Why Do Some Baking Recipes Call for Scalded Milk?

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Quentin Bacon)

Every once in a while, you may come across a recipe that calls for scalding the milk. This process involves heating the milk until just before it comes to a boil, when bubbles appear around the edge of the pan and an instant-read thermometer reads between 180°F and 185°F. The milk is then cooled for about five to 10 minutes to bring it to room temperature.

It all seems pretty fussy — so is it really necessary?

The truth is that yes, it is. While very old recipes used to call for it in order to kill any bacteria in unpasteurized milk, today, with the existence of

pasteurized milk

1. To infuse flavor.

Warm milk has a wonderful way of latching onto different flavors. Heat the milk and add an aromatic like a vanilla bean, coffee beans, fresh herbs, or a cinnamon stick, and that flavor will infuse right into the milk. This is quite helpful when you’re making something with a milk base, like ice cream or pastry cream.

2. To help bread dough rise properly.

The whey protein in milk can actually weaken gluten, preventing bread doughs from rising properly, but when you scald the milk, you actually deactivate this protein. Scalding milk also helps ensure a tender crumb.

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3. To save time.

In certain baking recipes where butter needs to be melted or sugar needs to be dissolved, starting with warm milk helps both of those thing occur a whole lot faster. Yeast also activates quicker in a warm liquid instead of a cold one, causing the dough to rise at a swifter pace. So using warm milk can help save a bit of overall baking time.