Is Milk Better Than Water in Baked Goods?

While both milk and water serve the purpose of adding moisture to baked goods, they add different characteristics to the mix that can significantly impact the final product.

In this blog post, we’ll explain the specific features of both milk and water and their effects on the chemistry of baking.

Both milk and water are good for baking. Milk adds richness, flavor, and enhanced nutrition due to its fats, proteins, minerals, and sugars, making the crumb denser and the crust softer. 

Conversely, water offers neutrality and is suitable for those with dietary restrictions. Water is also traditionally used in bread recipes like baguettes and ciabatta, contributing to a more airy and chewy inside and a crisp crust. 

The choice between these two liquids in baked goods depends on the recipe and the desired outcome.

The Role of Milk in Baked Goods

Milk adds richness and flavor while also improving the nutritional profile of baked goods due to its composition of fats, proteins, minerals, and sugars.


Lactose, a natural sugar found in milk, plays a unique role in both flavor and crust formation when used in baking. When doughs and batters are exposed to high temperatures during baking, the lactose in milk undergoes caramelization.

This process adds a subtle sweetness and imparts a rich, toasty flavor to baked goods, creating a  golden-brown crust. The enhanced crust, resulting from lactose caramelization, helps seal in moisture, preventing the baked goods from becoming overly dry.

Another crucial browning process during baking is the Maillard reaction. It occurs when amino acids (proteins) interact with reducing sugars, including lactose when exposed to heat. This reaction generates a wide range of flavorful compounds that contribute to the taste and aroma of bakery products.



The fats in milk, primarily in the form of butterfat, add a smooth mouthfeel to baked items. The fat in milk helps maintain a tender and moist texture in baked goods, preventing them from becoming overly crumbly or hard as they age.

Staling in baked goods is primarily caused by the crystallization of starch molecules. Fats, including milkfat, can interfere with starch crystallization, slowing down the staling process and extending the shelf life of the product.

Nutrition Profile

Replacing water with milk in baked goods can significantly alter their nutritional profile.

Milk contains more calories than water because it has a higher energy content. Depending on the type of milk (whole milk, skim milk, etc.) used in the recipe, substituting water with milk can increase the overall calorie content of the baked goods.

Panettone is traditionally made with milk

Milk is a source of protein, whereas water contains none. Substituting water with milk will add protein to the baked goods. This can be beneficial for those looking to increase their protein intake or improve the texture and structure of breads and pastries.

Dairy products are also a good source of several vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and B vitamins. When you use milk in your baked goods, you’re incorporating these nutrients into the recipe. The specific nutrient content will depend on the type of milk used. One notable benefit of using dairy products is the calcium they provide.


The Role of Water in Baked Goods

Although milk brings unique qualities to baked goods, including flavor, richness, and tenderness, there are several reasons why you might consider using water instead.

Specific Recipes may Require Water

Some recipes are traditionally made with water, and using milk might not be suitable for achieving an authentic texture or flavor. For example, baguettes are typically made with water in the dough, resulting in a chewy texture.

Dietary Restrictions

Some people have dietary restrictions or allergies that prevent them from consuming milk or dairy products. Using water allows you to create baked goods that are dairy-free and suitable for individuals with lactose intolerance, dairy allergies, or vegan diets.

A baguette
Baguettes are traditionally made with water

Neutral Flavor

Water has a neutral flavor, which means it won’t add any distinct taste to your baked goods. This neutrality can be desirable in recipes where you want to avoid the dairy flavor.

Lower Fat Content

Milk contains varying amounts of fat, depending on the type used (e.g., whole milk, skim milk). If you’re looking to reduce the fat content in your baked goods, using water instead of milk can be a way to achieve this.

Lighter Texture

Water in baking tends to create a crisper and thicker crust while contributing to a lighter, airier, and chewier crumb texture due to its interaction with gluten development. In contrast, milk, with its fats and proteins, can result in a softer crust and a denser, richer crumb.



Water is readily available and typically less expensive than milk. If you’re baking on a budget or need to save on ingredients, using water can be a cost-effective choice.

