Milk vs. Water in Baking Bread

Bread is a staple food in many cultures, and it comes in countless varieties. One key factor that affects the texture, flavor, and appearance of bread is the choice of liquid used in the dough.

In this article, we’ll compare and contrast the effects of milk and water on bread baking, discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each, as well as when to use one over the other. 

We’ll also explore some alternatives and tips for adjusting your recipes. Let’s dive in and discover the science behind these two popular bread-baking liquids.

The Role of Liquids in Baking Bread

Hydration and Dough Formation

Liquids play a crucial role in bread baking, as they hydrate the flour and initiate the formation of gluten. Gluten is the protein network that gives bread its structure and elasticity. The amount and type of liquid used can significantly impact the dough’s consistency, making it easier or more difficult to handle.

Flavor and Texture

Aside from hydration, liquids also contribute to the bread’s flavor and texture. They can help create a soft, moist crumb or a chewy, crispy crust, depending on the chosen liquid and baking method.

Milk in Bread Baking

Nutritional Benefits

Milk is a nutritious option for bread baking, as it provides protein, vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients can help create a more balanced and wholesome bread, which can be especially beneficial for those who rely on bread as a significant part of their diet.

Texture and Flavor Improvements

Milk contributes to a softer, more tender crumb in the final bread product. The fat content in milk, along with its proteins, helps to enrich the dough, giving it a more delicate, tender texture.

In terms of flavor, milk adds a subtle richness and sweetness to the bread, which can complement various sweet and savory recipes.

Maillard Reaction

Another advantage of using milk in bread baking is the enhancement of the Maillard reaction, a chemical process that occurs when proteins and sugars are heated together. This reaction is responsible for the appealing brown crust on baked goods. 

Milk’s proteins and sugars contribute to a more pronounced Maillard reaction, resulting in a browner, more flavorful crust.

fresh raw dough for bread

Water in Bread Baking

Simplicity and Function

Water is the most basic and commonly used liquid in bread baking. It provides hydration to the flour, allowing for gluten formation and the overall structure of the bread. Water is a simple and effective option for many types of bread, especially those with a chewier texture and a crispier crust.

Crust Formation

Using water in bread baking typically results in a crispier crust compared to milk-based breads. This is because water evaporates more rapidly during baking, creating steam that helps form a well-defined crust. Water-based breads are ideal for artisan-style loaves, such as baguettes and ciabatta, where a crispy, chewy crust is desired.

Milk vs. Water: When to Use Each

Types of Bread

The choice between milk and water in bread baking often depends on the type of bread you want to make. For example, milk is commonly used in enriched breads, such as brioche and challah, where a tender, moist crumb and a slightly sweet flavor are desired. 

On the other hand, water is preferred for rustic, crusty breads like sourdough and artisan loaves, which require a chewier texture and a crisper crust.

Desired Flavor and Texture

Ultimately, the choice between milk and water comes down to personal preference and the desired outcome for your bread. If you’re looking for a softer, more tender loaf with a subtle sweetness, milk is the way to go. If you prefer a chewier, crustier bread with a more neutral flavor, water is your best bet.

Alternatives to Milk and Water

Non-Dairy Milk

For those who are lactose intolerant or follow a vegan diet, non-dairy milk options like almond, soy, or oat milk can be used as a substitute for cow’s milk in bread recipes. 

These alternatives often provide a similar effect on the bread’s texture and flavor, though the specific outcome may vary depending on the type of non-dairy milk used.

Other Liquids

You can also experiment with other liquids in bread baking, such as fruit juices, beer, or even yogurt. These options can add unique flavors and textures to your bread, though adjustments to the recipe may be necessary to account for differences in sugar content, acidity, or protein levels.

Tips for Adjusting Recipes

Hydration Ratios

When substituting milk for water or vice versa, be aware of the differences in hydration levels that may result. Milk generally has a lower water content than pure water, so you may need to adjust the amount of liquid used in your recipe. 

A good starting point is to use the same volume of liquid, and then add more water or milk as needed to achieve the desired dough consistency.

Ingredient Substitutions

If you’re switching from milk to water, you may want to add a small amount of fat, such as butter or oil, to compensate for the lost richness provided by milk’s fat content. 

Conversely, when substituting water for milk, consider reducing the amount of added fat in the recipe to account for the additional fat from the milk.

Common Challenges and Solutions

Overly Dense Bread

If your bread turns out too dense, it could be due to insufficient hydration or underdeveloped gluten. Try increasing the liquid content or kneading the dough for a longer period to improve the bread’s texture.

Dry or Crumbly Bread

If your bread is dry or crumbly, it may be over baked or lack enough fat to retain moisture. Check your baking times and consider adding more fat to the recipe to improve the bread’s moisture content.


Can I use a combination of milk and water in my bread recipe?

Yes, you can use a combination of milk and water to achieve a balance between the properties of both liquids. Experiment with different ratios to find the perfect blend for your desired bread texture and flavor.

How do I adjust the baking time or temperature when using milk instead of water?

Milk can cause the crust to brown more quickly due to the Maillard reaction. To prevent over-browning, you may need to reduce the baking temperature or cover the bread with aluminum foil for part of the baking process.


To summarize, milk and water can both be used in baking bread, depending on the desired outcome. While milk creates a softer texture and slightly sweeter taste, water produces a chewier texture and crisper crust. 

It is important to experiment with both to find what works best for individual preferences. It is also important to note that milk can affect the color and shelf life of the bread. 

Ultimately, the choice between milk and water comes down to personal preference and the desired outcome for the bread.

I'm Samantha, the proud founder and heart of With over ten years in the kitchen appliances and cookware sector, I bring a treasure trove of experience to our loyal readers. Beyond just offering professional advice, I am an enthusiastic cook, always ready to share delightful recipes and handy kitchen tips with you.

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