Do Not Cry Over Soured Milk: Cook with it

I cannot waste food, even soured milk, which many sane people pour down the drain. Sour milk is a valuable (well, maybe that’s a slight stretch) ingredient.

It comes to mind this week because my half & half and whole milk both soured before I could use them.

No matter. Make batter. I already knew sour milk is featured in many cake, waffle and pancake recipes.

I wanted to know more, so I did some sour-milk research (love the job that allows me to write those words) and found a variety of bizarre suggestions for soured milk or cream.  Although I cannot vouch for any of these, I was intrigued:

[s2If !current_user_can(access_s2member_level1)]

Only paid subscribers have access to our site’s lead stories, as well as the Convo Cafe. When you become a recurring subscriber, you will have full access to all lead stories as well as the entire website. Plus, you’ll have the option to receive email notifications of everything we post on

We look forward to you being part of’s online family of paid subscribers. Your support helps us not just survive, but thrive and bring even more quality content to you by top-notch contributors and journalists about topics crucial to you, our region and our world.

Read more about our decision here.

Click here to subscribe!

Already a subscriber? Log in here.


[s2If current_user_can(access_s2member_level1)]

• Pour sour milk around plants as a deer deterrent.

• Pour sour milk at the base of rosebushes to help them grow.

• If you have a septic tank, pour the soured milk down the toilet. The enzymes in the soured milk will help clean your septic tank.

• Pour soured milk over tarnished silver in a shallow pan and let it sit overnight. In the morning, silver will be clean. (Dare I say, rinse well.)

All very interesting, but I wanted to cook with sour milk, which I knew was not that weird, but actually common. In fact, many recipes actually tell how to create sour milk when they ask cooks to pour a little vinegar or lemon juice in milk, which immediately curdles it. IMHO, the vinegar and lemon juice taste comes through stronger than the desired effect of Real McCoy sour milk.

The thing is, most artificially soured-milk recipes require just a tablespoon or two of the soured liquid, when what I have in my refrigerator is a few cups of the stuff with a warning label: Sour milk – don’t drink.

I dug out one old Corn Bread recipe I’ve had forever that calls for sour milk. Not to be a yeah-butter (or skeet-shooter, as such chronic negative-talkers are called in my house), but since it’s in the high 90s outside and we’re still running our air conditioners, this isn’t exactly prime corn-bread-baking weather.

I found a recipe for Sour Milk Double Ginger Cookies, adapted from a spice cookie recipe, which appealed to me because I’m so sick of summer and completely ready for fall. I wrote the recipe here first and made the dough second. Then I deleted it. The 1 cup of sour milk left the dough a soupy mess. I managed to fix it with more flour, but the overwhelming flavor was flour (no surprise), so I won’t recommend it.

As a nice consolation prize I give you Southern Chocolate Cake, given to me by reader Rosemary Johnson way back when I worked for some newspaper – name escapes me – after I’d put out the call for another reader’s request for a chocolate cake recipe. (If you know Rosemary, would you let her know she can read my food stories here on Food for Thought: A News Cafe? Thank you.)

I adapted Johnson’s Southern Chocolate Cake slightly by using butter instead of margarine. It’s a great, simple cake prepared in a 9-by-13-inch pan (sure, use two cake pans if you want a more formal look).

Yes, I know, this recipe also means we’ll heat up the house when we turn on the oven for baking.

Maybe readers in cooler climates (like new reader Anne Long of Michigan) can bake these while we wait for our north state temperatures to cool down.

And maybe the rest of us can use the soured milk to clean our silverware or septic tanks.

Sour Milk Corn Bread

2 eggs
2 cups soured milk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 sifted flour
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup melted shortening

In a medium bowl lightly beat the eggs. Set aside. In another bowl mix the soured milk with the baking soda. Add the salt and sugar to the eggs and stir. To the egg mixture add the soured milk mixture, flour and cornmeal. Blend just enough to combine. Stir in the melted shortening. Stir gently. Do not overbeat.

Pour batter into a greased-and-floured pan. (For thicker cornbread, bake in a pan that’s between 9 and 10 inches. For more cornbread, but less thick, bake in a 13-by-9-inch pan.)

Bake for about 25 to 35 minutes at 375 degrees.

Southern Chocolate Cake

1 cube butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon soda
3/4 cup sour milk
1 cup boiling water

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Add the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Add the soda to the milk and mix the liquid with the dry ingredients. (If you don’t have sour milk or buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon to the fresh milk with the soda.)

