On the Many Benefits of Milk Powder

Reader Rob writes:

Hi Joe, I have looked through a lot of raised doughnut recipes, and very few ever seem to use milk powder as an ingredient. I assume this is for the proteins, but how come you use it whereas other recipes don’t? Maybe delve into the science behind it?

Hey Rob! Nice question. Milk powder does a few things in a baking application. As you point out it adds protein, and that along with the extra sugars can be handy in terms of getting a darker, more golden finish. It also add flavor, another nice feature especially in fast rising breads like doughnuts and white loaves which tend to be bland because of the extra-quick yeast action. However the big benefit of dry milk is tenderness. The fats and the milk solids undermine gluten formation so the finished product is less rigid than it would otherwise be. That’s especially desirable in a raised doughnut since the crusts can come out of the oil rigid to the point that they shatter when you bite into them. The longer you let the doughnuts rest the softer the crusts get, but since I generally like to hand them around when they’re warm I go the tenderizer route.

Foiling the action of gluten has other benefits for doughnuts. If the dough isn’t terribly stretchy then the bubbles in it tend not to get very big. That’s good because a big open crumb can be a pain in the neck when you fry. The big open spaces can push the expanding doughnut out into weird shapes, or create giant open cells which can break open and fill with oil. Those big cells are also inconvenient if you’re filling your doughnuts with jam as all the filling tends to pool up in one place. In general in a yeast doughnut you want a fine, fluffy, even crumb. So you see there are a lot of good reasons for milk powder in a doughnut dough.

I should add that the finer your milk powder the better as the solids and fats spread out more evenly through the dough. That translates to a finer structure that is at once more tender, fluffier, taller AND stronger. King Arthur milk powder is especially fine and I heartily endorse it. Thanks again, Rob!

12 thoughts on “On the Many Benefits of Milk Powder”

  1. Good advice regarding milk powder but it must be (or at least should very strongly be) high-heat treated. Yes, King Arthur’s is but most of the retail brands used for drinking are not. The KA catalog illustrates examples of bread loaves using ‘theirs’ and ‘others’. It has to do with enzymes. Unless Rob has access to wholesale suppliers, he might be better off using fresh milk. It also explains why bread recipes instructed everyone to scald or at least heat the milk first. I don’t think that ordinary milk power will hurt, but it will impact the nature of the finished doughnut.

    Anyone out there know of high-heat dry milk powder sources in retail sizes? I have never found any.

    1. Hey Mark!

      Excellent comment. And while I hate to be contrary, the honest truth is that it doesn’t matter whether the milk powder is high-heat or low-heat treated in this instance, the tenderizing effect will be identical and it won’t cause any decrease in dough volume. The reason for high heat processing is to denature (“wreck”) the proteins in the milk. The upshot of all that protein wrecking is an increase in the ability of those proteins to retain moisture, and that results in a dough with increased firmness. If you’re making a commercial white bread, the advantage of high heat-treated milk powder is that you get a mass of dough that stands taller in the pan. The reason: because the walls of dough that surround the CO2 bubbles in the mass are more rigid. That being the case, the bubbles retain their shape and volume better during rising and proofing. They also blow up bigger during the bake. Which is a long way of saying that high heat-treated milk powder is a volume booster. If you’re using low-heat treated, you don’t get the reverse effect, there’s just an absence of boost. Which is not to say that it wouldn’t be desirable, it’s just not essential in this case. As I mentioned, for a doughnut dough I mostly like KA milk powder because of the fine particle size which creates an emulsifying effect, and I definitely do recommend it over grocery store milk powder — but I’ll use the regular stuff if the other isn’t handy.

      Many thanks again, Mark!

      – Joe

    2. Hey Mark!

      I also meant to say thanks because of the very interesting allusion to scalding, which is a hotly debated topic on a lot of baking sites. To scald or not to scald: does it actually do anything? It never occurred to me that scalding might mimic the action of high-heat spray drying and thus deliver a higher rise. Very thought-provoking. I tend not to scald milk a lot of the time because I can’t always discern the benefits. I shall start experimenting!


      – Joe

      1. I was always under the impression that scalding was recommended long ago more for its sanitizing than dough enabling. But, I’ve been wrong before.

        1. I think that’s definitely right. Some people still swear by it for making smoother custards, others claim that’s complete bunk. I honestly have no idea if it works for that or not!

          – Joe

  2. Another source for non-fat high heat dried milk powder is Butcher and Packer . They have this product available for $3.03/lb vs KA’s $7.98/lb price.

    Good explanation of the benefits of high heat over regular dried milk powder.

  3. Thanks for the great information! When using powdered nonfat milk in place of regular milk in a yeasted bread recipe, do you recommend reconstituting it before proceeding with the recipe?

    1. Hey Beth!

      You can do either. I generally don’t, but I always check the package to make sure I’m adding the correct amount of water! Great question.


      – Joe

  4. Oh, this is interesting! Why does it differ whether using fresh milk from using milk powder in bread baking? I’ve noticed it as many bread machine recipes use milk powder rather than fresh milk. Sometimes I’ve substituted fresh milk for milk powder and part of the water and it really makes a difference!

    1. Hey Yukiko!

      The main reason is that milk powder introduces more milk solids to the recipe than you’d be able to get using fresh milk. For example, if you wanted to double the amount of milk solids in a bread recipe you couldn’t do it with fresh milk because you’d bedding almost twice the liquid, and that would be one runny batch of dough!

      Make sense?


      – Joe

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