Toasted milk powder is suddenly everywhere.
I first came across this technique about a year ago, when Bon Appetit Food Editor Shilpa Uskokovic debuted her Chocolate Sheet Cake with Brown Butter Frosting. The frosting buried the lede — it didn’t just use brown butter, but a supercharged version of brown butter made more flavorful by the addition of toasted milk powder. (“I read about [this technique] years ago on Ideas in Food,” recalls Shilpa.) When King Arthur Editorial Director David Tamarkin made it, he couldn’t stop raving about it.
Other bakers have embraced the benefits of toasted milk powder. Hetal Vasavada, author of Milk & Cardamom, says it draws on classic Indian dessert-making and makes a connection to Indian Americans’ embrace of milk powder to recreate classic milk-based desserts. She calls toasted milk powder “a flavor booster” and loves its caramel notes in cookies, as well as milk-based sweets like creams, custards, and puddings — recipes with a neutral flavor profile so the delicate toasty notes shine. Tres leches cake, she suggests, is an excellent option.
British baker and cookbook author Edd Kimber started toasting milk powder after a chocolate maker let him in on a little secret: They made caramelized white chocolate with toasted milk powder. “This was a light bulb moment,” Edd says. He’s been using it in his baking ever since, including “double brown butter” cream cheese frosting (featuring both brown butter and toasted milk powder), cookies, cakes, and more. “Adding toasted milk powder to baked goods is like a secret flavor enhancer … I like to think of it almost as a seasoning.”
And recently, in our Test Kitchen, Recipe Tester Lydia Fournier decided to use it in her Ultimate Brown Butter Rice Krispies Treats as a way to boost the flavor of these typically one-note sweets. She served them to our Editorial Team, and we were still talking about them months later.
So, toasted milk powder is everywhere. But why exactly are so many bakers doing it?
The advantages of toasting milk powder
You’re probably familiar with brown butter and all of the gloriously nutty, toasty flavor it adds to baked goods. But what if brown butter could be even, well, browner?
That’s what happens when you add milk powder.
Let’s back up: To make brown butter, you’re cooking butter on the stovetop until the water evaporates, at which point the milk solids, which make up about 1% to 2% of the butter itself, begin to toast and brown. Dried milk is basically just those milk solids on their own, providing “a potent source of the exact same elements — protein and sugar — that give brown butter its characteristic flavor,” according to Shilpa.
Adding milk powder to brown butter gets the flavor of more toasted milk solids without having to use way more butter. Or, to think of it another way, you’re increasing the ratio of browned milk solids to melted butter for even more flavor. “Milk powder is to brown butter what tomato paste is to tomatoes: an intense, concentrated source of flavor,” says Shilpa.
Alternately, you can just toast milk powder on its own, rather than adding it to brown butter, to make what Edd calls “powdered brown butter.” This can be done in a dry skillet on the stove (which Edd recommends, as it allows him to keep a close eye and make sure it doesn’t get too dark) or in the oven, as Hetal tends to do.
Choosing your milk powder
There are two main types of milk powder you’ll come across: non-fat dry milk powder and full-fat dry milk powder. Both toast and brown similarly, but different bakers have their own preferences. Lydia says that, as with most baking, more fat is always better. After testing both non-fat and whole milk powders, she found that the full-fat milk contributes more flavor. The added fat in whole milk powder has another benefit: It helps extend the shelf-life of her Rice Krispies treats (if they last more than a day, which is doubtful!).
Edd, meanwhile, leans toward non-fat milk powder, in part because it’s easier to access in the U.K. “Once it’s toasted, it also keeps a lot longer [than whole milk powder] so it’s easier to make a large batch that you can use over time,” he shares.
Tips for toasting milk powder
If you’re toasting milk powder in brown butter, be careful how much you cook it. Because it’s suspended in hot butter, it will continue to cook — and brown — after you remove it from the heat. If it gets too brown, it goes from deeply flavorful to straight-up burnt. (“It happens so fast,” shudders Lydia.)
There are two ways to avoid this. Either remove your pan from the heat when the dried milk/brown butter mixture is a few shades lighter than the color you want it to be, as it will continue to darken in the pan. Or, once the mixture has reached your desired color, immediately pour it into a heatproof bowl so it will stop cooking and won’t become darker. (If you’re making Lydia’s Ultimate Brown Butter Rice Krispies Treats, immediately add the other ingredients to the hot pan at this point, per the recipe, as they will cool the mixture down and prevent overbrowning. Lydia likes to have all her ingredients measured out to prevent any delay.)
If you’re dry toasting your powder, the same rules apply. Hetal likens it to cooking garlic: “As soon as it takes on a little color, pull it off the heat immediately, as it will continue to darken.” You’re looking for “warm, golden brown tones, not dark mahogany,” specifies Edd. Toast in a dry skillet over medium-low heat for approximately 3 to 7 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula to avoid clumping.
And if the toasted powder clumps (a frequent occurrence) Hetal recommends blitzing it in food processor or spice grinder until powdery.
Can you reconstitute toasted milk powder?
Not really. You can mix toasted milk powder with water to make a liquid that can be added to recipes, but it won’t dissolve and reconstitute to make milk.
Can you add toasted milk powder to other recipes?
Dry toasted milk powder can be used in recipes calling for milk powder. Depending on the recipe, though, and the proportion of milk powder to flour, it may not add much flavor. I baked a loaf of Japanese Milk Bread with toasted whole milk powder, and because the recipe only calls for 2 tablespoons (14g) of dried milk (mostly for texture), the toasty flavor was lost in the final loaf.
You can also experiment with adding dry toasted milk powder to recipes that don’t already include milk powder, but be aware that it may affect hydration, and thus your final recipe. Cookies are a good place to start, as they can be very forgiving: I baked a batch of Sugar Cookies with 6 tablespoons (38g) of toasted whole milk powder added, and I also mixed some toasted milk powder into the sugar to coat the outside of the cookie dough. The result was sugar cookies with slightly more complex flavor and whispers of nuttiness. It’s also fabulous when added to frostings, particularly American buttercreams — simply beat in with the powdered sugar to taste.
Finally, you can try adding milk powder to brown butter in recipes for a boost of flavor. Follow the instructions in Lydia’s Ultimate Brown Butter Rice Krispies Treats for guidance on how to prepare the brown butter with milk powder; the recipe’s proportion of 8 tablespoons (113g) butter + 1/4 cup (25g) dried milk is a good one to stick with across recipes. Again, this is something to experiment with in recipes as the dried milk can affect hydration, but simple bakes like cookies (I’ve had success with Brown Butter Rye Shortbread and Joy’s Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies) are a good place to start.
Cover photo by Rick Holbrook; food styling by Kaitlin Wayne.