Last, add the boiling water, mixing by hand. Pour in a greased-and-floured 9-by-13-inch pan at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with just a crumb or two.

Fudge Frosting

2 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup milk
1 cube butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla

Put everything in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Cool completely before you beat the frosting and spread on the cake.

Note: This is a best-of column that first appeared on on Sept. 16, 2008, a time when this site had just a few thousand unique visitors a month. Now, is visited by tens of thousands more readers, people for whom this story is new. 


Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

15 Responses

  1. Avatar Canda says:

    Since this "best of" article was written in the summer, and it's currently 38 degrees outside, it might be a good day to use that cream I was about to pour down the drain. Thanks, Doni, my resourceful friend!

  2. Avatar Terry says:

    You give such clear directions with your recipes that even though I'm not that good a cook – even I can do them! Hurray!

    One question: How much is a "cube" of butter?

    Thanks, Doni, for reprising this delightful food column. Yummy!

    • Avatar Susan says:

      Hello and thanks! Although it is near 100 today and we haven't turned our a/ c on yet ( today may be the day), I plan to bake both the cornbread and the chocolate cake first thing in the morning.

      One other question about the butter, do you prefer to use salted or unsalted for baking or does it depend on if the item is savory or sweet?

  3. Avatar Patrick Moriarty says:


    When I was a kid we did not have refridgeration in our home in Ireland – I think we got a fridge when I was about 10 years old.

    Milk going sour was a common thing. My mother used it in making soda bread several times a week.

    One of my brothers even drank the stuff!!!! Disgusting, and probably hazardous to one's heath!

  4. Avatar KarenC says:

    Terry, when you buy a pound of butter, there are four cubes in the package, each cube is 1/2 cup of buttter. So, when a recipe calls for one cube of butter, you use the one cube or 1/2 cup of butter.

    • Thanks, Karen. I know I can count on the family of readers to come to the rescue when a question awaits an answer.

      • Avatar Mayzie says:

        Thank you for the Southern Chocolate Cake recipe. It sounds great! I haven't tried it yet, but will. This is my first time at this website. Keep up the good work Doni!

    • Avatar Mayzie says:

      Thank you for explaining what a cube of butter is. Here in Canada, when you buy butter, it comes in a pound, or half a pound. I'd love to make this recipe. How do you tell if the milk is too sour to use? When it's chunky? lol

      • You are welcome. My son, who lives in the Czech Republic, finds that cooking and baking are different there than how it was at home in the U.S. Regarding how sour is too sour … ugh. I think chunky may be a good guideline of maybe when it's beyond its prime. But I could be wrong. (Foodie readers?)

        Btw, we are delighted to have a reader in Canada. Welcome! (My mother's maternal side was from Canada, and I lived in Vancouver, B.C. until I was 5, and my little sister was born there, too. So I have a soft spot in my heart for Canada.)

  5. Sour milk makes an excellent natural face mask. 1/4 cup sour milk mixed with 2 tablespoons of oatmeal to form a paste. Spread it on and let it sit for 10-20 minutes. Gently remove with warm water and a wash cloth, and follow with a cool water rinse.

  6. Avatar Kate Louise says:

    what does the sour milk cause. for instance yeast causes things to rise, sugar sweetens, but what does sour milk do?

  7. Avatar Cathy says:

    I had trouble with the fudge frosting (posted above). It did not set & was grainy (sugary), had good flavor, tho!

    • Avatar Greenmama says:

      I had the same problem with the frosting. I ended up re-boiling it and just pouring it over the cake in the pan while the icing was still hot, and that helped, but it still seemed a little grainy (although not near as grainy as when I had whipped it). The flavor was great though and I got a lot of compliments on it despite the texture. If I make this again, I would just pour it on while hot from the first time, maybe that would keep it from becoming grainy? For the cake, I used a whole cup of butter and omitted the cocoa powder (subbed 2 tsp vanilla powder) and used slightly less boiling water. It turned out really well and got lots of compliments. Thank you for the recipe, it turned out to be a great way to use up my sour milk!

  8. Avatar Pat Glogg says:

    Just a thought. I have bought my sugar from the supermarket for years…it’s convenient. Having joined a buying club, where all they had was Dominos, I bought 5 lbs. Dare I say it? There’s a difference! The sugar is finer! This might make a difference in the texture & how quickly it melts in the saucepan.

  9. Avatar Pat Glogg says:

    P.S. Another site says if it sits TOO long it gets bitter.