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Using Dairy Products in Bread Baking

Updated: Mar 11

loaf of bread pitcher of milk


Adding dairy products to bread dough has been done since times immemorial. This article looks at what they do to the dough and how best to use them to change your doughs in the ways you prefer.

When we add dairy products to dough it helps to think about it as adding four things, Water, Saturated Fat, Protein and Lactose. Lactose is a complex sugar found in milk and dairy products. We do not taste it as being sweet, so it doesn't convey a sweetness to the bread.

Adjusting the dough water is simple, just remember to subtract the amount of water in your added dairy product from the dough water in your recipe. There is a chart below to help you with the water content of the different dairy products.

I have trawled the academic repositories, baking books and the Web. There is so little work done on this subject.

In places this article get’s a little dense. If that’s not for you just skip forward because I then go on to give the same information in a plainer manner. I am sure that folk who bake with dairy will have a lot to say after reading this. Please post a your thoughts, I am keen to hear them. When I use butter and milk it is within these guidelines. I would love to hear others experience on this.

Please take especial note of the use of Fermented Soured Cream instead of shop bought butter. It confers remarkable flavours to the dough.

Functional Ingredients

Dairy products are referred to as Functional Ingredients in bread baking. This group of ‘things we add’ to dough are functional insofar as they change the nature of the dough.

Inclusions, on the other hand don’t change the underlying chemistry of the dough, but add flavour, colour, changes in texture and more. Inclusions include seeds, dried fruit, herbs and spices amongst other things. These don’t change the fundamental chemistry of the dough.

There are many hundreds of functional ingredients used by commercial bakeries. Our home bakers list is much shorter. It might include: Scalded flour, ascorbic acid, animal fats (butter and lard), Eggs and egg yolks, lecithin, ascorbic acid, sugar, salt, bean flour, vegetable oil and vital wheat gluten. I will discuss these and a few more in another article.

Fats in dairy products

Fats found in dairy products are saturated fats. They have a shortening effect on the gluten network. They literally make the gluten molecule networks shorter by cutting them up. This gives a less chewy bread which has a softer mouthfeel and better loaf volume. The greater volume comes from the reduced resistance to rising from the weakened gluten structure.

Too much shortening makes the bread more cake like.

Fermentation produces CO2. The CO2 in a dough is held in bubbles in the dough. The walls of these bubbles are a lipid structure. Lipids are fats. They are fat bubbles. As the CO2 is formed by fermentation it migrates into these bubbles (electro-chemically) which expand and inflate the dough. When the bread goes into the oven the early heating makes the CO2 expand rapidly and this gives us our oven spring. The lipid bubble structures made by saturated fats are stronger than those that form if no saturated fat is added to the dough. This means they can hold more gas as they leak less. The CO2 that leaks out of the bubbles migrate out of the dough and are lost. The correct amount of saturated fats will enable our dough to rise more, giving us a lighter loaf. If too much fat is added, it coats the starches in fat hindering the amylase enzymes access to them which slows down the fermentation. This means that less starch is converted to sugars by the amylase to feed the yeast and we get a heavier bread. Brioche is an exception to this because of the way the dough is structured.

The sweet spot for dairy fat in bread is about 3% of the total flour weight. At this level the gas bubbles are at their maximum strength and there are no issues with lipids coating the starches. This will give the best loaf volume.

A special note on Soured Cream. There are two types of soured cream in the shops. Chemically Soured Cream and Fermented Soured Cream. Both start off as Double, or Whipping Cream. The first is soured chemically and the flavour is not so great. Fermented Soured Cream has a wonderful flavour which is carried into the dough.

To make traditional butter the cream is first soured with a bacteria culture and then it is churned to make butter. It's very easy to make at home. Home made Soured Cream has a water content of 10% - 15%. Bought soured Cream has a water content of 63%. They add water to make it useable as a topping otherwise it would be too stiff.

Soured cream gives dough a tremendous flavour boost compared to butter from the shops which is not fermented. I highly recommend it's use instead of butter.

However, at 3% and above Saturated Fat content in the dough the crumb is markedly shortened. This is good for things like Burger Buns, English Muffins and Sandwich Breads.

2% gives less shortening, but still improves the mouthfeel and keeping qualities of the bread. I add saturated fat at 2% to my lean doughs such as Ciabatta and Baguettes to improve their shelf life at a slight cost of some shortening of the crumb.

Amounts to Use to give the dough 3% Saturated Fat Content.

Tip: If you make your own Soured Cream it can be frozen in weighed portions in a 1" cubed silicon ice tray. It freezes well and thaws quickly.

