How to Scald Milk (and Why) for Fundamental Friday

How to Scald Milk

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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.

 

Click NEXT for the Step-by-Step Tutorial on How to Scald Milk

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Comments

  1. Jo-Anne says

    love the “Your milk doesn’t bubble around the edges.” solutions! You always make me chuckle. I still, out of habit, scald milk when I’m making bread from the old cookbooks too. It gives me time to get the rest of the ingredients together. Maybe that’s why the ol’ timers did that too!

  2. says

    What a practical post! One of my old-timey friends told me that the skin that forms when you scald milk should be removed as that’s the part that can interfere with yeast or yogurt cultures. I always scald milk before making yogurt, but never before making bread.

    • says

      Thanks! I think the “skin” rule was certainly true before high-heat Pasteurization. I think it’s probably just a matter of tradition these days. But I also like the rule “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” so if it’s working for you, carry on!

  3. Kathy Tobacco says

    Thank you so much for this article. I have a favorite bread recipe that calls for high heat powdered non-fat milk which is very expensive for a home baker to buy by the pound. I understand that bakeries buy it in 50 lb bags and the price is much more reasonable in bulk. I have made my favorite recipe with regular powdered non-fat milk from the grocery store and honestly I cannot tell a difference but since I want the best possible product I often swing for the more expensive high heat treated milk that is specifically made for bakeries. Strangely enough this favorite recipe also calls for regular cold milk from the fridge. From experience and reading your article I would venture to guess that the powdered milk is just as good as the high heat bakers milk. Would you concur? Why do they sell high heat milk? I hope you will because agree that the high heat milk is an unnecessary expense because, it will save me about 75 cents a loaf on my favorite sandwich bread. Baking is my hobby but I want it to be as economical as possible as long as it doesn’t compromise the bread. Thank you so much for any help or advice you can offer. I don’t mind scalding as much as I do paying extra.

    • says

      Hi, Kathy. 🙂 Honestly, since both regular powdered milk and high heat powdered milk are dry, all the enzymatic activity would cease regardless. You really only have to heat something beyond 140F-ish to kill off the enzymes. Say 165F just to be safe. That is far from high heat. Someone more familiar with high heat powdered milk might be able to shed more light, but just off the cuff, I’d say you’ll be totally fine using the store-bought kind. You tested it yourself and say that there is no difference that you can detect, so trust yourself and save 75 cents a loaf. That is what I would do. Here’s a discussion of high heat dry milk I found on The Fresh Loaf (I highly recommend that site if you are an avid baker–a wealth of information and a very active forum): http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/32239/bakers-dry-milk

  4. Sherry says

    Thank you so much for this articulate and helpful article. I was puzzled over this in the recipe I’m working from and now all my questions are answered!

    • says

      It’s not *ideal* to have the milk boil just because it can sometimes make it curdle–less of an issue if you’re using whole milk rather than 2% or skim, it’s not a deal breaker if it didn’t curdle. Just let it cool down to warm before proceeding with your recipe and you should be fine, Michelle!

  5. Ed Itor says

    Hello Jennifer –

    Thank you for your scalding wisdom. I’m still on the fence as to whether or not scalding is for me.

    On another note – there appears to be a rogue ‘st’ in your article (right after “In older books,”). My bet is that your original sentence was “most of the time” rather than “st the time”.

    Best –

    Ed

  6. Rob Carignan says

    Thank you very much for this explanation. My mother gave me a cookbook from WWII, “The Victory American Woman’s Cook Book Wartime Edition”, and I’m enjoying it. Many recipes call for scalded milk and though I have heard of the term I though it meant boiling. No need to scalded milk, just warm it up.

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