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Going Curdless: Tips to Avoid Curdling


A good rule of thumb for cooking with dairy products, including cream, milk, eggs, butter, cheese and mayonnaise, is:  patience!

Sauces made with milk,  cream and cheese may curdle for several reasons:
  • not enough fat content.  Skim milk will curdle more than heavy cream, and low-fat creams and cheeses are more likely to curdle than their whole-fat compadres.
  • too high heat.  Cream sauces must be cooked at low temps. Use a thermometer to ensure temperatures stay lower than 175 degrees F.
  • too much acid.  Cream should be added last (with exceptions like lemon juice). Wine can be very acidic, and should be reduced.  any ingredients should be of medium temperature before cream is introduced, as it will separate at boiling.

How curdling occurs:
Dairy fats combine to form a rubbery mesh, which squeezes out water.

One possibility to prevent curdling is Carrageenan.  There are three kinds, and Lambda Carrageenan is best for sauces because it is water soluble. It is derived from red seaweed.  80% of the world's supply originates from the Philippines, although its name originated from an Irish fishing village noted for a pudding made from seaweed and sweetened milk.

Interesting fact: Camel's milk will not curdle.  It may be tougher to find on your supermarket shelves.

If a cream or butter sauce “breaks,” it can be fixed.  In a separate pan, gently heat a small amount of your cream or your dairy base, and gradually add the broken sauce, whisking as you go.  The added dairy fat plus the gradual temperature reduction will rectify the curdling.  This is called “tempering” a sauce.

Or... remove the curdled sauce from heat immediately and place pan in an ice bath, which will immediately halt the cooking process.  You may add an ice cube to the sauce as well. This quick-cooling should help bring the sauce back together.  Some cooks recommend adding starch, such as a paste made from flour or corn starch and water.

None of these methods are foolproof, and many chefs will attest, sometimes you may have to just start over!  C'est la vie!

Comments

  1. So, I am baffled. I have been making chai from an old recipe my brother in law's family gave me. I put in two cups of 2%, lactose free milk and 2 cups of water along with 3tbs sugar and a set of spices: black pepper, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and fresh ginger.

    I add it all together, in a steel pot and bring it to a full boil, stirring a bit so the sugar does not sick to the bottom. I then lower to a simmer, adding in black tea, finally steeping for about 10 minutes.

    Been doing that for a year and it worked every time perfectly and beautifully. (Patience not necessary)

    All of the sudden, three months ago, my beautiful concoction started curdling as it came to boil, basically ruining the batch.

    Before I came to your blog; which, as a former engineer and student of physics spoke to me, I thought I found the problem in the freshness of the milk. It seemed like brand new milk worked perfectly while milk even opened a few days earlier would curdle. However, a carton of milk opened this morning produced the curdling; even when I kept the temperature as low as possible while still being able to steep the tea.

    After reading your post, the only possibilities I can come up with are that:

    -The "2%" stated on my milk cartons is not so precise and the margin of error contains both a fat content of a perfect boil as well as a curdling one.

    -Through some unknown process, the fat content of the milk I buy has been reduced overall.

    -I am correct about the freshness, but the milk I opened this morning was not as fresh as I thought or as fresh as the other cartons I have used over the last three months.

    My solution at this point is to add in 1/4 or 1/2 cup of whole milk, however, I would love to hear your thoughts.

    Cheers,
    David Domzalski

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. it probably is the fat content of the milk . ALL dairy products ( milk , cream , cheese etc ) have slightly fluctuating fat levels depending on the quality of the feed ( usually grass ) which in turn varies according to the season & weather .

      Delete
    2. Try adding the ginger after the milk/sugar/water concoction comes to a boil or add milk after spice/sugar/water concoction comes to boil. This is an old indian trick which you will find all in all indian kitchens. Ginger if added along with milk will curdle it. The ginger either needs to be boiled with water first before adding milk or milk & water need to be boiled together before adding ginger

      Delete
    3. Get your milk fresh from a cow!😎

      Delete
  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was making blueberry pierogies and I make a blueberry sauce with it. I've been doing this recipe for years and today it curdle and I dont understand why. I puree the blueberries and drain them so there is no skins in it, and then I put in cream cheese with a little bit a sugar and I mix until everything is combined well

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Try tempering the cream cheese. See below for the process. It works better to add the liquid or berries to the cream cheese gradually.

      Delete
  4. I've been trying to blend cream cheese with dissolved jello. Each time I try to blend the Jello with softened cream cheese it cuddles. I've tried reheating the mixture, but again, curdles. Any suggestions?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your question. Have you tried tempering the cream cheese? Sometimes, when adding cold milk fat to a hot liquid, the rapid temperature change will cause curdling.
      Here's how: Allow your cream Cheese to sit at room temperature in a mixing bowl or food processer. Add the hot Jello to the cream cheese a little at a time. Use a mixer or food processer to blend the hot liquid and Cream cheese. Add enough liquid to gradually warm the cream cheese, and then you should be able to combine the dairy mixture with the rest of the hot liquid.

      Delete

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