Other kinds of fat used in dough:

Lard: Lard performs much like butter, but it doesn’t confer the fragrance and flavour given by butter.

Hydrolysed Vegetable Fats: These are also called Trans Fats. These too perform in the same way as the saturated fats found in dairy products. However, the chemical processes that convert polyunsaturated vegetable fats into saturated fats makes mirror image molecular structures compared to those found naturally. The issue for us is that our bodies recognise them as fats, but we do not have the chemistry to break them down properly. Our bodies therefore produce high levels of cholesterol in an increased effort to break them down. Needless to say, they are a big factor in high cholesterol and heart disease and more countries are restricting, or banning, their use in foods. I do not use them for this reason.

Vegetable oils These weaken the lipid walls making up the gas bubbles with the effect that they cannot hold as much CO2 and they leak more of it out into the atmosphere. Doughs made with vegetable oils tend toward a lower volume. Research has shown that if they are used at 2%-5% of the total flour weight in a dough, then this effect is not so marked. Above 15% and the dough volume deceases rapidly with any further increase. With flat breads such as pizzas, focaccia and fougasse there is not so much vertical dough weight to support and higher quantities can be used. Having said that 15% olive oil is rather a lot. Ordinarily 2%-5% is a good level to use in the dough. We can always pour more on top. Vegetable oils give an oiliness to the bread which can be attractive when oils such as olive, or toasted seed oils are used.

An interesting note on Casein: During digestion, casein releases opiates called casomorphins. Our dopamine receptors respond to these by triggering an addictive response. Cheese is exceptionally high in Casein.

How much Water and Saturated fat is in the dough?

When calculating the total water and fat level in a dough we need to add up all of the different sources we have used in the dough. For example, if we have used butter, milk and eggs we need to add up the amount of fat and water each one adds to the dough, to ensure that we haven't altered the target hydration, or that we have not added so much fat that the bread will be dense than we would have liked.

An example calculation of fat levels in a dough

We are making a milk loaf made with 500g of flour with 70% hydration. We want to substitute 25% of that water with milk. We will add 1 egg yolk for it’s emulsifier properties and we want to add butter to get the fat content up into the 5% sweet spot. Emulsifiers enable the dough to rise more giving greater loaf volume.

Water at 70% is 350g. Milk at 25% of the water = 87.5g of full fat milk. Which is 3.6% fat. That means we have added 87.5 x 0.036 = 3.15g Fat

Egg Yolk – Weighs 18g and it is 30% fat = 6g of fat.

The total saturated fat in the recipe = 3.15 + 6g = 9.15g

5% Saturated fat is the sweet spot and that is 25g in this case.

25g – 9.15g = 15.85 grams of fat to be added

Butter is 80% fat so multiply the amount of fat wanted by 1.25 (100/80). That is 15.85 x 1.25 = 19.8g. 20g of butter should be added.

An example calculation of water in a dough

We are baking a bread which is 70% hydration with 500g of flour.

The dough will require 500g (flour weight) x 70% = 350g of water.

From above we are adding

87.5g full fat milk which is 87% water (see the chart above) = 76g water

1 egg yolk at 18g, 50% water = 9g Water

20g Butter at 20% water = 19.25 x 0.2 = 3.85g

Total water added from dairy = 88.85, or 89g in sensible money.

Desired water for hydration is 350g – 89g = 261g of water to add to the dough.

Using factors

Working in percentages is good for getting an idea of quantity, but they are not immediately useful for doing the maths.

It’s much easier to work out fat and water content of the dairy products we are adding by multiplying them with their percentage factor.

To do this multiply the weight of the product you are adding by its percentage content divided by 100. This can be done with both fats and water.

Butter is 80% fat. To find the amount of fat in 25g of butter multiply it by its fat content, 80% divided by 100 = 0.8 is the butter’s water content factor.

To work out how much butter to add if we want 25g saturated fat we do the reverse of the above. Butter is 80% fat so the factor is 100/80 = 1.25.

Multiply the desired amount of fat by 1.25 (the butter factor) gives us an amount of butter to add as 31.25g.

Milk, Protein: Casein and Whey

The main proteins in milk are Casein and Whey. In full fat milk 80% of the protein is casein and 20% are whey proteins. Casein is what we are after. The whey, less so.

Whey Protein

Whey protein in reasonable quantities weakens the dough and so diminishes the volume of the loaf. However, the whey protein is only 0.9% of liquid whey, which is not enough to do so much harm. Overall whey is of little value to the baker as a functional addition to the dough.

