The liquid is the primary ingredient of bread dough, and most recipes use water. Unlike water, milk contains proteins, fat, and sugar. Some enriched bread, such as brioche and the sweetbreads served on holidays in many European countries, are traditionally made with milk.
This post aims to explain what changes happen to homemade bread when water is replaced with dairy products.
Milk contains minerals, sugar, fat and proteins, which increase the nutritional value of bread. By using milk instead of water, you get enriched bread with enahced flavor, a soft crumb and a tender, brown crust. Dairy products also extend the shelf life of bread.
Milk naturally contains a sugar called lactose, which caramelizes when heated, flavoring the bread and helping the crust to brown.
Milk acts as a conditioner in the dough, which means that bread made partly or entirely with milk has a softer and more tender texture than those made only with water. In addition, due to the fat content of milk, bread stays fresh longer. However, low-fat milk may not provide this benefit.
Milk consists mainly of water, so it can completely take over the role of water in making bread. Milk should be added to the dough in the same amount as water.
What type of milk is best for baking bread?
Dehydrated dairy products
A large variety of dried dairy products is available. They are convenient to store and use. However, you must make sure that they are stored in a dry, cool place so that they cannot absorb moisture from the air. The only disadvantage of powdered milk products is that they are quite expensive compared to fresh ones.
Milk powder is a convenient and simple solution instead of liquid milk with a short shelf life. This is especially useful if you use a bread machine and delay baking for several hours. The advantage of milk powder is that it does not need to be kept in the refrigerator, like fresh dairy products.
In addition to milk powder, there is also whey powder, which has a high nutrient content and can be used in bread dough. Whey is the liquid byproduct of cheese making.
Dehydrated dairy products also include buttermilk powder, which is an excellent baking ingredient. Buttermilk is an acidic, nutrient-rich liquid that is a byproduct of butter. Liquid buttermilk is hard to find, but the powder is available in some online stores.
Buttermilk and whey ad a tender crust, a soft crumb, and a mild, pleasant tangy taste to homemade bread. Due to their high lactose content, buttermilk and whey promote the browning of the crust.
Doughs that contain milk instead of water tend to ferment slowly. The flavors of the bread develop better during the longer fermentation time.
Fresh milk contains enzymes that prevent the development of gluten, resulting in less porous bread. These enzymes are degraded by high temperatures. Therefore, it is good to boil fresh or pasteurized milk and then cool it down before making the dough. UHT (Ultra High Treatment) milk is treated at 140°C/284°F, so it no longer needs to be boiled before use.
The natural sugar in milk caramelizes during baking, so dough containing milk should be baked at a lower temperature than bread made with water. However, lactose does not ferment, so it does not affect the work of the yeast. Since the sweetening power of milk sugar is low, it does not affect the taste of the bread either.
Fermented dairy products
Fermented milk products such as yogurt, cultured buttermilk, whey, sour cream, or kefir are also good for making bread dough. They go especially well with soda bread, as they are more acidic than milk. In addition to baking soda, acid is also needed to produce carbon dioxide and make the dough rise.
Fermented milk products are also suitable for yeasted doughs, as they increase the acidity of the bread and make the crumb and crust softer. Bread made with sour dairy products ferments faster due to their acidity.
Non-dairy products such as soy, almond, rice, or coconut milk are suitable for making bread dough. People who follow a vegan diet, are lactose intolerant, or have a milk protein allergy can use plant-based milk substitutes to make bread.
However, plant-based milk doesn’t have the nutritional value of cow’s milk and has a distinctive taste that can affect the taste of the bread. While on the subject of the taste of bread, you may wish to read my article on why bread sometimes turns out flavorless.
Milk contains valuable mineral ingredients, sugar, fat, and proteins that enrich the bread and also enhance the crumb and crust. Therefore, if you make the dough with milk instead of water, you will get soft bread full of flavor with a nice brown crust.
For more information on bread baking, you may also wish to read my article on the main ingredients in bread.