Most people can generally agree that milk is a massive part of life. From drinking a glass of milk with breakfast, to using it in one of the many cooking recipes out there, to adding it to your dessert for that taste that everyone craves, there are plenty of places in life where people make use of milk.
With that being said, with as many things as people use milk in, there are going to be more than a few that you are going to need to alter the milk in.
When it comes to recipes that require you to alter the milk, you might be at a loss as to what you should do. Depending on what you are doing and what materials you have readily available, you may consider purchasing an alternative to the milk you have so that you don’t have to do any extra work.
On the other hand, learning how to alter the properties of milk can do you well if you are someone who enjoys cooking.
In the recipes that require you to alter milk for whatever reason, purchasing an alternative can sometimes be more expensive, and if it is an alternative that you really won’t use all that often, it can end up being a massive waste of both time and money.
By learning how to alter the properties of milk on your own, you can make sure that your life is going to be a little bit easier in the kitchen.
Before you can learn how to change some of the aspects of milk, you will first want to get a good idea of what kind of recipes require this.
This will help you get a better understanding of what you have to do, why you are doing it, and depending on what you have in your kitchen, how often you would need to do this so that you can purchase the necessary ingredients.
Why Thicken Milk?
There are plenty of reasons why people may choose to alter their milk. One of the most common things that people do, particularly in cooking, is thicken the milk to reach a desired texture or consistency. This is most commonly found in custards, although it is done in many other parts of cooking.
Another common reason why people will want to thicken their milk is because they are making a milk-based sauce but the sauce turned out a bit too thin and runny.
By fixing one of the sauce’s core ingredients, people can achieve the desired consistency that they want, which is always a good thing for chefs to be able to do.
People will also thicken their milk when they are trying to make a reduction. While this is not particularly common in a lot of standard Western recipes, many other recipes from the Eastern side of the world will make use of reductions, including milk.
If this is a kind of cuisine that you want to be able to enjoy, then you will want to make sure that you know how to properly thicken your milk. If you are someone who wants to make khoya for Indian recipes, this is another technique that you will need to learn.
What Will You Need?
What you will need to thicken your milk is also going to be dependent on what you are doing with the milk. If you are thickening the milk with xanthan gum, then you are certainly not going to need any eggs to help you with this process.
For some types of thickening processes, you are going to need a free burner on your stove or another area where you can safely heat and stir your milk.
For these types of recipes, you are going to want to also have a pot that can hold as much milk as you need for the recipe, plus an additional amount for any flour that might be added to the mix.
A shallower pot is often easier to work with as you can stir the milk around to prevent overcooking, although some kitchenware sets may not have a large and shallow pan.
Some milk thickening processes will also require additional ingredients to achieve the consistency that you are after.
In some cases, those extra ingredients may simply be a roux and butter so that you can thicken a milk-based sauce without affecting the taste of the sauce. In other cases, the most that you will need to have to thicken the milk is a bit of flour or xanthan gum.
Speaking of thickening agents, you are also going to want to collect the thickening agent that pertains to how you are going to be thickening the milk. People who are using their pots and pans will usually not need much, as the heat from the stove can be enough to reach a good consistency in milk.
In some other situations, you may need to find a place that offers some supplements that have been shown to help thicken milk up.
These supplements can include eggs, starches, flour, xanthan gum, and other gluten-free alternatives to use as a thickening agent. For starches and flours, most types of them will be able to help you achieve the desired effect, unless it explicitly states that it will not be very good at thickening foods.
Eggs are also pretty easy to get in most stores, and they aren’t too expensive to purchase. The one problem that people may run into is the fact that they cannot find xanthan gum.
Xanthan gum can easily be purchased from specialty cooking areas and health stores. It may not be the least expensive way to thicken your milk, nor will it be the easiest way for many people, but it is efficient and it gets the job done well without impacting the flavor and texture of the milk.
There are alternatives to xanthan gum that may be worth trying as well.
So How Do You Do it?
The way that people go about thickening their milk will depend heavily on the reason why it needs to be thickened and what kind of recipe the meal is going to go toward.
The way that you thicken milk to make khoya is going to differ drastically from simply adding starches to the milk to add some thickness to a milk-based sauce.