Whey typically has high levels of lactose (milk sugars) 4.5%. This is much higher than milk. This will accelerate crust browning, See Lactose below.

N.B. Commercial bakeries use a lot of whey protein, but theirs is Acid Whey, they treat whey with Hydrochloric acid and then neutralise the acid afterwards. A very different product.

Whey proteins quite often ‘come along for the ride’ in dairy products. With the exception of using only whey we simply ignore them.


Casein gives the bread:

· A more uniform and fine soft crumb. Softer mouthfeel.

· Longer shelf life

· A lighter mouthfeel and slightly richer-tasting bread

· Slightly reduced loaf volume.

The above positive effects peak at about 1.1% Casein to flour weight. After that the dough becomes less stable, ferments slowly, the gluten is weakened and the loaf volume decreases. A poorer bread is the result.

Ideal amounts of Dairy to add as a percentage of the flour.

The sweet spot of 1.0% Casein is the equivalent of replacing the water in the dough with:

35% Whole milk - If the Milk is scalded more can be used - see below.

53% Skimmed or low fat milk. If the Milk is scalded more can be used - see below.

35% Butter Milk. Scalding the Buttermilk changes its chemistry allowing more to be used without the extra Casein lowering the loaf volume. See below.

3.5% Skimmed Dried Milk will give the 1% Casein though more can be used. See below.

6% Full Fat Dried Milk will give the 1% Casein though more can be used. See below.

29% Live Full Fat Yoghurt.


Whole milk and Full Fat dried milk have high saturated fat content. So the Fat which needs adding to the dough should be reduced by 1%

Full Fat Yoghurt has high levels of fat. Reduce the fat level in the dough by 2.7%.

Soured Cream cannot be added solely for it’s Casein as it’s fat content is too high. I use it instead of butter for the extra fermented flavour it gives.

Adding Soured Cream at 17% adds 3% Saturated Fat and 0.3% Casein to the dough.

Adding Soured Cream at 28% adds 5% Saturated Fat and 0.54% Casein to the dough. Adding Soured Cream at 56% adds 10% Saturated Fat and 1.04% Casein to the dough.

At 56% Soured Cream the crumb will be very short indeed because of the high fat level.

Focussing on Milk

An in depth study was conducted 2020 using full fat milk in a white dough. The researchers replaced the water in the dough with milk in differing amounts. They found that replacing 25% of the water with milk was the sweet spot. At this level the following characteristics were maximised:

· Increased dough elasticity leading to a finer and slightly denser crumb

· A softer mouthfeel

· Increased crust browning

· Improved water retention with the bread being moister and staling more slowly.

· Increased bread firmness, gumminess, chewiness and resilience.

Fresh milk does not work well in bread dough. It can convey not so pleasant flavours to the bread and it contains enzymes which inhibit fermentation. For this reason it needs to be scalded and allowed to cool before it is added to the dough. Please see below for the scalding method.

Butter Milk

Butter milk comes in two types. Butter milk from making fermented butter and butter milk from unfermented butter. Fermented Buttermilk is not at all common and it is likely to be marked on the label as ‘fermented’.

For our purposes there is little difference. The higher acidity of fermented buttermilk helps the yeast, strengthens the gluten and it confers slightly better flavour to the bread.

In all other respects they are the same.

I have seen Buttermilk added as a direct substitute for all of the water in Soda bread (known as Scofa bread in Scotland). The acidity helps the baking soda to work. Soda bread is more like a cake, so the information given above regarding yeast breads does not apply. Having said that I have seen it added at 75% of the total water in Butter Milk Bread. I have never baked with it at that level.

Buttermilk raises the acidity of the dough and this helps the yeast fermentation and strengthens the gluten making the dough a little more elastic. The organic acids also react with other components found in fermenting dough to make more aroma, flavour, than would otherwise be the case.

Buttermilk must be scalded, alternatively dried buttermilk can be used which doesn't need to be scalded.

Scalding the Buttermilk changes its chemistry and more can be used without the excess Casein causing problems with loaf volume.

Fermented Sour Cream

This is high fat and it is added as a fat. Please see the notes above about it's use. It adds fermented flavours to the dough and I find it preferable to using butter.

Full Fat Yoghurt (Live)

This adds some fat, some casein and flavour. The Lactobacilli (LABs) will also add a little more flavour as well. However the LABs in Yoghurt are varieties which digest Milk Sugars, Lactose and they cannot digest starches like the LABs found in natural Leavens (Sourdough).

