Pastry chefs explain how to use powdered milk to enhance baked goods, beverages, ice cream, and more.
You may have seen milk powder (or powdered milk) on the shelves of your grocery store, but weren't sure exactly waht it's used for. Let us solve that mystery for you and introduce you to the powers of powdered milk. When given a chance, milk powder is a transformative addition to breads, pastries, and ice cream that adds richness and sweetness to many things that are already delicious. (It's also fine for a glass of milk in a pinch!)
What Is Powdered Milk?
Powdered milk is exactly what it sounds like: milk that has been evaporated to a powdered state. It's still a dairy product, so it offers all of the benefits of cooking and baking with dairy, just without the added liquid. There are few types of milk powder, but two that are most commonly used:
Low-heat nonfat milk powder is processed at lower temperatures and therefore has a "fresher" milk flavor, says James Beard-nominated pastry chef Miro Uskokovic. It dissolves easier, and because of its lower denatured protein content, this form is best for beverages like hot chocolate, ice creams, and other frozen desserts.
High-heat nonfat milk powder is processed at a higher temperature, which means it has a higher denatured protein content. High-heat milk powder also has a sweeter, slightly more caramelized flavor. The added sweetness and protein helps bread dough rise—particularly enriched dough like brioche. It lends a more tender crumb, and actually helps these breads last longer. High-heat milk powder might be a little trickier to find, but it's certainly worth the search for its impact on baking breads.
How to Reconstitute Milk Powder
Milk powder has a myriad of uses in cooking and baking, but above all, milk powder can actually be used to make milk! If you only infrequently drink or use milk, milk powder is an inexpensive, shelf-stable alternative that can help you avoid spoiled milk in your fridge. And if you only need a small amount of milk for baking, milk powder is a great solution.
For a glass of milk, a ratio of one part milk powder to four parts water works best.
Use cold water and whisk or shake well to make sure the milk powder dissolves.
Storing Powdered Milk
In its dry, powdered form, milk powder can last in your pantry or cabinet for over a year. The important part in aiding in this long shelf life is keeping it in a cool, dry environment, away from direct sunlight and humidity. Nonfat powdered milk will always last longer than powdered whole milk or buttermilk, since fat (in all ingredients) is less stable.
Using Powdered Milk in Cooking and Baking
Kelly Mencin, pastry chef and partner at Radio Bakery in Brooklyn, loves milk powder and uses it in many applications at her bakery. "Straight out of the bag, it lends a creamy, milky flavor profile," she says. If you're an avid at-home baker, you'll be delighted to know that the best places to use milk powder are, well, everywhere.
"It aids in fermentation," says Mencin, citing consistency as one of her reasons for reaching for it time and again, especially for bread, which is so susceptible to changes in environment, temperature, and so on. "Using milk powder in my bread allows me more control of these variables. It is cheaper and easier to always have milk powder on hand than to have milk in the fridge."
"Milk powder is a central ingredient to my ice cream recipes. The addition of milk powder increases the milk solid content thus making the ice cream denser and smoother," says Mencin.
It might be hard to find a cookie recipe that wouldn't benefit from a tablespoon or two of added milk powder. "The added protein content gives the cookies a chewy quality and a great crust," says Mencin.
Next-Level Tips for Using Milk Powder
Once you feel comfortable incorporating milk powder in these standard ways, there are a few departures you can take in the world of milk powder to grant you even better results.
Toast Milk Powder
One trick is in technique: "If you toast milk powder low and slow in the oven, it ends up taking on a brown butter butterscotch flavor," says Mencin. She uses this amped-up ingredient in ice cream recipes, and you can also add a spoonful or two to milkshakes, hot coffee drinks, or even boxed pudding mixes.
Seek Out Full-Fat Milk Powder
While nonfat milk powder is most common, whole milk powder can also be found online and in Southeast Asian grocery stores, says Uskokovic. Whole milk powder has even more milk fat. "It can be a little pricey, and since most Western recipes are formulated using nonfat dry milk powder, I recommend caution when using whole dry milk versions in baking," he says. Whole milk powder is great for Indian sweets like gulab jamun, or you can even reconstitute it with water for cooking savory dishes.
Lastly, it's important to keep in mind that milk powder should not be confused with malted malted milk powder. "While delicious, you do not want to use that in a bread recipe," says Mencin.