I was looking at mantou recipes (mantou is a fluffy Chinese bun), and the recipes were remarkably similar to bread except less proofing and using milk instead of water. If I were to make regular bread with milk instead of water, what would happen?

  • 5
    There's another main difference: Mantou are steamed while typical western breads are baked.
    – The Photon
    Oct 8, 2019 at 1:50
  • 3
    You can make mantou with water. The important thing is the steam.
    – user50726
    Oct 8, 2019 at 2:16
  • 4
    Some French bread, such as Brioche, is made with milk instead of water. It's notably different: softer, springier and with a slightly sweet flavour.
    – Bob Tway
    Oct 8, 2019 at 13:33
  • 1
    Milk-based bread is very common in several regions of Brazil.
    – T. Sar
    Oct 8, 2019 at 16:32
  • 3
    This mantou sounds very similar to Hefeklöße/Germknödel (which are also cooked in steam, and may be made with milk instead of water and with or without sugar in the dough). In Germany, yeast dough with milk is usually also sweet, so that would be typical dough for cake rather than bread. We also have Milchbrötchen (milk buns) with milk based yeast dough that isn't sweet like a cake. Bread dough is usually not made with milk here, but may contain sour milk or yoghurt. Oct 8, 2019 at 18:42

1 Answer 1


Milk in bread dough is an enriching agent. Other typical enriching agents for bread include things like eggs, fats (butter, oil, etc.), and different types of sugar/sweetener. They are used to add either fat or sugar or both.

Bread made without enriching agents is known as a lean dough, typically containing only flour, water, salt, and yeast. Lean doughs are used to produce a lot of traditional European and American crusty breads, including everything from baguettes and crusty French bread to ciabatta. Typically, they have a firm crust, along with an elastic, springy interior that often (though not always) can have large and irregular holes.

Substituting milk for water in bread will usually add both fat (from milkfat) and sugar (lactose). Several changes can happen, including:

  • The crust will typically be softer
  • The crust will brown more quickly (due to sugar) and can darken more evenly before burning
  • The interior will be softer and usually less springy/elastic
  • The flavor will be richer (due to fat) and somewhat sweeter (due to sugar), though bread with milk but no added sugar will still not be noticeably sweet; nevertheless, the lactose will add a different flavor component
  • Enriching agents will disrupt larger gluten networks a bit, making it less likely to develop large holes in the interior
  • The added weight of the sugars and fats will decrease final loaf volume and oven spring a bit
  • Enriching agents often cause the bread to take longer before it begins to develop a "stale" flavor/texture
  • 1
    One of my favorite enriching agents is sour cream; it gives the bread just a little bit of a cake-like texture, and helps the bread keep for several days longer than a leaner loaf would.
    – Z4-tier
    Oct 8, 2019 at 22:31
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    Also, just to reiterate your last point: Adding fats to bread will make it last longer often by 2-3 days, whereas a loaf of french bread will start to go noticeably stale in less than 24 hours.
    – Z4-tier
    Oct 8, 2019 at 22:35
  • 3
    Extending shelf life from staling can also be done by scalding the flour. 1drv.ms/b/s!AnPAN_4gx2Z-vW8214bSAPJwVw2x Oct 9, 2019 at 2:23

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