Live yoghurt is slightly acidic. This increases the acidity of the dough. The increased acidity will improve yeast fermentation, assist the enzymatic development of flavours and strengthen the gluten a little.

Plant Milks

Plant milks are nothing like dairy milk products. They have no casein and the fats in them are polyunsaturated the same as vegetable oils. They may well improve the nutritional value of a bread, but they will not have the same functional effects as dairy products.

Heat Treating Milk and Butter Milk

This is the game changer. Heat treating milk increases the loaf volume.

The milk is already heated in the pasteurising process. Pasteurising removes a lot of the bacteria, but it does not scald the milk.

Scalding requires the milk to be heated to a higher temperature to remove the glutathione which harms the loaf volume. It is also beneficial to do this for cakes and other baked goods that contain milk. However, cake recipes usually contain less milk, it’s often unnecessary to scald it.

At 82C 180F milk becomes scalded. To do this, heat the milk in a pan when it reaches 82C 180F for just a second, and remove it from the heat. This is just below boiling point, and you should see some steam while small bubbles will form at the edge of the pan. If this temperature is exceeded, milk can produce an unpleasant flavour which we want to avoid.

Heat treating soured cream and yoghurt can be done by mixing them with some of the dough water to make them more liquid and then proceeding as above.

Heat treated milk can be used in quantities exceeding the 1% Casein recommendation above. Heat treated milk does not reduce the loaf volume. Yet the added crumb softness from the Casein remains is retained.

Why Dried Milk?

Commercial bakeries add milk as dried milk. Dried milk is scalded in the drying process. They also use low fat dried milk as they prefer to adjust the fats in their doughs separately from the casein. Dried milk is very easy to use in home baking too as it requires no water adjustment and no scalding.

As with Scalded Milk Dried Milk does not reduce loaf volume if the 1% Casein is exceeded. The softer mouthfeel effect for the Casein remains.


Lactose is the sugar found in milk. It doesn’t taste sweet to us, but it is a sugar nonetheless. Yeast is unable to ferment lactose, however the lactobacilli in natural leavens do ferment some of it.

If using a yeast only fermentation the lactose will persist in the dough and, like all sugars, it will lead to the crust browning a little faster and it will give the loaf more crust colour. To ensure the dough is baked through before the crust becomes too dark the oven should be set to a slightly lower temperature. Reducing the oven by 10C, 50F is generally about right.

437 views18 comments


Unknown member
Oct 31, 2023

Re crusts and browning: In Japan, bakers have developed a snowy-white CRUSTLESS shokupan (milk bread), to reduce food waste. Apparently crusts are being thrown out by the tonne every year in the making of sandwiches there.

Heresy to those of us who adore our crusts, but if inquiring minds want to know more ☺️, Seraphine Lishe at the Novita Listyani channel has done their own riff on this, by replacing regular sugar with trehalose, which they say doesn't trigger caramelization or the Maillard reaction --

Pics from the Wordloaf site.

Unknown member
Oct 31, 2023
Replying to

Ah the shokupan vid? Appreciate your concern, thanks ☺️. I passed you the link because I'm quite intrigued by these cultural microcosms and thought you might find it amusing too, not because I'm a "follower" 😊.

Much of what she says about baking is beyond me anyway - I lean more towards her betta fish vids actually (my family used to breed them as a hobby).

Before my aunt and I came across Chain Baker, we had various unpleasant experiences with regurgitated recipes and writers who clearly didn't grasp any of the science or rationale behind their own methods.

With you and Charlie, we know we're getting solid advice based on long experience and well-researched and tested principles. We might…


Unknown member
Oct 31, 2023

So much to take in - we'll have to revisit this article when we're ready to move beyond lean doughs to enriched ones (we love challah and stollen, but it's almost impossible to find any respectable renditions here).


Unknown member
Oct 13, 2023

A clarification following a question from someone.

'Soured Cream' and 'Sour Cream' are the same thing.

Sometimes Sour(ed) cream is made by chemical souring.

For flavour and quality 'Fermented' sour cream is preferable.

Check the label for the word 'Fermented'.


Unknown member
Oct 03, 2023

This article just gets better! Thank you!


Unknown member
Aug 21, 2023

That explains a lot to my bread making. My mother's and grandmother's recipes for sweet dough and cakes always call to scald the milk (not the flour). I also find it interesting that casein can be addictive, but it does make sense in the procreation aspect. I shall have to take a look at my buttermilk buns, which are scalded, and see what is going on there. Great article, Kevin!

Unknown member
Aug 22, 2023
Replying to


Well, for some eggs are included in Dairy. :)

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