In my house growing up, milk was not something we drank. It was strictly a medium or complement for other food: cereal, cookies, chocolate syrup, cornbread. Milk-as-beverage was too much, like eating a stick of butter or a clove of garlic—things that are unappetizing on their own but become magnificent when combined with other ingredients.
So, even now I recoil at the thought of drinking a glass of milk straight, but I swoon over milky foodstuffs. Hokkaido milk bread, dulce de leche, Vietnamese iced coffee, tres leches cake, etc. What makes these foods milky? They contain milk, obviously, but what is the essence of milkiness?
Whole cow’s milk is about 87 percent water and 13 percent solids (3.7 percent fat, and 9 percent non-fat solids including proteins, carbohydrates, and minerals). The fat and other solids work together to create the smooth, round richness and flavor we know as milkiness. Concentrating the solids relative to the water intensifies milkiness and leaves us with milk products (think evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, powdered milk) that have diverse culinary applications.
In other words, getting rid of the liquid in milk lets us add milkiness anywhere! And this was relevant to one of my old ice cream quests: making milk-flavored ice cream.
You might be thinking, But isn’t all dairy-based ice cream milk-flavored, by virtue of it being mostly milk? Well, yeah, but as noted above, milk is mostly water. Ice cream is mostly milk. Therefore, ice cream is mostly water (and air).
Of the milk solids—the fat and the non-fat solids—in an ice cream, the fat portion contributes to a creamy smooth texture. The non-fat milk solids contribute a little to texture too, but they’re more of a flavor component. A weak one, because the sugar and eggs, not to mention the ice cream flavoring, overpower them. So if you’re looking for an ice cream that truly tastes like milk, you’re going to have to boost the the non-fat solids.
This is where nonfat milk powder comes in. Nonfat milk powder is non-fat milk solids. And it’s the secret ingredient to the best ice cream in the world. See Ample Hills’ ice cream base recipe which they revealed in their 2014 cookbook Ample Hills Creamery: Secrets and Stories from Brooklyn’s Favorite Ice Cream Shop:
- 3/4 cup organic cane sugar
- 1/2 cup skim milk powder
- 1 2/3 cups whole milk
- 1 2/3 cups heavy cream
- 3 egg yolks
The skim milk powder is Ample Hills’ differentiating ingredient. The average ice cream recipe that turns up in a Google search does not include it, and even trusted sources like Serious Eats and Alton Brown don’t mention it. But there’s a way to amplify milkiness even more: by toasting the milk powder. This is the technique (from Ideas in Food) I used when I made toasted milk ice cream with pineapple cakes and sesame candy. A microwave, a fork, and a lot of patience is all you need.
I’m not in a position to do a lot of kitchen experimenting anymore, but one day I hope to return to it and to the applications of milk solids specifically.
International Dairy Foods Association