The Whole Truth: Whole Milk vs. Low-Fat Milk in Cake

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.

a-whole-vs-one1web The Results?

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!

a-whole-vs-one-topweb

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!

 

26 thoughts on “The Whole Truth: Whole Milk vs. Low-Fat Milk in Cake”

  1. 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! 🙂

  2. 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:)

  3. Hi!
    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 🙂

    1. 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. 😉

  4. 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.

    1. 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. 🙂

  5. 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).

    1. 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!

  6. 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

    1. 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!

  7. 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
    Laura

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