Out of milk? Learn how to use everyday milk substitutes such as heavy cream, half and half, evaporated milk or other dairy products as a replacement in your baking recipe.
Whether you’re a bread baker or a cake maker, chances are milk is an essential ingredient in all your favorite recipes. It’s great for adding flavor and texture to your baked goods, but if the last of the milk was used up with today’s breakfast, don’t fear – there are plenty of ways you can fulfill the urge to bake using a milk substitute.
As is the case with most ingredients, not all milk is created equal. Each has a different fat content and can impact the color, texture and flavor of your recipe. Therefore, when substituting whole milk in a recipe, it’s important to keep in mind the relative fat content of the milk substitute you’re using.
Types of Milk
To better understand how milk works in baking, let’s break down the types of milk, along with their fat content.
For our recipes, we typically use whole milk. The protein content, fat, sugar and overall creaminess of whole milk is ideal for creating rich and delicious baked goods and treats. Whole milk is generally 3.25% milkfat (or fat in milk).
On the other side of the spectrum is skim milk. Skim milk usually comes in at about 0.5% (or less) milkfat, meaning there’s really little to no flavor in this option. One percent and two percent milk have 1% and 2% milkfat by weight, respectively. In general, the more fat, the more flavor!
The other two common milk options – heavy cream and half and half – are much fattier and can provide great flavor in cakes, muffins and more. Heavy cream contains about 36% milkfat and half and half, which is half whole milk and half heavy cream, comes in at about 12% milkfat.
Different Types of Milk Substitutes
If you’re short on time or can’t make it to the store, here are some common milk substitutes you can use in a pinch!
With a higher milkfat content than whole milk, heavy cream has a thick consistency and a rich, velvety mouthfeel. Many recipes that require heavy cream, such as scones or cream soups, do so because they require the added fat for better texture and flavor.
Heavy cream can also be whipped with confectioners’ sugar to make a delicious topping for fresh fruit or ice cream and can even be turned into a frosting when combined with a stabilizer, like piping gel. Be careful not to overwhip it, though – too much beating and your heavy cream will turn into butter!
To use heavy cream as a replacement for whole milk, all you need to do is dilute it with a little water.
1 cup whole milk – combine ½ cup heavy cream and ½ cup water.
Half and Half
Made using equal parts whole milk and heavy cream, half and half still adds significant richness without being too heavy. It’s great to use in soups, sauces and gravy as the higher fat content means it’s less prone to curdling when boiled.
Much like heavy cream, half and half can easily be used in place of whole milk with the addition of a little water.
1 cup whole milk – combine ¾ cup half and half and ¼ cup water.
Powdered milk, or dry milk, is the dry solids that remain after all the moisture has been removed. One of the great advantages of powdered milk is that it has a long shelf life and does not need to be refrigerated until used.
Powdered milk can be used to add creaminess to savory soups and sauces or can be added to smoothies and milkshakes to boost up the protein. You can even add it to homemade hot cocoa mix to gift to friends during the holidays.
Best of all, it’s super easy to use powdered milk in baking. Simply follow the package instructions to reconstitute and make the amount of milk necessary for your recipe. Also, take note that powdered milk comes in different milkfat levels (just like real milk), so make sure to check the fat content on the powdered milk you’re using.
When using powdered milk in a recipe, you can reconstitute the milk and use it as you would whole milk, or you can combine the milk powder with the other dry ingredients, then add the appropriate amount of water where you would normally add milk.
Here’s another milk product with a relatively long shelf life. Not to be confused with sweetened condensed milk, which has sugar added to it, evaporated milk comes in a can and goes through a process to remove some of its water and is then heated. This process gives the evaporated milk a deeper color and fuller flavor.
Evaporated milk is often used in place of heavy cream to add richness and body without the added fat. You can use it as you would cream in sauces, soups and baked goods. To use it as a milk substitute, simply add water.
1 cup whole milk- combine ½ cup evaporated milk and ½ cup water.
By now it should come as no surprise that evaporated milk also comes in a variety of fat levels, so be aware that the lower fat levels will not be as rich in flavor as the higher fat levels.
Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives
Milk alternatives, such as almond, soy, oat or coconut milk, have become favorites for lactose-free and lactose-loving bakers. Since these products are made using other food items, it’s important to keep in mind that each one may have a unique flavor that can come through in your baking.
Of course, that’s not always a bad thing! Almond milk, with its delicate nutty flavor, works well in most baked goods, while the coconut flavor in coconut milk would be delicious with a rich chocolate cake. However, some may find these flavors too noticeable, so best to stick with unsweetened and plain varieties.
In most cases, soy, coconut rice and most nut milks can be substituted cup for cup for regular whole milk. Oat milk, on the other hand, has quite a bit more starch than regular milk and may change the texture of baked goods.
Non-dairy substitutions do vary in fat, protein and starch, so getting the right mix may take some trial and error to find what works best for you.
So, no need to cry over spilled milk! With all these suggestions for milk substitutions, you’ll be able to satisfy your baking craving no matter what you have on hand!
What other baking tips and tricks can you share with us? Let us know in the comments below!
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