How to make the most of milk

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Why stick to dairy, says Raymond Blanc, when other varieties from rice to coconut make puddings and sauces so delicious?

There was a time when ditching cow's milk meant one thing – soy. Today, the non-dairy milk counter is saturated with options – almond milk, oat milk and rice milk, to name a few – and they are no longer the preserve of vegans and the lactose intolerant.

Raymond Blanc can't get enough of them. At his Michelin-starred restaurant and cookery school, Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons, he uses rice milk in chocolate ganache ("it's much lighter on the palate with a more intense chocolate flavour"), he often calls on almond milk for panna cotta paired with cherries, or for crème brulée ("the sweetness of the milk works perfectly in many deserts") and oat milk is always an option when smoothies are being made ("it's light in texture and mild in flavour").

"We look for variety in most ingredients – why should milk be any different?" he says, incredulous that supermarkets have taken so long to catch on.

"And because milk is such a staple in cooking, it stands to reason that these varieties have a significant culinary influence."

But although Blanc whips up an exotic fruit gratin with guava sabayon to prove his point (and it's true that the sweetness of the coconut milk tastes fantastic against the lime syrup), it is his pumpkin soup made with oat milk, which he recently showed me how to make in his cookery school, that really hit the spot for me, not least because the combination is less predictable.

Anyone perusing the supermarket shelves should not be put off by the term "drink" instead of "milk" (only dairy milk manufacturers are legally allowed to claim the term "milk") but they should be put off by the high sugar content in some of these cartons. "People can perceive these milk alternatives to be healthier than they really are, so always check the labels," warns Blanc. The difference between Blanc's almond milk and the bought version is astonishing.

His home-made version has a smooth, creamy texture (think whole cow's milk) and a distinct but mild almond flavour, while the bought one is thinner and much more sugary, albeit still nicely nutty.

Rice milk, which is created from partially milled rice and water, can be particularly disappointing when bought in carton form – watery yet sickly, not a winning combination. That said, carton forms can also be refreshingly sweet and a great alternative for those who find almond milk too creamy.

Fortunately, it's easier than you think to make your own – Google will point you in the direction of two- or three-step processes for most types of milk. For almond milk, for example, you simply soak raw almonds overnight then combine them with water in a blender. Meanwhile, for something a little more adventurous – say, pecan milk, which is great over cereal – you mix half a cup of nuts, a cup of water, a pitted date and a pinch of salt – then pass it through a nut milk bag once or twice.

For Nick Bernard, founder of natural foods company Rude Health, it's raw milk that deserves the most attention. Until recently, it was only available in farmers' markets, then Selfridges Food Hall started selling it, though they have had to remove it temporarily while the Food Standards agency investigates whether it's legal to have it on sale there.

"Yes, it's traditional in that it's dairy, but this milk is a world away from what you'll pick up at the supermarket, even organic versions," Bernard says. "I regularly do blind tastings and it's the raw milk – that is, milk that hasn't been blended, homogenised, pasteurised, standardised and basically demonised – that wins hands down every time. People can't get over what a wonderful, richly differentiated product it is. In my opinion, it's like the difference between blended whisky and single malt. And milk varies throughout the seasons. You miss that if you process it."

Anyone with ambitions around cooking with milk will need to experiment, but prepare for some bad flavour mismatches along the way – this aspect of the culinary world is not as instinctive as you might think. If mashed potatoes made with virgin olive oil and soy milk sounds like it could work, think again – my version was sweet and slightly metallic, while my potato and leek soup made with almond milk tasted like I'd scraped my tongue along the bottom of a dirt track. Probably the best advice, says Blanc, is to get used to the milks in their neat form – cow's, goat's, soy, rice, almond and oat and so on – before attempting to be brave.

There is also – as I have since learned – a basic set of cooking pros and cons for each milk. Rice milk, for instance, is heat stable, but its overtones of sweetness make it unsuitable for savoury sauces and soups. Stick to cakes, pancakes and sweet deserts and you can't go too far wrong. Meanwhile, almond milk's sweetness also lends itself to sweet dishes and some soups, although, as I discovered, it can taste "off" or dusty in some savoury foods. The more neutral, slightly bitter flavour of oat milk opens up endless possibilities, however – cereals, pancakes, soups, curries and baking. "It's like potatoes or apples," says Blanc. "Certain types lend themselves to certain dishes."

For those that find themselves geeking out on milk and its possibilities, the good news is there's a world of them out there – sunflower milk, hemp milk and flaxseed milk among them.

But – and this is crucial – never, ever let them anywhere near a cup of tea or coffee.

News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-Qualified Accountant) - Manchester

    £23000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat