I'm glad you found me, because I'm going to teach you everything you need to know about how to scald milk.
This is only Fundamental Friday post number three, and I am already so glad I started this series, because it seems like everyone has a request! Yay!
Today's topic: How to Scald Milk, and maybe even more importantly, why we scald milk. I wonder if you're here because you want to make some yeast rolls? Many older recipes for soft dinner rolls call for scalding milk. Read on to find out why, but first,
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First of all, scalding is kind of a scary term. We think of molten coffee causing second and third degree burns. It was scalding hot. The child nearly scalded herself with the tea kettle. Scary stuff.
The definitions of the word scald are partly to blame, because scald can mean both OMGBurningHot, or it can mean "heat to just below a boil." And that second definition is the one meant when folks talk about scalding milk.
Scald, as it relates to food (specifically dairy) is also a fairly old term. Back before Pasteurization, milk did have to be scalded to eliminate enzymatic activity, to kill off bacteria and to denature (unravel) the proteins that can inhibit yeast action in bread dough. Now that milk is routinely Pasteurized, bacteria and enzymatic activity are not so much an issue since Pasteurization is a heating process that shuts down most enzymatic activity and kills most bacteria. But, since nothing is ever simple, most Pasteurization processes involve holding the milk at a temperature that is below scalding temperature (180F) for certain periods of time. For example, Organic Valley (love their half and half in my coffee!) Pasteurize their milk by holding it at 161F for 15 seconds, and this is 19F below scalding temperature. It's also 21 degrees above the temperature at which heated foods are deemed safe, so most likely, all bacteria are killed (they quote 99.9%) as well as the enzymes. And again, most likely the proteins have denatured enough to not mess with your yeast in your bread recipes.
Any dairy product that says "Ultra High Temperature Pasteurization" or UHT has been heated to a billion degrees. Oh, okay. Not a billion. 280F, actually. Still, no respectable enzyme or bacteria would be able to withstand that amount of heat. Besides, that's way over the scalding temperature, so using UHT dairy without scalding is probably fine.
I know I seem to be hemming and hawing a bit, using words and phrases like probably and most likely, but there's also tradition to consider. And there's also erring on the side of Extreme Caution. First, tradition. Many tried and true bread recipes, especially in older cookbooks, specify "milk, scalded and cooled" or some variant thereof. In older books, at the time the recipes were written, the scalding really was necessary to kill off any nasty bacteria that might be lurking, to switch off the enzymes as well as denature the proteins that don't play nicely with yeast. But in newer recipes, it's really more a matter of tradition as well as of expediency. If you want your bread to rise faster, starting with warm liquid rather than cold is going to speed up your process since the overall dough temperature, and therefore that of the yeast, will be raised.
Next, caution. In all honesty, I never scald my milk before using it, and I've never run into any issues. Still, if you want to make absolutely sure that you don't have any bacteria or foreign yeast or something lurking in your milk, you have come to the right place to learn how to scald milk. And if you're making yogurt or cheese, scalding--and possibly even reducing the water content by holding it at higher temperatures so some of the water can evaporate--is necessary.
If you're not dealing with cultures (yogurt, cheese, etc) and you are wondering whether or not to scald your milk before using, I'd say not to worry. But I'd also say that if you are worried, heat organic milk or any dairy that is traditionally Pasteurized (161F for 15 seconds) to the scalding point, or 180F. Any milk or dairy that says UHT or "Ultra-Pasteurized" you can use as is. If you want to warm it up a bit before using, that's perfectly fine, too. You just don't necessarily have to scald it.
It looks like I've talked about the why before the how. Sorry. Let's do that now, shall we?
Way back at the beginning of the post, I talked a bit about why scalding is scary, and it's mostly the connotation: Eeek! She scalded herself when the pasta pot fell over! Yikes, right? But remember, when we talk about scalding milk, we mean to heat it to below the boiling point. Granted, that's still pretty hot, but since you don't bring it to a boil, as long as you are watching it, nothing awful is going to happen. Honest.
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