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 also participates in the Maillard Reaction that occurs during baking.
Dairy products act 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 replace water in making bread. Milk should be added to the dough in the same amount as water. While we’re on the subject of liquids in baking, you may want to read my blog post on whether milk is better than water for baking.
What type of milk is best for baking bread?
Dehydrated dairy products
A wide variety of dried dairy products are available, offering convenience in storage and use. However, it’s essential to store them in a dry, cool place to prevent moisture absorption from the air. The only disadvantage of powdered milk products is their relatively higher cost compared to fresh ones.
When it comes to baking bread, using milk powder instead of liquid milk is a practical and easy choice. Unlike liquid milk, which can spoil quickly, milk powder has a longer shelf life. This is especially useful if you use a bread machine and need to delay baking for several hours. An additional benefit of milk powder is that it doesn’t require refrigeration, unlike fresh dairy products.
In addition to milk powder, there’s whey powder, which boasts 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, an excellent baking ingredient. Buttermilk is an acidic, nutrient-rich liquid produced as a byproduct of butter production. While liquid buttermilk can be challenging to find, the powder form is available in some online stores.
Both buttermilk and whey add a tender crust, a soft crumb, and a mild, pleasant tangy flavor to homemade bread. Due to their high lactose content, buttermilk and whey promote crust browning.
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 suitable for making bread dough. They pair especially well with soda bread, as they are more acidic than regular milk. In addition to baking soda, acidity is necessary to produce carbon dioxide and facilitate dough rising. Speaking of quick bread, you might want to read my article on the differences between basic bread and quick bread.
Fermented dairy products are also suitable for yeasted doughs as they enhance the bread’s acidity, resulting in a softer crumb and crust. Bread made with sour dairy products ferments faster due to their higher acidity.
Non-dairy products such as soy, almond, rice, or coconut milk are suitable for making bread dough. People who follow a vegan diet or have lactose intolerance or a milk protein allergy can use plant-based milk substitutes for bread making.
However, plant-based milk lacks the nutritional value of cow’s milk and has a distinctive taste that can affect the flavor of the bread. Speaking of bread flavor, you may be interested in reading my article on why bread sometimes turns out to be 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.
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.