to 4 hours. The sugar caramelises to a brown sticky goo. It is also used in the filling for Banoffee pie; that's caramelised condensed milk, topped with sliced banana and whipped cream. Sheer gluttony.

This lemon meringue tart, however, is not at all Billy Bunter-ish. It is a family favourite of the restaurateur and earl, Richard Bradford.


Serves about 8

1lb/450g biscuits (half digestive, half ginger nuts)

3oz/85g butter

2 tins condensed milk

5 eggs, whites and yolks separated

juice of 4 or 5 lemons

grated peel of one lemon

3 heaped tablespoons caster sugar

Make the tart base by crushing the biscuits and mixing in a bowl with the butter. Spread on to the base of a 9-10in flan tin, pressing or rolling it flat. Bake for 15 minutes in a medium oven at 350F/180C/Gas 4.

Mix the condensed milk with the lemon juice and grated rind. In a bowl whisk the egg yolks till they thicken, and stir into the condensed milk mixture. Pour this filling into the tart case.

Whisk the egg white, gradually adding the sugar, and spread in peaks over the tart filling. Bake in a slightly cooler oven, at 300F/150C/Gas 2, for 10 minutes or more until the peaks start to turn brown. Remove and chill in the fridge for 4-5 hours before serving.