Steamy milk, coming right up.
October 29, 2007 11:50 AM   Subscribe

What's the best tool (besides an espresso maker) to generate some nice, foamy milk for cafe au laits?

The girlfriend and I love our cafe au laits.

Now, traditionally, they're made with steamed milk, but I'm under the impression that the only way to get steamed milk in the home is to have an espresso machine, something which I'm not keen on purchasing just for that purpose.

So, I figure the next best thing would be frothy, foamy milk (right now we just heat up the creamer/milk in the microwave to almost near boiling).

What about those "milk frothers" I see? I know they come in both manual and electric varieties, from all different kinds of brands. Does anyone have any experience with them? Any particular model you might recommend?

Alternatively, if there are truly just milk steamers out there that you can buy separately, I'm open to that too.

Thanks Hive Mind!
posted by mrhaydel to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Frothing the milk with a spinny blender attachment won't get you the sweet taste of steamed milk. You need heat to convert the lactose for that.

Keep an eye out for a cheap used espresso machine. The espresso parts often break first.
posted by anthill at 11:54 AM on October 29, 2007

Response by poster: So, with these milk frothers, even using heated milk won't do the trick?
posted by mrhaydel at 11:56 AM on October 29, 2007

Any sort of small water tight container, fill with hot milk and shake with enthusiasm and vigor.
posted by bitdamaged at 11:56 AM on October 29, 2007

"On Food and Cooking" recommends agitating the milk (I use my french press) to get a foam, and then microwave the milk for about 30 seconds to set the foam.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:02 PM on October 29, 2007

We had a Nissan (I think) milk frother that worked great. Heat the milk on the stove in the bottom part, remove from heat, put the top on, work the plunger a few times, and there you have it. IMO, better foam than you get from an espresso machine.
posted by bricoleur at 12:04 PM on October 29, 2007

Best answer: I used to have one similar to this, and I liked it a lot. You heat the milk over the stove and then use the screen to froth it.

My favorite, however, was a hand-powered frother a friend bought in Italy. It looked like the top of one of those wine-bottle vacuum-seal contraptions. You could heat the milk in your mug in the microwave, froth it with this thing, then add coffee. It worked exceedingly well, but I've never seen anything similar in the States.
posted by occhiblu at 12:05 PM on October 29, 2007

One thing I just remembered about the frother with the screen: It was a pain in the ass to clean, which is the main reason I don't bother with it anymore. I would imagine it would be fine in a dishwasher, but I was usually unable to get it entirely clean when washing it by hand, and it got really gunked up.
posted by occhiblu at 12:08 PM on October 29, 2007

Ikea sells a "milk frother" for a few bucks that works decently.

It's basically a little motor powered by two AAs that turns a little wand with a wisk-ish wire thing on the end. It works well in whole milk and half-and-half, anything with a lower fat content won't froth particularly well, although you can still do it.

Actually if you use it in heavy cream for too long, you can make whipped cream with it, too, which can be nice (say if you want just a little bit for one cup of hot chocolate).

I want to say it was at most $5 or $7; they sell it in with the rest of the kitchen gadgets at Ikea. The only thing I don't like about it is that you can't remove the metal part to dishwash it, so it has to be hand-rinsed.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:13 PM on October 29, 2007

Best answer: That's exactly what I use (less than five minutes ago, am drinking the resulting latte right now!) and can vouch for it being the best stand-alone milk frother out there (having tried quite a few).

I don't have a dishwasher and agree with occhiblu that it's a bit of a pain to keep clean but if you put it straight into warm, soapy water after frothing it's not so bad.
posted by ceri richard at 12:16 PM on October 29, 2007

Best answer: I really like the screen ones. You can get a cheap french press and get the same effect as a dedicated frother.

I've done the jar with a lid thing and the stick frothers like this one with sadly underwhelming success. I like a *lot* of foam.

If you don't have a french press I'd just go get a cheap one from Target and use it as a frother. Put a cup of milk in the bottom, nuke until warm/hot, push/pull the plunger up and down 10 times and you've got foam.

Whatever your decision I feel it is my duty to warn as many people as possible away from this frother. Before I discovered the french press trick I bought one at Wild Oats in a desperate bid to reclaim my foam. Zero foam.
posted by hecho de la basura at 12:23 PM on October 29, 2007

I've been making cafe au laits every day recently with just a little saucepan and a wire whisk. I heat the milk over medium/medium-low heat and whisk vigorously until it has enough foam. Milk boils over quickly, so don't turn the heat too high. It works really well, and I have pretty lofty coffee standards.
posted by lagreen at 1:08 PM on October 29, 2007

Kadin2048 those frothers at Ikea are 1.99.
And my wife swears by them, heated milk, froth, run frother in hot soapy water, run frother in clean water, run frother in air, put away. done.
posted by ShawnString at 1:47 PM on October 29, 2007

I have one of these steamers . It works great.
I pair it with the "espresso" from one of these .
posted by alkupe at 1:49 PM on October 29, 2007

The steamer like what alkupe suggested is along the lines of what you want. The french-press things and the whisk things will foam your milk, but not in the same way that the steamer would.

Of course for 60 bucks you could get an espresso maker that would include a steamer.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:24 PM on October 29, 2007

The one that I use at home is simply a small bent tube with a tapered cork on one end that fits into the spout of a tea kettle. When the tea kettle boils it forces the steam through the tube. It works perfectly but is only a good solution if you already have a tea kettle.
posted by calumet43 at 3:38 PM on October 29, 2007

Best answer: seconding hecho de la basura: i have the bonjour "caffé froth", received as part of a gift set with a matching french press. it is, in fact, a lot like a french press, and, despite my skepticism, produces a tasty, delightful froth. i don't doubt that a cheap french press could achieve similarly delightful results.
posted by myrrh at 4:12 PM on October 29, 2007

We also use a stovetop steamer along the lines of the one alkupe suggests. I endorse it wholeheartedly.
posted by redfoxtail at 5:30 PM on October 29, 2007

i have it, i have it! your solution! its called Mukka, its made by Bialetti, and here is the information page. we bought this thing in italy, but apparently you can find it online.

it works just like an espresso maker, but has a pressure valve. you pour the milk in the top, and literally within 3 minutes you get perfectly steamed milk mixed into your coffee. foam, and everything. on an electrical stove.

we cannot recommend it highly enough. after slightly more than a month i think it has made us coffee at least a 100 times. (seriously!)

look at the videos - they are completely true. plus you save a step of steaming the milk separately.
posted by olya at 7:12 PM on October 29, 2007

Please just buy a cheap ($50 or less) steam-pressure espresso machine from a company like Salton or DeLonghi. They make horrible "espresso" but the steam wand works on the same principle as espresso machines costing hundreds or thousands more. You get REAL STEAMED MILK, not agitated heated milk that won't taste remotely creamy.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:07 PM on October 29, 2007

Calumet43, where did you get the one that attaches to the tea kettle? That sounds perfect.
posted by exceptinsects at 9:14 AM on October 30, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses everyone!

While it appears there is indeed more than one way to skin a cat here, I think the combination of the price and a few people's recommendations for the manual, screen-based frothers has lead me to take a stab at trying it that way.

Of course, I'll keep my eyes peeled for a cheap espresso machine though too!
posted by mrhaydel at 6:59 AM on October 31, 2007

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