Many years ago I wrote about using condensed milk to make ice cream.

Shock! Horror! Condensed milk was not something a food writer was supposed to admit to. How times change.

I have always kept a few tins of the sweetened milk in the store cupboard for making a very simple recipe, based on traditional Maltese ice cream, which I came to love; cinnamon, for example, or chocolate and orange, and the divine fig version.

Fresh cream used to be very difficult to come by in the islands and so through necessity a distinctive product was born. It was probably first invented in nanna's kitchen, as a summer treat for the grandchildren, but there are commercial versions available now. Once tasted, you'll realise that this ice cream is a close cousin of the Indian kulfi.

Originally, I also used to use evaporated milk but now, with the availability of decent fresh custard in supermarket chill cabinets (I highly recommend Lidl's version), I combine the condensed milk with custard, adding a little fresh milk or cream to lighten the mixture.

Churning or stirring is not needed as the mixture contains little water to form crystals and a beautifully smooth texture is achieved when frozen. Because it is so dense, the ice cream does need to be removed from the freezer a good 15 minutes before serving.

To this very easy base recipe, one can ring the changes infinitely. One of my favourite summer versions is scented with rosewater and flavoured with rose petal jelly, to which I also sometimes add chopped pistachios - a real breath of the southern Mediterranean.

And a current favourite combines apricot or nectarine purée with the base. Other recent versions have seen the addition of a couple of tablespoons of tangerine marmalade and some dark chocolate. And I highly recommend my pear and ginger version; chopped crystallised ginger and poached pear purée added to the base.

You can also freeze the ice cream in balls, then add them to crisp cones or freeze in a shallow tray then cut into rectangular portions to sandwich between wafers. If you have ice lolly moulds, any of these mixtures can be frozen in them, and then dipped in sprinkles, melted chocolate, what you will. Rose ice lollies dipped in white chocolate then crushed pistachios will go down very well after a long lazy summer lunch or barbecue. Trust me.

To make the ice cream

500 ml vanilla custard

400 ml condensed milk

100 -150 ml whole milk or single cream


Cinco de mayo ice cream - replace the condensed milk with a jar of dulce de leche. Stir in some freshly grated cinnamon and top with curls of dark chocolate to serve.

Lemon and tonka bean with grappa - add grated zest of a lemon, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, a grated tonka bean and a splash of grappa.

Rose and pistachio with cassis - add chopped pistachio and a splash of cassis to the rose ice cream recipe.

Pear and ginger - leave out the milk or cream as the pear purée provides the extra liquid. This is true of any version in which you use fruit purée.

Maple and pecan with bourbon - add toasted chopped pecan nuts, 2 to 3 tablespoons of maple syrup and a splash of bourbon.

Salt caramel - replace the plain condensed milk with caramel condensed milk and add flaked salt crystals to taste.

Cook's note: Before freezing, the mixture will taste very sweet. This will be tamed somewhat in the freezing, but it is still a rich, sweet dessert. And only use a splash of spirit or liqueur; too much will prevent the mixture from freezing. You can always splash on more when serving.

Rose ice cream (serves 6-8)

1 can (400 ml) condensed milk

400 ml fresh custard

250 ml whipping or single cream

2 tablespoons rose petal jelly, melted

2 tablespoons rose water

1 tablespoon powdered rose petals – available in Indian food shops

dash of red food colouring

Crystallised or fresh rose petals


Empty all of the dairy products into a bowl. Whisk well to combine the different textures. Mix the melted rose petal jelly with the rose water and powdered rose petals, then mix thoroughly into the milk mixture. Pour into a suitable lidded container and freeze for several hours. When ready to serve, scoop into dishes and decorate each portion with a crystallised rose petal.

©Frances Bissell 2022. All rights reserved.