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How can you cook milk without it burning the pan? The intention isn't just to heat/warm the milk, but to thoroughly cook it. Burned pans are hard to clean, and they make the milk taste burned.

The traditional approach of boiling milk on the stove tends to cause it to stick to the bottom of the pan and burn, if not done properly.

Background: The reason I want to cook milk is because I tolerate cooked milk better, depending on the gallon of milk. Most gallons of milk from the grocery store give me a lot of gas. Some gallons don't give me any gas at all (and those tend to keep a lot longer, interestingly). Either way, I tolerate it very well, without gas, when it is thoroughly cooked. I don't personally believe I have a milk intolerance or allergy; I think it's just yeast in the milk that grows as it nears expiration and contributes to its spoilage, as I am sensitive to some yeasts and molds; I tolerate other cow dairy products just fine (e.g. cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, butter, and sour cream), regardless of whether it is cooked.

This is a Q/A where I answer my own question, but you're free to participate as usual, of course. I figured the question had already been asked, and I came here to add my answer to the list of answers. (But I couldn't find a question like it on the site.)

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    Not sure what kind of milk is typically sold in your part of the world, but if you've observed yourself to be more tolerant of cooked milk and "milk that tends to keep a lot longer", you might want to give UHT milk a try. It's sort of been cooked, in a way that very effectively kills all microorganisms, and keeps a very long time even at room temperature. (Also, even if you don't think it's the problem, I'd still give lactose-free milk a try too. Conveniently, at least around here, UHT milk is frequently also lactose free.) – Ilmari Karonen Sep 6 '20 at 23:52
  • "I don't personally believe I have a milk intolerance or allergy" It's good, then, that this has nothing to do with belief. Go get tested and find out what condition you actually have. There is no need to guess or believe in anything here. – user91988 Sep 8 '20 at 21:07
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Double boiler.

You can buy a purpose built double boiler and if you are going to do this often you should. But for now you can fake it the way I do. Here is my setup.

double boiler fake

The little saucepan is floating in the water that is in the larger pan. Because of the water, the temperature never gets higher than 100°C unless you boil all the water off. Milk at 100°C will boil but it will not scorch. That is milk gravy (white sauce) in the small pan which happened to be in there and which I thought was a good illustration.

Float a small pan in a larger pot of water and cook your milk in the small pan. If you like it, buy a double boiler. Sometimes the floating pan is too heavy and some water comes in over the side. Not a big deal for milk but a total loss if you are using the setup to melt chocolate chips.

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    You can also use a glass mixing bowl that sits on the rim of your pot. That makes it better for melting chocolate or coddling eggs. You have to be careful with premade double boilers. For some reason I've noticed a lot have a ridge around the top (but not at the top) where your mixture can get caught and dry out. Which personally grosses me out. Mixing bowl 4 lyfe. – kitukwfyer Sep 6 '20 at 20:43
  • @kitukwfyer - that is a fine idea; thank you. – Willk Sep 7 '20 at 1:58
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There are a number of ways to cook milk without burning it.

My personal favorite is to bake it. When baked according to my instructions, it does not overflow, and the bottom of the pan does not burn at all (the edge where the milk surface touches does get some milk protein cooked onto it, though). You do not have to do anything with it while it's baking. It does develop a significant brown skin on top, but you can pull it off and eat it. To cook it to my personal satisfaction, I fill an 8"x8" glass pan about halfway with milk, and put it in the toaster oven on 425° to 450° F. or so for about 25 minutes. I like to make milk porridge via this method, too (same instructions, except add oats and brown sugar with the milk). Anyway, I tolerate it better than boiling on low heat on the stove, and it's much easier. 25 minutes on 450° F. might be overkill for some people's needs, especially if they don't need to kill anything in it, nor denature any components of it, but it's not overkill for a non-soupy milk oat porridge. It is possible to burn the top of the milk if you bake it too long/hot or too close to the surface of the oven—but you can just take the skin off, and your milk should taste fine. If you bake it in a toaster oven (on the bake setting), do not cover it, or it will not cook very quickly.

Here's what the milk looks like after it's been baked (in my toaster oven on bake on 450° F. for 25 minutes), with the skin. The skin is dark brown (although not black, even though parts of it look black in the picture; the lighting wasn't perfect, and it's just my inexpensive tablet's camera); so, I probably could have used a lower heat than 450° F. (like 425° F.), but this does not affect the taste of the milk underneath it anyway, since the top side of the skin does not touch the milk; I usually don't cook just plain milk with nothing in it, so that accounts for the error: Baked milk with dark brown skin.

Here's the baked milk after removing and eating the skin (this remaining milk is really what we're after): Baked milk after removing the skin.

Here's the pan after I drank the milk (you can see that there isn't milk burned on the bottom of the pan, and it should be fairly easy to clean compared to a burned pan; there are cooked portions stuck where the milk surface was, but they're not burned); it tasted great, by the way (and not as much like evaporated milk as stovetop boiled milk): The pan after drinking the milk.


Other methods:

Some people like to microwave milk. It can overflow easily that way, if you're not careful, however, but it shouldn't burn. For personal reasons, I don't recommend using a microwave for anything, though, but if you do, I don't blame you.

Boiling milk on the stovetop without burning it requires a lot of patience, skill, and attention. People like to use pans with thick bottoms, since they heat more slowly, and are less prone to making things burn (not just milk). They like to heat it at a low temperature. They recommend stirring. In my experience, it can still burn even then, though, if you cook it long enough.

Some people recommend putting a very small amount of cold water on the bottom of the pan when boiling milk to help prevent it from burning. I'm very skeptical about the logic entailed, since the milk is cold anyway (and the water at the bottom of the pan will mix with the milk, especially if you stir it as I saw recommended with this method; so, it will no longer be on the bottom of the pan), but if it works, it works, and I don't claim whether it works.

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    Why do you not recommend cooking with a microwave? – Bryan Boettcher Sep 6 '20 at 23:41
  • @BryanBoettcher I don't know if it has anything to do with this: fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/… (I seriously doubt). Maybe some things have a different taste than heated with other methods? – Ismael Miguel Sep 7 '20 at 17:34
  • @BryanBoettcher I think baking is healthier than microwaving. I know there are science articles to the contrary, however. I wasn't trying to persuade people to avoid microwaves (I just didn't want to be seen as endorsing them). – Brōtsyorfuzthrāx Sep 8 '20 at 7:59
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    @BryanBoettcher Isn't that addressed directly in the answer? "It can overflow easily that way, if you're not careful" – Kakturus Sep 8 '20 at 11:42
  • @Kakturus I was referring more to the "I don't recommend using the microwave for cooking anything". I'd kind of like to see the answer say "I don't cook with a microwave for personal reasons", since a lot of weird pseudoscience starts to come out around microwaves and ~ radiation ~. – Bryan Boettcher Sep 8 '20 at 16:13

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