Baking with Non-Dairy and Alternative Milks
Look at any grocery store milk section and you’ll see a plethora of dairy and alternative milks. Milk from cows and goats. Milks from nuts. Milks from grains. There’s milk everywhere. But when it comes to baking, not all milks are equal.
Standard cow’s milk has always been the go-to in baking. That’s because it plays an important role in building structure in baked goods. However, did you know that this type of milk can have a certain drying effect on cakes and cookies? It can also induce dietary discomfort in those who are lactose intolerant and it isn’t a part of many of the diets of the day (paleo, vegan, etc.). To combat the drying out effect of standard milk, recipe developers add more oil or butter to their recipes to compensate. When it comes to diet, though, the only solution is using alternative milks or “Alt-milk” for short.
When adding in or trying new milks, be aware of the flavor profile and structure they add. Many non-dairy milk or alternative milks also function differently than cow’s milk as their protein, fat, and sugar contents vary greatly. As a reference point, whole cow’s milk has 8 grams of fat per cup, 8.5 percent nonfat milk solids, 88 percent water and is high in natural proteins, fat, calcium, and vitamin D.
Below, we’ve broken down how non-dairy milk and alternative milks perform in baking so you can make an informed decision and adjust your recipe accordingly.
- Unsweetened Cashew Milk almost always performs well. It is lower in calories, fat and naturally occurring sugars than dairy, although it contains no protein. Cashew milk imparts a slightly nutty flavor undertone and due to its lower fat count, the final outcome will be denser and a bit drier.
- Unsweetened Almond Milk has less protein, calcium and calories than dairy. Much like cashew milk, almond milk imparts a slightly nutty flavor undertone and due to its lower fat count, the final outcome will be a bit drier and less rich.
- Goat and Sheep Milk are similar to dairy milk, so those with lactose intolerance may still be sensitive to them. Both impart a slight grassy flavor with a salty undertone that can end up adding a bitter edge in baked goods.
- Soy Milk has a bit of a “beany” taste. It is the closest to dairy in terms of protein and fat content, while being lower in calories.
- Rice Milk is thinner than cow’s milk which will require you to add some sort of thickening agent such as flour or cornstarch. It also has a higher carbohydrate count and is very low in protein. It adds a slight sweetness, but doesn’t change the flavor profile overall. As a general rule, rice milk shouldn’t be used in baking.
- Coconut Milk (not coconut milk beverages) contains no protein, is higher in fat than dairy, and it adds a slight coconut flavor so it works best in heavier, sweet recipes.
Out of all the popular milks available, Cashew and Almond are our favorites. They have a higher fat content and their nutty flavor can lend a deeper note to your baked goods. Cashew or Almond milk will add an extra nutty flavor to our Apple Apricot Walnut Muffins or make our Cherry Upside Down Cake more dense. You can use nut milk instead of cow milk in our Party Flan (not completely dairy-free, as you’ll still need to use sweetened condensed milk), in our Arroz con Leche or our French crepes. You’ll go nuts over the rich flavor. Looking to give Coconut milk a try? Chef Eddy’s Hawaiian Haupia is a creamy and sweet coconut custard popular all across the islands.
Chef Eddy has tested and tasted alternative milks in many of our tried-and-true recipes. Sometimes, the result was less than desirable, and with others, there was hardly a difference. The best way to know if an alternative milk will work for a particular recipe is to actually try it. Let us know your results by uploading an alternative milk recipe to our site. We’d love to have you introduce the Sweetalk Community to a new way of baking.