If you’re offered tea or coffee in a Russian home, you may see a blue-and-white can of sgushyonka (“s-goosh-YON-ka”), or sweetened condensed milk, on the table. Nicknamed after the Russian term for condensed milk (sgushyonnoye moloko), this versatile sweetener can be stirred into a hot drink, slathered onto a stack of bliny, or savored by the spoonful.
Sweetened condensed milk was developed for mass production in the United States in the 1850s and has since been embraced by cooks around the world. But it found a particular culinary niche in the USSR after World War II, where it became a prized product in times of shortage and a key ingredient in many beloved Soviet desserts. Perhaps most ingeniously, it helped glue leftover bread, cookie, and cake crumbs into a thrifty no-bake treat called kartoshka.
Boiled inside the can, sgushyonka will caramelize and turn into dulce de leche. (Just make sure the can remains totally immersed in water while it cooks—otherwise it may explode, and its gooey contents will wind up splattered across your kitchen!) This thick, boiled version is spread between the layers of a honey cake called medovik and the halves of a walnut-shaped cookie called oreshki.