On Replacing Milk Powder

Reader Ellen writes:

[Milk powder] is the bane of anyone who is substantially lactose intolerant…a lot of breads, cookies, doughnuts, salt & vinegar chips, and even flour tortillas…have unknown amounts of lactose. Joe, any thoughts on non-dairy additions that could provide the same texture improvements? More egg yolks?

I can see where that might be a problem, reader Ellen! The good news, at least for home bakers, is that there is no end of substitutes for milk powder when it comes to tenderizing a bread, cookie or crust. Fat (or oil) is probably the most common tenderizer. But really anything that is finely ground and non-wheat can work to undermine gluten or otherwise make the crumb of a baked good less uniform and stable.

One of my go-to’s in that department is corn starch, which, like milk powder is mostly neutral-tasting and performs a lot of the same jobs. Potato flour or even cooked (riced or mashed) potato, depending on the application, is just as good. Nice thing about the cooked potato is that it also brings moisture to the party. Use it for cookies or doughnuts. I put a lot of it in my Chicago-style pizza crust.

You mentioned egg yolks. Raw yolks work very well, though depending on what you’re making, the extra liquid can make a dough or batter too soft or thin. However cooked yolks, pushed through a very fine sieve, make a stellar secret weapon when it comes to tenderizing. They add some nice color and rich flavor too!

Aside from those faves, the world of non-wheat…anything…is open to you, provided the ingredient you choose can disperse fairly well in a mixture: alternative grain flours, nut flours, rice flours, chickpea flour, coconut flour, cooked (mashed) beans, tapioca/cassava flour, arrowroot, agar, carrageenan, ground coffee, coffee flour (yes, there is such thing), cocoa powder, chocolate, cocoa butter, oils of all kinds, shortening, animal fats…I’m starting to get dizzy. But I think you get the point here, reader Ella. The food manufacturing world may not be entirely creative when it comes to finding milk powder alternatives, but we sure can be. So have at it, and let me know if you have any specific questions!

7 thoughts on “On Replacing Milk Powder”

  1. I make a crust for linzer torte that contains two hard boiled egg yolks put through a sieve. It is hands down the best crust I’ve ever tasted. Of course it also has ground nuts in it, but it’s the yolks that really put it over the top texture-wise. But I never use that crust for anything else. Does the fact that it has less gluten make it more prone to not holding a pie filling very well? This has always made me hesitate, but there may be no basis for it.

    1. Hey Chana!

      Yes, yolks do make a crust like that less even and stable, and I think could lead to cracking, holes or leaking. But as you say, a great crust is a great crust. I’d sooner put up with the leaks!



      1. Joe

        Is there a name for the technique of using cooked egg yolks in pastry that you and Chana mentioned? I wonder as I recently stumbled on the name for the technique of browning tomato paste. It is “Pincer” pronounced “pin-sahr”. It’s French, of course, and they seem to have a name for every single aspect of food prep so I wondered about the egg yolk technique.

        As to using cooked potatoes in pastry, I recently made a State Fair, Blue Ribbon winning recipe for a Chocolate Mashed Potato Cake. It was about the most wonderful cake I ever tasted. My neighbors were shocked when I told them the “secret” ingredient but instantly asked for the recipe.

        Thanks and belated Happy Thanksgiving. I’m grateful for your love of pastry and more so for your love of sharing it with all of us.


        1. Hey Linda!

          What do you use the browned tomato paste for? I’m interested.

          As far as I know there’s no name for the cooked yolk technique, simply because I think Rose Levy Beranbaum may have invented it. I could be wrong, but the first time I can recall seeing it is in the Cake Bible, where RLB uses the technique to make feather light biscuits for strawberry shortcake. I’ve employed it many times in many different circumstances since.

          And you made my day once again, Linda! 😉

          – Joe

          1. Tomato sauce is the most common use of Pincer and I’ve always done mine that way even before I knew it had a name. Also can be used in tomato based braises or even chili if you want to thicken it up with tomato paste. Brown the aromatics first, then brown the paste and continue adding the other ingredients. It’s well worth the little extra time it takes.

            The only mention I could find about the origin of the egg yolk “trick” was an article in Bon Appetite that said it was an old-school Northern European baker’s secret, mostly found in grandmother’s recipe boxes. So I guess you would just have to be lucky enough to find out about it and now we all know

          2. Well so Rose didn’t invent it. Though she’s invented quite a number of ingenious techniques, so it was a reasonable guess!

            Thanks for the tip about tomato paste. I shall use it!



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