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Can I substitute water for milk, in....

..recipes for baked goods like cakes, cupcakes, etc? For that matter, what about using thinned-out yogurt (with a bit of extra sugar to offset the sourness) instead of milk?

There's a recipe for chocolate cupcakes I'm thinking of making. It wants 1 cup of milk, but no one in the house uses milk. Can anyone make an educated guess about the effects of substituting water for milk?

I'm guessing that one purpose the milk serves is that it provides a bit of acidity for the baking soda (as well as baking powder) that the recipe uses.

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  1. There is also a bit of sweetness in milk and a bit of fat, which both affect the body of the end product. I always keep dry powdered milk in the house for use in baking. It's skim powder, but still adds the body to the product. I wouldn't use water. A bit of thinned out yogurt would be fine in most, I would think. I wouldn't add extra sugar though. There is probably enough sugar in the recipe already.

    1. I think using water instead of milk would affect the outcome. Milk has properties like proteins and sugars that would contribute to the chemical reaction of the ingredients. I would think things like leavening would be effected.

      1. The milk is not essential in many, if not most, cakes. There is, for example, a 'crazy cake' that just uses water, oil and vinegar as the liquids. People also substitute soy milk, rice milk, etc for milk.

        The cake already has a lot of sugar, fat too. The egg yolks also provide fat. As for protein, the eggs whites have that. Milk only add acid if it is buttermilk or yogurt.

        We don't drink much milk, but I keep some Nido whole dried milk on hand for baking. If the recipe calls for milk, I may add a couple of tablespoons of the powder to the dry ingredients. I don't think there's any advantage to premixing the milk.

        2 Replies
        1. re: paulj

          Most of the "crazy cake" recipes I've read use a boxed cake mix as their foundation and boxed cake mixes typically contain powdered milk products. I'd suggest you follow the powdered dry milk suggestions and keep it on hand. Mix it according to package directions and use it just like you would regular milk. Adding a bit of yogurt, sour cream, etc. to your prepared powdered milk is OK, just don't overdo it.

          1. re: todao

            This is typical of the ones I've seen, it doesn't even have eggs (flour, sugar, cocoa, bs, etc)

        2. Consider using rice mylk or almond mylk. We're vegan so we use plant-based mylks in recipes and on cereal. If something calls for buttermilk you can just add 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar per cup of rice or almond mylk.

          1 Reply
          1. re: lgss

            The last time I checked, milk's "i" has not been replaced with a "y".

          2. I drink milk, but use whole milk for baking, which I don't drink. I just buy a pint or half-pint, which they have at grocery stores with the other milk. Usually, with the chocolate milk, they have little bottles of chocolate milk, and they usually have plain milk, too.

            1. No.

              Sort of like how you cannot fry with water instead of oil.

              Milk is in baked goods more than to just provide a liquid element.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ipsedixit

                Milk does make a difference in crumb and browning of things like bread and pie crusts. Contrast, for example, a French baguette without milk, and a common American style white bread. But it is less obvious what milk does in cakes which also include sugar, butter and eggs. I scanned the cakes section of Joy of Cooking. Less than half of the recipes include milk, and a number of those used buttermilk.

              2. Get powdered milk. It will keep for future uses. But you do need milk.

                1. OK... Saturday morning food science lesson for everyone....

                  Regular milk is a base, not an acid. A recipe calling for baking soda (which is also a base) needs an acid such as buttermilk, vinegar, yogurt in order to activate it and make your cake rise. Baking powder has both an acid and a base that is activated by the liquid in the recipe so no additional acidic ingredient is necessary, but some recipes use both soda and powder. Can you post the recipe? The other ingredients will help to figure out what you can substitute and if you need to adjust the leavening as well.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: iluvcookies

                    Is regular milk truly alkaline? I recall it being classified as very very mildly acidic (not acidic enough to interact with a base).

                    1. re: Karl S

                      It's very sightly acidic but close to neutral.

                      1. re: chowser

                        That's what I thought. It's more alkaline than many non-water cooking liquids (which is why it can be used to make them less acidic), but it's still on the acid side of neutral, however slightly.

                        1. re: chowser

                          Yes, it has a pH of 6.7. It is often used to make acidic liquids less acidic, but it is not itself alkaline (nor is it acidic enough to generate much of a reaction with alkali)

                          1. re: Karl S

                            You're not going to get any leavening action with regular milk and baking soda... you'll get a soapy-metallic tasting mush if there isn't an acid to work with the baking soda (which is also a base). Just try subbing regular milk for buttermilk in pancakes without adjusting the leavening.
                            So in baking, regular milk acts as a base.
                            Point to the OP is you can't just sub something without knowing why it's in the recipe to begin with... and that the milk wasn't there for the baking soda to work... I see from his response that the recipe had baking powder as well as soda and cocoa... and there's your acid. :)

                    2. Howard_2, you can freeze the leftover milk. I don't drink dairy milk, but use it in cooking, baking, ice cream making and I freeze the leftovers all the time, usually in the original container. You might need to shake it up after it thaws (to re-incorporate the fat into the rest of the milk), but it's perfectly usable.

                      1. I made the recipe (it was for chocolate muffins, which I did as a small cake instead of muffins) and it came out fine.

                        The recipe I used called for some baking *soda*, as well as b.powder, and as I looked over the ingredients, I could not see anything that would have caused the b.soda to give off gas, so I suspect one of its purposes is acidity--similar to the way some other cake recipes contain a small amount of vinegar.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Howard_2

                          Glad to hear it turned out. If you used cocoa, that's acidic and will react with the baking soda. It's one reason you can't always just substitute dutch cocoa for cocoa because it's more neutral. Since milk is relatively neutral, it probably doesn't add as much to the reaction. And, as you found it, doesn't have much more function in your recipe than flavor/richness at most. Anyway, what it comes down to is that it worked.:-)

                        2. I recently made some muffins that called for only 1/2 cup of milk and makes 6 muffins. Looked and didn't have any milk in the house. After I did some research found out that milk is mostly used for its fatty and sweetening components. Used a med. egg 1/2tsp vanilla and prob. about 1/3cup water, mixed that and then mixed with muffin mix. Muffins turned out fine, had a little more lift(leavening) than normal but not too bad. I don't suspect it works for all recipes but worked for muffins and prob. work for some cakes and stuff.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: arc20052000

                            eagg, water and vanilla worked in my cornbread. thank you!

                          2. Almond mylk substitutes well for milk in recipes (in case you have anyone in the house more likely to use what's left).

                            1. I keep drink boxes of soy milk around for baking. Each box has one cup of soy milk, which works well in any cakes or cookies I've ever used it in instead of milk, and it's shelf stable, so you can have it on hand for whenever you'd like it.

                              1. I used powdered coffee creamer once but cant remember the ratio with water mixture..It turned out well in a batch of rice pudding