Therefore, the first step to thickening your milk is going to be to determine what the thickened milk is going to be used for.
One of the most common methods of thickening milk for cooking recipes is going to be through a reduction. In the culinary world, a reduction is done by simmering the moisture out of the liquid, allowing it to become closer to a solid than it is a quickly flowing liquid. People do this for all types of liquids, including milk.
The way it works is that the heat from the pan that you are cooking in will evaporate the water content of the milk. This leaves the fats, protein, and sugar left in the milk, becoming thicker and far more concentrated in taste.
More often than not, milk that has been through the reduction process is going to have a very distinctive flavor, meaning that you won’t want to try this process unless your recipe specifically calls for it.
For this method, you often won’t turn the oven any higher than a low temperature that leaves the milk simmering. You will also need to continue stirring the milk while you do this so that you do not accidentally end up cooking the milk.
The point of this process is to thicken the milk, not to burn it. This process is actually very similar to how you make khoya, which is a component in most dishes that originate from the Northern India region of the world.
For thickening milk for other reasons, particularly in sauces that are based from milk, you are going to want to try something different.
Typically, you will take any standard starch thickener to add to the milk. This can be flour, cornstarch, or even a gluten-free variant of flour if you need it. The goal is to have some form of starch in the dish to help thicken it.
Once you have your starch of choice, you will want to add the thickening agent to a pan with other ingredients that mix with the sauce you are working with. A good example of this is when you want to thicken a standard bechamel sauce, the pan would have a roux with butter and flour.
You are going to want to make sure that the part that is in the pan has a flavor that will mesh well with the sauce or milk you are thickening.
From here, you will want to add the starch of your choice to the pan and begin to stir. The pan should be at a low enough temperature that the food is simmering, but not so hot that the sauce itself becomes overcooked.
By keeping the heat on during this process, you can ensure that you are removing the starchy flavor from the added starch. This is what keeps the milk-based sauce tasting exactly as it should, without any hints that you added something to it.
Eventually, it will be time to add the milk to the mix, allowing it to mix in with everything that is in the pan.
Once everything appears to be sufficiently mixed, you are going to want to then turn down the heat, give the sauce a taste test to ensure that everything has been mixed properly, and then you can continue using the sauce as you please.
If you are making custard and you need the milk to be thick enough to create that delicious custard that everyone knows and loves, then you are also going to want to use the main ingredient of custard.
In the culinary world, eggs are known for their ability to thicken liquids and to help other foods keep their shape. This is no different when it comes to custard.
To thicken your milk to properly enhance a custard recipe, you will need to whisk the eggs thoroughly alongside the milk on a low heat so that everything has the chance to mix together.
You will want the eggs to be warm too, as this will congeal the proteins inside of the egg white (as they would in a frying pan), allowing you to properly thicken everything up.
Depending on the recipe, you may also need to add some starch to this to create an even firmer thickness than the eggs can provide.
Other times, you may need to thicken the milk that you have, but you may not know the best way to go about it, and you do not have the ingredients or time to work with the other methods involved.
In these cases, the next biggest question you will need to answer will be whether or not you care about the flavor of the milk.
In recipes where the milk is really only used for its chemical properties rather than for flavoring, or when you are simply drinking the milk straight from the bottle, the flavor of the milk is going to play a role. In recipes that rely on milk as a flavoring, adding something to the mix of the milk may alter the recipe entirely.
For people who want to thicken the milk that they drink from the bottle, doing this is going to drastically change the way the milk tastes and feels when you ingest it.
For this trick, you are going to need to purchase thickeners that are based on gum. Two common options to consider include xanthan gum and agar-agar.
These ingredients are also common thickening agents, but are not commonly used in other areas where milk needs to be thickened because they can have an effect on the taste. In foods where there is already enough flavor, these thickening agents become more and more common.
To add this to your milk, you are going to simply want to stir in the designated amount. On the back of these types of thickening agents, there are often both instructions and conversions explaining approximately how much of the food you should add to your milk to achieve the desired effect.
This method can work well for people who may have dysphagia, which is a problem with swallowing, as thicker milk might be easier to get down.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.