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I'd like to know whether is it possible to always substitute milk with water (or the other way around) in bread recipes and what difference does it make? For example, in the following recipe that I found here:

Honey-Oat Pain de Mie

  • 255g lukewarm water
  • 361g AP Flour
  • 85g old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick oats)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 64g honey
  • 57g melted butter
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
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  • Just FYI, I have since edited that question with the details of the recipe. It's a good one!
    – Jolenealaska
    Jun 21, 2014 at 13:33
  • In the America's Test Kitchen "How it Can Be Gluten Free" cookbook, they discuss what the addition of powdered milk does to a recipe ... but I gave my copy away to someone who has gluten issues and haven't replaced it yet.
    – Joe
    Jun 21, 2014 at 13:51

2 Answers 2

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Off the top of my head, the added sugar from the milk may cause the yeast to over-leaven the bread. The opposite is true when substituting water for milk, you may need to add sugar.

Edit: According to this site, Glutathione in the milk must be destroyed by heating it first, otherwise it tends to inhibit yeast. Also, allegedly lactose doesn't contribute as much to the yeast activity as I thought, as it doesn't break down as fast as raw sugars.

Other sources seem to corroborate the fact that the bread is softer with milk.

Some others may be able to add more insight ...

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    To destroy the glutathione, scald the milk (bring it to near boiling) or used dried.
    – Jolenealaska
    Jun 21, 2014 at 13:35
  • Additional softness is possibly due to the small amount of added fat and protein from the milk.
    – logophobe
    Jun 21, 2014 at 21:45
  • Regular dried milk is not made with heat high enough to destroy the glutathione, so you may wish to reconstitute it with boiling water. Dec 16, 2022 at 12:48
  • AFAIK, glutathione has no effect on yeast. (In fact, I think the dead yeast cells in active dry yeast actually contain small amounts of glutathione). What glutathione does is inhibit the development of gluten by (possibly?) preventing cross-linking. It's like a much weaker version of the effect that whey protein isolate has on gluten: cooking.stackexchange.com/a/101137/54812
    – NSGod
    Dec 17, 2022 at 17:44
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From a practical point of view: yes, it is always possible.

The texture will be different. Bread made with milk is more tender and less close to prototypical Western bread than bread made with water. The crumb will have finer pores. This is true for using both regular and powdered milk. Low-fat will have a less pronounced effect than full-fat.

The effects on yeast discussed in the other answer may be relevant to food engineers in commercial operations which have to keep the exact same texture between thousands of batches, with the tiniest tolerances for both process parameters and outcome. For a home cook, they are not really interesting. You can use the milk without scalding or doing anything special, and you can use milk of any fat percentage (even cream) - or use water in a bread calling for milk. You can simply substitute 1:1 by weight. You won't get the exact same result, but it will still rise properly and bake to a tasty bread.

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