I can’t stop talking about sour milk—and how wonderful it is to bake with.

I have been dallying with the concept of cooking with sour milk since reading this line from food writer Laurie Colwin’s essay ‘About Biscuits’ many years ago:

‘I have made [biscuits] with sweet milk, half and half, and buttermilk, but the best I ever made were with milk that had gone naturally sour. Instead of throwing it out, I used it to make the biscuit dough for a tomato pie, and it was celestial.’

(That’s right…she says CELESTIAL.)

Long ago, before refrigeration, pasteurization and that crime-against-all-dairy, ultra-pasteurization, cooks had to make do with sour milk. (Many of the old cookbooks in my collection specify ‘sweet’ milk or ‘sour’ milk.) Back then, you weren’t going to pour out a food stuff just because you couldn’t drink it. Sour milk is not dangerous, though mold or a truly foul smell should be an indication to throw it out. (Common sense, people!) Otherwise….and this is where I decided to put the ‘otherwise’ to the test.

When two full liters of farm-fresh milk went south on me, I was heartbroken (I cherish good local milk!) and then I saw my chance. I decided to test the stuff out on a variety of baked recipes that otherwise call for a sour milk product like yogurt or buttermilk. These included butternut squash spoonbread, Irish soda bread, a dozen blueberry muffins, some small chocolate cakes, and a batch of scones. I mention the scones last because, while all the recipes worked beautifully with sour milk, the scones, like Laurie Colwin’s biscuit dough, were…celestial.

Should you still have any qualms about baking with milk that has soured in your fridge, let me just say: my milk had soured at least 10 days before I got around to using it. That may be pushing it, but I’m still here to tell the tale, and I’m telling the tale to anyone and everyone who will listen.

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