Milk vs water

Karniecoops's picture

I realise this may seem like a daft question, but I'm just mid-way through making my first batch of croissants, and I'm wondering why do sweet breads use milk rather than water (or both)?

The croissant recipe I'm using (from "Local Breads") uses milk, my favourite raisin and cinnamon loaf does, brioche does etc etc.  Is it something to do with the fat contained in milk?

Why oh why?


Happiness is making bread :o)

193 users have voted.


ceejay 2010 April 19

I'm new to the forum and sourdough baking but loving it immensely so far.

I assume milk is used over water as it gives a softer crumb in the final product which goes well with sweet breads.  It is the same in yeast baking I've found.

Also haven't found any major issues in substituting water when baking though... although I have been known to use ricemilk (homemade) instead of milk usually.


LittleMonkeyMojo 2010 April 20

Yes, milk is used for creating a softer loaf.  From what I understand it would be the fat content of the milk which would give that result in very much the same way as butter, margarine, lard or oil.  I was told (not verified) that milk will also make a bread stay fresher longer, I don't know if this is also true of the other fats I mentioned.

I first thought about this when I made my standard sourdough recipe and decided to use half water and half milk, just to see what would happen.  The loaf came out looking exactly the same as when I'd made it with just water, but the crust was softer and the bread was much more soft and spongy.  The taste was close enough that if it was different I couldn't tell the difference.

Muff 2010 April 21

Yup, plus a nice crust color if you use enough, tenderness of crumb, and the obvious nutitive boost.

Milk, as well as other enriching ingredients, helps with freshness. Syrups really do, and fats to a point. But fats can keep something soft without keeping it from getting stale, and the sugars (malt, milk sugar, corn sugar, beet and cane sugar, and the syrups) seem to help it stay moist and to slow staling as well.

My understanding -sometimes cloudy!- fwiw.


Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2010 April 22

Ok, so question answered - you get a more delicate loaf that will stay fresher longer :o)  Beautiful!  Makes perfect sense to use milk for these "special needs" doughs. Thanks guys!


Happiness is making bread :o)

rossnroller 2010 April 22

Further to Karen's question: why do some baking gurus advocate the use of milk powder in breads rather than milk in its natural form?

Occabeka 2010 April 22

Can it be for the sake of convenience? And not to mention the ease of storage.


For the same amount of milk fat, milk in its powdered form occupies a smaller amount of space. The powder stores well too. Fortification of milk with vitamins and minerals is easier too, I suspect.





rossnroller 2010 April 22

...but it's not that. I've read an explanation somewhere, and while I can't recall the details, it was to do with the adverse effect of milk in liquid form on the yeast, or on some other aspect of the dough. For whatever reason, milk in powdered form is supposed to improve the bread compared with natural milk. Now what that reason is, precisely...well, maybe someone out there knows...?

Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2010 April 22

But if milk in the liquid form had an adverse effect on the yeast or dough, surely my croissant would have turned out like complete rubbish, but they didn't, they were excellent (yes, trumping blowing noises is what you can hear).  And Dom's raisin loaf would likewise be complete shite, and it never is.

But that said, there must be something about powdered milk as I think pretty much every loaf my father makes in his beloved bread-maker calls for powdered milk!  Maybe that is because you can biff all your ingredients in before you go to bed, keeping your water away from your yeast, set the timer so it cranks up at 5am and hey presto you have a "loaf of bread" when you wake up.  And if you put real milk in the machine and left it to sit at RT then you might have yoghurt before you have bread!  The loaves produced by these machines invariably have a very soft crumb (as suggested by everyone above).

I have seen in it recipes that don't call for the wonderous bread-makers involvement as well.  This is more interesting than my original question!

Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2010 April 22

Just found this thread on "The Fresh Loaf" - talks about glutathione in milk which can break down gluten.  Big discussion on if this enzyme is destroyed by pasteurisation - which it would seem its not, but it would only result in perhaps not such a good rise with your loaves.  Milk powder has been heat treated sufficiently to deactivate this enzyme so any potential problem with glutathione is now removed from the bread making equation.  I think .... the thread became more like a science lesson and it's 11.15pm and my brain has switched off!
Its a big thread, but worth having a speed read through!

rossnroller 2010 April 23

Thought it was something to do with impeding the rise, but you've filled in all the details that will ever be comprehendible by the likes of moi!

Muff 2010 April 25

Dry milk powder for commercial use is sold as "high heat" or "low heat". High heat milk has been dried at a high enough temperature that the proteolytic (i.e., protein-eating) enzymes have been broken down. I suspect, but don't know, that the lactose is affected to some degree, and the flavor may be a little different.( Lactose is essentially unavailable for fermentation by cerevisiae or any of the sourdough cultures, to the best of my understanding.)


Commonly when using liquid milk the recipe will call for scalding the milk, which accomplishes the same.


(I should caution that this is stuff I have picked up over the years, and some of it is probably just part right. There's a whole lotta misinformation in the trade, and while I've tried to fill in gaps with reading and careful brain-picking, I'm sure I don't have the whole story But it sure is fun to keep trying!)



Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2010 April 25

Thanks for that Muff.  Well this is the second time in a row that I've made my cinnamon raison loaf and it hasn't risen that well on proofing!  I think I may have jinxed myself by asking the question as I've never had a problem with it before! :o(

Next time I'll try scalding the milk first and will see if that helps.

Even though it didn't rise that well, it still tastes great so all is not lost!  And like you say,it sure is fun to keep trying!


Happiness is making bread :o)

thegrindre's picture
thegrindre 2010 July 12

Ah ha! This may be my problem.

I've added 1/4 cup milk to my recipe to soften the crust and crumb but it has increased the rising time by 2 hours.

(I don't have the teeth in my head at this age as I once did in my youth, btw)

My last few loaves have been rather disappointing. I'm going back to water just to see if there has been a change by using milk.


Thanks, everyone. I believe I've learned something here.




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