Tart

The Best Non-Dairy Milks for Baking

We know how to sub vegan ingredients in for eggs when baking, but when it comes to using dairy-free milk—or mylk or the less-appealing “juice”—instead of regular milk, I wasn’t so sure what would happen.

Which non-dairy milk bakes supreme(ly)? Photo by Sophie - Wholehearted Eats

To gear up for the holiday baking season, I did a test: How would almond, hemp, soy, and canned full-fat coconut milk fare in a pumpkin pie tart recipe? I swapped in the dairy-free milks in for regular milk a 1:1 ratio, and the results ranged from unacceptable to surprisingly good.

Read on to find out which was the winner:

Clockwise from top right: almond, soy, hemp, and coconut milk. Photo by Sophie - Wholehearted Eats

Almond Milk: The almond milk pumpkin pie batter looked fairly normal. The color was nice and dark orange, and the consistency seemed average, if perhaps a little thin. Once baked, the tart top achieved a nice color, but the overall appearance wasn't too pretty since the tart sunk, creating a large crater. The flavor was passable, but the filling separated a little, so the filling was watery. And that won’t do, will it?

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Top Comment:
“Just this past Thanksgiving, I made a delicious pumpkin pie swapping out Trader Joe's "rich and creamy" canned coconut milk (my go-to for recipes where I want a rich result) for the dairy and making no other changes to a very standard pumpkin pie recipe. It worked perfectly and people who do eat dairy couldn't detect anything "weird" about the pie at all. As a side note about soy: I used to cook and bake with it all the time, and I found that the "soy" flavor came through no matter what I did. I suspect people who eat a lot of soy get used to the flavor to the point that they can no longer taste it, and so I'm always suspicious when I see recipes recommending soy milk in something like this and promising up and down that the flavor won't come through. I wonder-did they have people with less-soy-adjusted palettes taste the food? Because it really is an extremely strong flavor. I find that coconut milk, especially the unsweetened from a carton, blends much more nicely into foods with subtle flavors (even savory ones). ”
— Kristin
Comment

Hemp Milk: Like the almond, the hemp batter looked good (albeit a little lighter in color). Again, it browned well and got that lovely pumpkin pie skin once cooked. The overall appearance looked the best out of the four, with no sinking or splitting. Yet, unlike the other milks, the taste of the hemp was overwhelming and made for a gritty filling.

From left to right: coconut, almond, soy, and hemp milk Photo by Sophie - Wholehearted Eats

Soy Milk: Surprisingly enough, the soy mix seemed the thinnest of the four (I would have put my money on almond) and was definitely lighter in color than the hemp or almond mix. Again the finished product was nice—great color and browned top. There was a slight sinking in the middle along with small cracking. The consistency was creamy and smoother than the almond milk. Taste-wise, I couldn’t detect an “alternative” milk.

Coconut Milk: First of all, the coconut milk had to be mixed really well to create a smooth consistency. Once added to the pumpkin, it made for the thickest mix. It baked well and like the hemp, didn't sink. However, the fact that coconut milk fat is not homogenized meant that it separated during the baking, which led to an oily filling. While the filling had the right appearance and was the most light in color, it was also the lightest in consistency.

And the winner is.... Photo by Sophie - Wholehearted Eats

The Verdict

4th Place: Hemp. A little overpowering so would be better for a baked good with a lot of seeds or a nutty flavor.
3rd Place: Coconut Milk. I could see this working better in a quick bread, or muffin, but in something custard-based like this, it just won’t work.
2nd Place: Almond. This was overall not bad, but unfortunately it made for an ugly and watery pie. Past experience has proven that almond milk is great in pancakes, cookies, and cakes, but pumpkin pie is a solid “no.”
1st Place: Soy. I know. Such a typical verdict, but it made for the best pie for sure! It's creamy like milk and bakes similarly, too. You won't believe it’s not milk, I promise!

Overall, vegan milks can be subbed for conventional milks in a 1:1 ratio in almost all of your baking recipes. When it comes to things like cookies, cakes, biscuits, muffins, and pancakes, the type of milk used will not have a drastic effect on the end product. For richer desserts, such as a custard (like this pumpkin pie recipe), frosting, or a chocolate ganache, a creamy and more viscous milk (like soy) works best.

