Bread is a staple food for many cultures around the world. The basic ingredients for most bread include flour, yeast, salt, and water. However, many bread recipes also call for milk or other dairy products like butter or cheese. For those who are lactose intolerant or following a dairy-free diet, finding good bread options that don’t contain milk can be challenging.
Why do many breads contain milk?
There are a few reasons why milk is a common ingredient in bread recipes:
- Milk adds moisture – The proteins and sugars in milk help retain moisture in the bread. This results in a softer texture.
- Milk enhances flavor – Lactose and casein proteins in milk provide a slightly sweet flavor. Milk also provides a more well-rounded, complex taste.
- Milk improves texture – Milk proteins bind with gluten strands, resulting in a finer crumb texture.
- Milk facilitates browning – The sugars in milk promote caramelization during baking for better browning.
- Milk adds nutrition – Milk provides vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and protein.
So for bakers looking to create soft, flavorful loaves with nice browning, milk is an ideal ingredient. But there are ways to accomplish similar results without the dairy.
Types of bread that don’t require milk
Here are some common varieties of bread that traditionally don’t contain milk:
- French baguette – The classic skinny French bread. Crisp crust with an airy interior.
- Ciabatta – An Italian white bread with a chewy crumb and irregular holes.
- Focaccia – A flat Italian bread flavored with olive oil and herbs.
- Sourdough – Made with a fermented starter for a distinct tangy taste.
- Rye bread – Made with rye flour instead of wheat, with a dense texture.
- Pita bread – A Middle Eastern flatbread that puffs up when baked.
- Banana bread – Sweet bread with mashed bananas for moisture.
- Pumpkin bread – Spiced, sweet bread using canned pumpkin puree.
- Zucchini bread – Shredded zucchini keeps this bread extra moist.
- Beer bread – A simple bread leavened with beer rather than yeast.
- Naan – Popular Indian flatbread baked in a tandoor oven.
- Roti – Round whole wheat flatbread common in India and Malaysia.
- Tortilla – Thin Mexican flatbreads made from corn or wheat.
- Injera – Spongy Ethiopian flatbread with a unique sour taste.
- Gluten-free sandwich bread – Bread made with a blend of gluten-free flours and starches.
- Gluten-free multigrain bread – Uses various gluten-free whole grains for texture and nutrition.
- Gluten-free sourdough – Made from gluten-free flours using a dairy-free starter.
- Gluten-free pumpkin bread – Pumpkin provides moisture without milk or butter.
Substitutes for milk in bread recipes
For bread varieties that do traditionally contain milk, there are several non-dairy substitutes that can be used:
The simplest substitute is water. The liquid hydrates the dough to activate the gluten. For every 1 cup of milk, use 1 cup of water. The bread may end up with a slightly firmer texture, since the proteins in milk will be missing. But for basic bread recipes, water is an easy swap.
Nondairy milks like almond, oat, soy, coconut, and rice milk can typically be substituted in a 1:1 ratio for cow’s milk. Be aware that some may impact the taste and texture. Coconut milk in particular has high fat content, so it may change the mouthfeel. Soy milk gets closest to the protein content in dairy milk. Overall though, non-dairy milks make suitable substitutes in most bread recipes.
Plain non-dairy yogurt can be substituted for milk in many breads. The yogurt helps retain moisture. Look for unsweetened yogurt to avoid changing the flavor. Since yogurt is thicker than milk, you may need to thin it with a bit of water. Use 3/4 cup yogurt plus 1/4 cup water for every 1 cup of milk.
Pureed vegetables can provide moisture as well as extra nutrition when swapped for milk in bread. Pureed banana, pumpkin, sweet potato, butternut squash, or carrots all work well. Drain excess liquid if the puree is too thin. The vegetable flavor comes through only subtly.
Nut or seed milk
Make your own non-dairy “milk” by blending nuts or seeds with water. Soak the nuts first to soften. Then blend with a few cups of water and strain. Almond, cashew, and sunflower seed milk have neutral flavors. Nut milks may thicken the texture and result in denser bread.
In some recipes, replacing milk with oil may work. Use an oil with a mild flavor like canola or vegetable oil. For every 1 cup of milk, substitute 3/4 cup oil. Since oil is much thicker, it won’t make the bread quite as moist. But it adds richness and aids in browning. Oil works best in denser breads like banana or zucchini bread.
Tips for making bread without milk
Here are some additional tips for achieving great bread texture and rise without the use of milk:
- Use bread flour for a higher gluten content. The stronger protein network helps compensate for lack of milk.
- Add vital wheat gluten to boost the gluten structure if needed. Start with 1-2 teaspoons per cup of flour.
- Activate the yeast properly by proofing in warm liquid before mixing into dough.
- Knead the dough well to develop the gluten strands.
- Do an overnight cold fermentation in the refrigerator for better flavor.
- Let dough rise fully to double in size before baking.
- Brush loaves with oil or non-dairy milk before baking for sheen.
- Spray loaves with water halfway through baking to enhance crust.
Recipes for dairy-free bread
Here are some delicious recipes to try for making great bread without milk:
Basic white bread
This simple white bread has a soft texture and mild flavor. The overnight rise gives it complexity.
- 3 cups bread flour
- 1 1/4 cups warm water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
- In a large bowl, whisk together the bread flour, yeast, salt, and sugar.
- Add the warm water and stir to form a shaggy dough.
- Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes.
- Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, take out the dough and divide into 2 pieces. Shape into loaves.
- Place in greased loaf pans, cover, and let rise 1-2 hours until doubled.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Bake 35-40 minutes until bread sounds hollow when tapped.
For this Italian favorite, use plenty of olive oil in place of milk.
- 3 1/2 cups bread flour
- 1 1/4 cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- In a bowl, mix together the bread flour, yeast and salt.
- Add the water and olive oil and stir to combine into a sticky dough.
- Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes.
- Grease a baking sheet with olive oil. Spread and stretch the dough across it with your fingers into a large rectangle.
- Cover and let rise 1 hour.
- Use fingertips to dimple the surface of the dough.
- Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with desired herbs and salt.
- Bake at 400°F for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
Vegan banana bread
Ripe banana provides all the moisture needed in this classic bread.
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup vegan butter, softened
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 overripe bananas, mashed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a loaf pan.
- In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda and salt.
- In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar until creamy.
- Mix in the mashed banana and vanilla.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir just until combined.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Let cool completely before slicing.
Milk-free options for bread lovers
Avoiding milk doesn’t mean you have to give up great bread. With simple ingredient swaps, dairy-free bread can be just as tasty and satisfying. Look for good recipes using water, alt-milks, vegetables, oils or other substitutes in place of milk. With practice, you’ll be able to enjoy all your bread favorites without the dairy.