Here’s Why Some Baking Recipes Ask You to Scald Milk — and How to Actually Do It

It’s an old-timey technique, but it’s still crucial to some baking recipes.

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Black rustic saucepan filled with milk on a cutting board and a jar with different shapes and colors italian pasta, on a wooden table.

Photo by: Daniela Simona Temneanu / EyeEm/Getty Images

Daniela Simona Temneanu / EyeEm/Getty Images

Have you ever read a recipe that asks you to scald milk? Maybe it was a breadmaking recipe, or maybe it was a recipe handed down from your great grandmother. What exactly is scalding and how do you do it?

The term scalding might sound old-timey to you, like something a 19th century British lady would use to describe the temperature of her tea. And, well, that’s because it is an older term. Back in the day before pasteurization, recipes used to call for you to heat up milk — or to scald it — in order to kill bacteria. Nowadays with pasteurization, scalding milk whenever you bake with it obviously isn’t necessary. But you might still see it in some recipes, and that’s because it serves a few other purposes.

What Is Scalding?

In short, scalding means to heat up milk until right before it boils, then cool it to room temperature.

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Milk pouring into pot

Photo by: Manny Rodriguez/Getty Images

Manny Rodriguez/Getty Images

How Do You Scald Milk Quickly?

1. Add the cold milk to a wide, shallow, heavy bottomed saucepan. The more surface area there is, the faster the milk will heat up.

2. Heat the saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently.

3. The milk is scalded with small bubbles appear around the outside of the saucepan, or the temperature registers 180 to 185 degrees F.

4. Cool the milk for about 10 minutes, until it dips below 138 degrees F (otherwise it can kill the yeast in a bread recipe.

How Do You Know Milk Is Scalded?

The tell-tale sign is when small bubbles start appearing around the walls of the saucepan. The moment you see these bubbles, your milk is done scalding. If larger bubbles start appearing or the whole saucepan starts boiling, you’ve gone too far, and will have to start over. Patience and careful observation are key!

Why Do Recipes Call for Scalded Milk?

If your recipe calls for scalding milk, don’t skip this step. Typically, you’ll see it in bread, cake or ice cream recipes. It serves several purposes.

  • It ensures that milk-based breads rise. The whey in milk can actually prevent yeast from doing its job — causing bread to rise. But scalding milk weakens whey, allowing yeast to work. In fact, scalded milk actually speeds up the rate at which yeast causes bread to rise because yeast starts working more quickly in warm liquids than cool ones.
  • It infuses milk with other flavors. Add other flavors to warm milk, such as lemon zest, vanilla bean, herbs or spices, and the milk will take on these other flavors. This is important when you’re making a milk base for ice cream.
  • It dissolves sugar and melts butter in some cake recipes. Adding warm milk to some baking recipes is just a matter of efficiency.

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