Non-Dairy Milks: Which Are Best for Baking?
Do alternative milks bake the same as dairy milk? There isn't a simple yes or no answer to this question. But I have good news! If you're lactose intolerant or simply want to avoid dairy, there is an alternate milk for your baking project. Read on to find out which non-dairy milks are best for your baked goods, and which you should avoid.
What to Know About Baking with Non-Dairy Milk
No alternative or non-dairy milk will have the exact same sweetness, protein, fiber, and fat as dairy milk. Luckily, most baked goods call for eggs, and eggs bring enough of these important factors to the table that the milk you use may not be of much consequence. This means the structure and texture of your baking projects won't be affected too much by the loss of dairy milk. However, this also means that substitutions for cow's milk made in recipes without eggs are a little more risky.
Alternative milks will also work in the place of buttermilk; just add one teaspoon white vinegar to 1/3 cup of almond, soy, oat, or coconut milk, and allow it to curdle at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. Because of the different water content of each of these "milks" you may need to slightly up the vinegar for best results. You can judge this by how curdled your "milk" appears.
Related: Quick and Easy Cake Recipes
The Best Non-Dairy Milk for Baking: Soy Milk
Soy milk has the most protein of all the alternate milks, so for baking projects that need a lot of structure (think cakes and breads), this is the best dairy-free option.
The high-protein content also causes baked goods made with soy milk to brown nicely and look like they were baked with cow's milk. If you're making an unfrosted dessert, this more appealing appearance is worth keeping in mind.
Soy milk's flavor is mild and is usually hard to detect in breads, muffins, cakes and other baked goods. Some soy milks may be enhanced with vanilla flavoring, which could be beneficial, depending on what you're baking.
Related: How to Make Your Own Soybean Milk
Runner Up: Almond Milk
Almond milk can be used 1:1 in place of 2% milk and whole milk when baking. When using it in place of whole milk, confections may bake a little faster, as there is more water in almond milk than dairy milk. This water evaporates causing the baked good to rise and set more quickly.
Cow's milk has naturally occurring sugar, and "unsweetened" almond milk has 0g of sugar. To more closely mimic true dairy milk, look for packaging that claims "low sugar" or "lightly sweetened."
Your treats, especially items like sugar cookies and quick breads, will appear a little pale when baked with almond milk. Since there is very low protein in this milk, the browning reaction (called a Maillard reaction) can't occur. It will still taste delicious but you may want to add a topping or a glaze to make your bake look as appetizing as possible.
Related: How to Make Almond Milk
Heavy Cream Substitute: Coconut Milk
The canned coconut milk you find in the grocery aisles (instead of the "milk" in the refrigerated case) can be used in place of heavy cream or a milk-cream combination. Canned coconut milk is much higher in fat and protein than other alternative milks. In fact, when you open a can you'll find a thick layer of coconut cream on top of the coconut water. The trick here is to blend that cream and that coconut water together to get a viscous liquid, which is the best dairy-free heavy cream or half-and-half substitute.
This canned coconut milk is also the only dairy substitute that can be reliably whipped, like a whipped cream. You'll need to be careful when whipping to keep things extra cold and use less powdered sugar, but light and fluffy whipped cream is possible with canned coconut milk. For a longer-lasting whip, you can add a thickener like cornstarch or soy milk powder. (Powder milk works the best, but that defeats the dairy-free goal.)
What About Oat Milk?
Oat milk is… fine. Just like almond and soy milk, you can use it in baking recipes 1:1 in place cow's milk. But there are occasionally issues with separation and a slimy or gummy texture in baked goods, especially breads. Look for "full fat" oat milks to avoid batters and doughs that are too thin.
One positive aspect of oat milk is that it has a lower environmental impact than almond milk, because oats require far less water to produce. Oat milk can lend a nice grainy flavor to confections like muffins (but so can almond milk!), and it's flavor impact is subtle enough that you won't notice it in desserts flavored with chocolate, baking spices, or extracts.
Related: How to Make Oat Milk
Skip It for Baking: Rice Milk
Rice milk is made by blending boiled rice with water, sweetener, and some stabilizers and emulsifiers. Since rice takes on a lot of moisture when it's boiled (we all see it go from tiny and rock hard to fully and expanded in the pot!), the water content in rice milks is very high. This milk can create sweet and delicious drinks, but when it comes to baking, the outcome will be unreliable.
If you absolutely must bake with rice milk, add a thickening agent like cornstarch, xanthan gum, or even very fine rice flour to combat the loose consistency of the "milk." You'll have to experiment for the right ratio in each thing you make, but one teaspoon thickening agent to each cup of rice milk is a good place to start.
We're serving up and celebrating the biggest home-cooking trends from the most enthusiastic cooks we know: our community. We crunched the data from 1.2 billion annual Allrecipes.com visits and 2.5 billion annual page views. Then we dug even further, surveying Allrecipes cooks about what's in their carts and fridges, on their stovetops and tables, and on their minds. Alternative milk is just one of the topics they're most curious about. See more of the "State of Home Cooking" special report.