Does it really matter what fat content of milk you use in your cake? I have often wondered about this but had never taken the time to set up a comparison until recently.
In our household, we typically have 1% milk on hand, but I usually keep whipping cream around to mock up whole milk and frequently buy whole milk if I know I have a large or special cake project coming up. I have been ever curious though about what the differences would be in cake that was made with different milk-fat content dairy. Would there be a difference is taste, or moisture content or texture? To answer this query, I baked up cakes made with whole milk and low-fat milk to compare the two.
There was little to no difference at all between cakes that were made with whole milk (on the left) and 1% milk (on the right). Although I expected there to be a difference in moisture level due to the differences in fat, the moisture was exactly the same in the two cakes. The taste was identical. Only the texture varied ever so slightly, and the 1% milk cake was the one that I preferred. The 1% milk fat cake was slightly finer and more delicate than the whole milk cake. Shocking!
What matters with milk in cake is the liquid content. The more cakes that I bake the more important liquid content proves to be. Liquids such as milk play a vital role in moisture, structure and leavening. It appears the fat content of these liquids matters less than the fact that they are water containing.
The take home message? Whatever percentage of fat your milk at home is, it is fine to use in your cakes. Feel free to use what is on hand.
What type of milk do you usually use in the cakes you bake? Let me know in the comment section below.
The best of baking to you!
41 thoughts on “The Whole Truth: Whole Milk vs. Low-Fat Milk in Cake”
I also use what we use at home which is 2%. I too always wondered if I should be using whole milk. Thanks for taking care of that concern! 🙂
My pleasure! It sets my mind at ease too.
I mostly bake dairy free so almond milk and coconut milk are what I mostly choose. I too have never found a remarkable difference. It’s actually really good to have another perspective on this! Thanks. I always look forward to reading your posts (especially the science-y ones:)
Thanks Rachel! It’s good to know you have had success with alternate milks as well. 🙂
I usually use 2% milk, since that is what I have on hand, but have used unsweetened almond milk too.
Loved your comparison! Thank you 🙂 I generally have 2% on hand, so in it goes! One time I was out, of course no one mentioned that, and used 1/2 & 1/2 instead. My line of thinking was: it tastes good in coffee, why not? It was so much more of a dense cake. I was surprised. It tasted good though!
Looking forward to reading about your next adventure, thought, what have you 🙂
Thanks Bridget! Nothing’s better in coffee than half n half! You could probably have diluted it with half water and been in good shape. 😉
This will really help me. I have always bought heavy cream (whipping or half&half) to bake my cakes. Now I won’t worry so much about it. Thanks!
PS: I love how you compare the ingredients, its the most helpful cake information to me.
Thanks Dave! I hope this will save time/money/effort. Smiles!
Interesting read, many thanks. If the fat content doesn’t matter, but the water content does – how about using water instead of milk?
Hi Natascha, You could use water but you do lose a little flavor. In cakes where there is a strong flavor component (such as chocolate) water is often the liquid of choice. In vanilla and other delicate flavored cakes I use a dairy product most of the time for this reason but water would work as a stand in for sure. In fact, that’s what cake mixes always use. 🙂
Hi , love your comparison about the milk, I make sure I have whole milk when I’m baking and now I don’t have to .
Thanks Dusha! Hopefully this simplifies life! 😉
Question-does using buttermilk versus milk make a difference?
Hi Beverly, It does make a bit of a difference due to the acidity of buttermilk. Here is a post I wrote comparing a variety of dairy products in a cake recipe: Which Dairy Makes the Best Cake. I hope the post will give you a thorough overview of the differences. 🙂
On occasions when I’m out of milk, and the need to make a cake arrises, I use either sour cream or plain yoghurt diluted (mixed) with water to the amount of liquid required in the recipe, roughly 1/3 c dairy to 2/3 c water. It always comes out just great. So that’s another alternative to whole milk you can try!
This tip may be from the Cake Bible, not sure where I learned this…if a recipe calls for buttermilk, which I rarely have on hand, I substitute the same above blend of yoghurt or sour cream and water, it does the same tenderizing thing as buttermilk to a cake. Must be the probiotics (“good” bacteria).
Hi Leslie, That’s great that you mention those substitutes! I often use half sour cream and half low-fat milk in place of buttermilk in recipes but water would be great for dilution as well.
It’s the acidity in buttermilk, sour cream and yogurt that tenderizes cake. The acid disrupts the formation of gluten strands and egg protein linkage. Plus the added flavor is fabulous! Hugs!
Thank you very much for this post. Very useful. I always buy whole milk just for my baking and now I don’t have to!
