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A lot of recipes and videos say "bring the cream/milk/etc to the boil" - but to me this would be as in a kettle at the point it turns itself off. Clearly this is wrong for boiling things like cream, but what should the cream/milk/etc look like when it begins to boil?

Yes, I've screwed up my fair share of creme brulee, before you ask.

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    Does this answer your question? At what point is water considered "at a boil?"
    – moscafj
    Jul 31 '20 at 14:53
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    @moscafj : it's similar, but boiling dairy has more risks involved than water (you can't just put it on the stove with a lid and wait for the lid to rattle), so I'd be reluctant to merge it as a duplicate
    – Joe
    Jul 31 '20 at 15:09
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    @Joe I don't see any reference to lids or rattling in the proposed duplicate. Seems like a clear definition, which can easily be applied to this question. Of course, left unattended, high viscosity liquids, like milk will boil over. So, immediate removal from heat as it hits the boil is necessary, but the definition still stands.
    – moscafj
    Jul 31 '20 at 15:29
  • @moscafj : I'm just giving an example of why they're different. If you just leave milk to boil waiting for bubbles, it's not quite 'culinary napalm' like sugar, but it's still a real mess. cooking.stackexchange.com/a/93133/67
    – Joe
    Jul 31 '20 at 15:32
  • @Joe indeed it is.
    – moscafj
    Jul 31 '20 at 15:33
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Just as simple as "When it starts boiling".

When a liquid is boiling, it starts making bubbles, at first, it starts with small bubbles, and those get bigger as the liquid comes to its boiling point.

When a recipe calls for that, you remove from heat when it starts boiling.

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