Which non-dairy milk do you like to bake with? Tell us in the comments!

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14 Comments

Farrell M. February 9, 2016
You need to try Oat Milk. I have been using Oat milk for years. it keeps my baked goods moist, does not separate, is never gritty, and when made or purchased from a guaranteed gluten free source, is gluten free. I have been non-dairy for almost 25 years and the this is the best alternative I have found.
 
Meagan December 29, 2015
It would have been interesting to see cashew milk in the mix, but I'm not overly surprised by the results of the four you tested. Also, the top photo caption should say "from top left" instead of "from top right".
 
Ntombi N. December 23, 2015
I really have to disagree with that statement to a degree. I think the cultivation and processing method is what makes soy products toxic or unhealthy. Soy has been a staple food of many asian countries for centuries, way before its commercialisation. It used to be considered the darling bean. When shopping it is important to check if the soy product is non-gmo and organic. Sometimes country of origin counts. And like any other food item under the sun moderation is key.
 
Sandra S. December 23, 2015
Just want to add a major comment about soy products! Soy is very toxic to anyone and causes cancer unless eaten fermented. Fermented soy is actually healing to the body. There are 3 ways to eat fermented soy, Miso, Natto, Tempeh! Besides being toxic, soy is also mainly a genetically modefied organism put in so many of our foods!
 
Darlene M. December 23, 2015
I made a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving that was gluten and dairy free using almond milk. My daughter and I thought it was just as good as traditional pumpkin pie...no separating or anything negative. But then, my recipe is a bit different from yours, maybe that's why.
 
Ntombi N. December 23, 2015
Cashew milk has the same consistency as skimmed milk with regards to taste. To me it taste more like powder milk dissolved in water. For buttermilk i usually add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar/lemon juice to a cup of milk. Silk has better varieties of milk and I can't taste the beany flavour in their soy milk.
 
Charlotte G. December 23, 2015
In Thailand, they make a dessert of coconut milk, eggs, & sugar baked inside a pumpkin. They cut it into wedges to serve it. Quite delicious.
 
Kristin December 23, 2015
I'm very curious: What kind of coconut milk did you use? Our family cannot have soy, almond, or dairy so we exclusively use coconut milk in our house and I've tried them all. I've learned that, in baking, you can see very different results depending on whether you've used a can or carton of coconut milk, the fat content of the coconut milk, whether you shook it properly beforehand, and even down to which brand of canned milk you use (i.e., probably what kinds of stabilizing ingredients are included, etc.). Just this past Thanksgiving, I made a delicious pumpkin pie swapping out Trader Joe's "rich and creamy" canned coconut milk (my go-to for recipes where I want a rich result) for the dairy and making no other changes to a very standard pumpkin pie recipe. It worked perfectly and people who do eat dairy couldn't detect anything "weird" about the pie at all. <br /><br />As a side note about soy: I used to cook and bake with it all the time, and I found that the "soy" flavor came through no matter what I did. I suspect people who eat a lot of soy get used to the flavor to the point that they can no longer taste it, and so I'm always suspicious when I see recipes recommending soy milk in something like this and promising up and down that the flavor won't come through. I wonder-did they have people with less-soy-adjusted palettes taste the food? Because it really is an extremely strong flavor. I find that coconut milk, especially the unsweetened from a carton, blends much more nicely into foods with subtle flavors (even savory ones).
 
Diane December 22, 2015
What to do when trying to sub for buttermilk in recipe? Does it work to add 1T per cup of milk alternative, just as we would add to regular milk? Or is the chemistry different?
 
Marty December 22, 2015
Eggs aren't part of a vegan diet!
 
Anne April 13, 2018
Not to fear. The very first sentence of the blog for this recipe gives a link to vegan-friendly egg substitutes.
 
Kristine E. December 22, 2015
I wonder how rice milk would fare...
 
Jesatronic December 22, 2015
What of cashew milk?
 
WHB December 22, 2015
I often make soy "buttermilk" for baking by adding a bit of apple cider vinegar. It works very well as a substitution.