You’re welcome! 😉
You’re SO smart! – one of the many reasons I adore you! 😉
Haha! Love you so! <3
Hi Summer thank you very much I enjoy your blog and wisdom! Please be so kind to share your experience on using Unsalted butter and Salted Butter and Baking Margarene as Unsalted butter is quite expensive for my baking business in South Africa
Hi Jaqueline! It’s tricky when ingredients are hard to find or not cost effective. I think salted butter is a perfectly viable option for your cakes. Unsalted butter gives you more control over salt content in your cake but you can always use a portion of oil to mitigate any oversaltiness caused by your butter. Margarine is not a great option for cake. If use in buttercream is an issue you can use unsalted margarine to cut your butter’s saltiness or some palm oil or shortening. Here is a post you can view on different fats in cake. Which Fat is Best. Good luck!
I’m so glad I came across this!! I use whole organic milk but now I feel comfortable using what I have on hand now!! Thank you!
Hi Summer! Missed your posts! Welcome back.
Hey Summer! I loooove your baking science! I already learned so much from you!
I was just wondering if you could explain to me, why my blueberry muffins turn green-ish? All the answers I’ve found where about ph- levels but I don’t understand a thing – and still don’t really know how to fix the problem. I guess increasing the acid in the batter and decreacing the baking soda but, in what ratio. I’m lost :D.
Your help would be greately appreciated!
LOVE from Germany
Mix blueberries with small amount of flour and mix just to coat prior to adding to batter.
I always have 1% Milk in the fridge too, but when it’s time to bake a cake I run out and buy whole milk, but I’m not any more! So thank you for this!
I’m happy to save you a trip to the grocery store! 😉
Wow!!! Thanks so much. I’ve gone out and bought whole milk just to use only a cup instead of our 1% milk!!!
Many thanks! Our family prefers skim milk so when I buy whole milk it goes unused unless we’re making something like mashed potatoes.
I understand Laurie! I end up having super rich coffee for a few days, or make pudding or sausage gravy for biscuits, none of which agree with my waistline. 😉
The first article you read. Very interesting, I will subscribe to you!
Hello Summer and thank you! It’s such an awesome blog I came across. I will now start noticing the change in final product when I alter the ingredients.
I do have a question since I started baking just 3/4 years ago and I am 50 ! Nobody baked in my house so have no idea about chemistry. It was probably luck until now everybody loved what I baked. May be it’s the passion and love I baked with . So the question is the use of baking soda along with baking powder when baking a fruit cake. Why baking soda is preferred or in combination?
Hi! Baking soda is used in recipes that contain an acidic ingredient. It both neutralizes the acid, which can disrupt a baked good’s structure, and it provides leavening from its chemical reaction with the acid. Sometimes, baking soda offers enough leavening on its own, but the reaction of baking soda and an acid is immediate and short lived and can fizzle out before the batter is in the pan. For that reason, baking soda is often accompanied by a double-acting baking powder. Baking powder is a combination of baking soda and an acid or combination of acids. One acid generally reacts at room temperature and one at a higher (oven) temperature. This ensures you get leavening throughout the baking process. So, baking powder is used in recipes without acidic ingredients and as leavening insurance in recipes that contain baking soda and acids to make sure the baked good rises properly. I hope that answers your question!
sounds weird maybe but if I am low on milk I mix up some dry dairy creamer and water and have had no problem.
That’s some innovative problem solving! Good idea. It’s the liquid that really matters, but the creamer will add some richness and flavor.
May i ask u what is the difference if we use yogurt instead of milk ? Is there a big difference in taste and shape ?? And which giver better results ???
Hi Youssef, Here is a link to a post I wrote about different dairy in cake. It doesn’t address yogurt specifically, but yogurt has similarities to both buttermilk and sour cream depending on the fat content of the yogurt. Yogurt will add tenderness and tang to a cake. You may want to add a bit of baking soda to your batter when using yogurt to neutralize some of the acidity, but that is a matter of preference. I hope this is helpful!
Dairy in Cake
Came here from reading your “Eggsactly Perfect Baking” post on The Cake Blog, which was very helpful! I’d love to see more of these kinds of posts which seem a bit rigorous/time-consuming but are oh so helpful, especially if you’re someone who fiddles with recipes. It would be interesting to see a comparison of a recipe w/ egg whites whipped and added at the end vs not as well as butter/oil/both. Either way, I look forward to looking through this blog!
Hi Niki, I’m glad you were able to find some useful information. I have a number of articles from when I wrote for Cake Central Magazine that I would like to repost here (when I can find the time!) I did make a cake with egg whites beaten with some sugar and folded into the batter, Italian Cream Cake. It’s not exactly a comparison but it did create a different texture than other cakes that I have made. If I post my white cake, I will try it both ways and remark on the differences. 🙂