Importance of Liquids in Baking

Liquid ingredients play a foundational role in baking, serving as a crucial component that significantly influences the outcome of baked goods. Beyond providing the necessary moisture to form a workable dough or batter, liquids contribute to the texture, structure, and flavor of the final product.

The hydration in a recipe determines whether the result will be tender or tough, light or dense, moist or dry. Liquids serve the purpose of binding together various dry ingredients.

Liquid ingredients are vital in activating key chemical reactions such as the leavening process through baking powder and baking soda. Additionally, proper hydration is essential for activating yeast in doughs and batters.

Milk vs Water Experiment

Solvent for Ingredients

Liquids act as solvents, helping dissolve and distribute various ingredients evenly throughout the batter or dough. For example, liquids dissolve sugar and salt, ensuring that these ingredients are evenly distributed.

Temperature Control

Controlling the dough temperature by adding water at the right temperature allows bakers to achieve consistency in their bread recipes. It ensures that each batch of dough behaves similarly, leading to reliable results.


Dough temperature is essential in baking because it directly impacts yeast activity, fermentation rate, gluten development, flavor, and texture of the final product.

Flavor and Aroma Development

Liquids contribute to flavor enhancement in baking by dissolving and releasing flavorful compounds present in ingredients like spices, extracts, and fruits. Additionally, liquids can carry the aroma of certain ingredients, like vanilla extract or spices, throughout the batter or dough.

Texture and Consistency

The amount and type of liquid used in a recipe influence the texture and consistency of the final product. More liquid can result in a thinner batter or dough, while less liquid leads to a thicker consistency. The choice of liquid (water, milk, buttermilk, etc.) can also affect the final texture and flavor.

Paris-Brest cake
Choux pastry can be made with both water and milk

Flour Hydration

Hydration of flour initiates essential processes that contribute to the overall quality and characteristics of baked goods.

  • Properly hydrated flour enables the interaction of gluten-forming proteins, leading to the development of a strong and flexible gluten network. Gluten provides the structure and elasticity that give the dough its ability to rise and hold its shape during baking.
  • Hydration activates enzymes present in the flour. Enzymes play various roles in baking, such as breaking down starches into simpler sugars that yeast can feed on, enhancing flavor development, and affecting the color of the final product.
  • During baking, starches in the flour gelatinize, meaning they absorb liquid and swell. This process contributes to the setting of structures in the final baked goods. Proper hydration ensures uniform gelatinization, leading to a consistent texture.

Activating Leavening Agents

Leavening agents are responsible for the expansion of doughs and batters by releasing carbon dioxide gas during the baking process. The proper release of CO2 gas gives baked goods their desired volume, texture, and structure. Leavening agents come in three types: chemical, biological, and physical, and all need liquid ingredients to activate.

  • Chemical leavening agents, including baking soda, baking powder, and ammonium carbonate, initiate chemical reactions that release carbon dioxide, resulting in the expansion of the dough or batter.
  • Biological leavening agents, such as baker’s yeast and sourdough starters with wild yeasts, depend on living microorganisms to produce carbon dioxide through fermentation.
  • Physical leavening agents, like steam, create pockets of gas in the dough or batter when heated, leading to the desired rise in baked goods.

When it comes to leavening agents, you might want to check out my blog post about which pastries contain yeast and which ones do not.


Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the choice between milk and water in baking depends on understanding the specific characteristics and benefits each liquid brings to your recipe.

Milk can add richness, flavor, and enhanced nutrition to your baked goods, thanks to its fats, proteins, minerals, and sugars. It also contributes to unique flavor developments through lactose caramelization and Maillard reaction.

On the other hand, water offers neutrality. It can be ideal for those with dietary restrictions, and it’s often used in traditional bread recipes.



My name is Debora, the founder of My Delicious Sweets, and a qualified confectioner with broad experience in the confectionery industry. On my blog, I will share important, interesting, and fun facts about food, along with some of my favorite recipes.

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