While I occasionally bake, I am no Le Cordon Bleu chef. But Celine Fabre of Cuisine by Celine is. Chef Celine is a classically French-trained chef who helps people improve their diet for medical reasons — including leaky gut, diabetes, and cancer. Chef Celine and I aren’t exactly twinning in white chef hats and jackets, but we both share a passion for improving the health of others.
Many of Chef Celine’s clients cannot tolerate dairy and — let’s face it — that’s probably a good thing. Choosing plant-based milk alternatives is wise for your health, good for the environment, and a no-brainer when it comes to animal welfare and a booming industry. Plant-based milk now accounts for 15 percent of total milk sales in the U.S., and that number is expected to rise over the next few years.
Speaking of rising, when it comes to baking with plant-based milk substitutes, it’s important to consider the flavor and texture you are seeking so your recipe doesn’t, errr, fall flat. Chef Celine suggests incorporating nut milks into baking since their taste aligns perfectly with sweet foods and tends to have a creamy consistency. First, take into account the dietary restrictions or health goals you are trying to achieve. Next, consider the nutritional aspects of each milk alternative. Lastly, consider the level of sweet or savory you want for your baked goods, and then choose your milk accordingly.
When baking with plant-based milk, in almost all cases, it’s best to stick with the plain, unsweetened, or original version. Chef Celine cautions against the sweetened versions since sugar is already present in a plethora of products today. “Skip the added sugar; most people easily over-consume the recommended daily intake or RDI,” she advises.
Chef Celine advises using plant-based milk when baking muffins or cakes. But she warns that these milks — especially rice and flax — tend to thin out when warmed on the stove for puddings or porridge, unless you plan to add a thickening agent such as flour. In addition, she suggests adding fruits to achieve or mask flavors from other ingredients in desserts. This can help compensate for the lack of fat, which normally brings crispiness and flavor to the finished recipe.
When it comes to creating savory sauces such as bechamel or purees, Chef Celine recommends using rice, pea, flax, or hemp milk. “I use them the same way I would use regular milk and adjust the quantity with the consistency I want to achieve,” says Chef Celine. She adds, “When the milk is the only variant in a traditional recipe [for example, no egg or gluten restrictions], these plant-based milks are just as good as regular milk and pretty neutral in flavor.”
Best Plant-Based Milks for Savory Dishes
Hemp & Pea Protein: Milks that are higher in protein fare well in baking and cooking; therefore, pea protein and hemp milk are great choices. Both types of milk are ideal in savory dishes due to their strong flavors.
If you wish to thicken the milk by curdling it with an acid such as vinegar, this will add flavor and thickness to your recipe. According to Veganbaking, vinegar activates baking powder and soda. This, in turn, increases the leavening (rising), which enhances the crumb quality of baked goods.
Rice Milk: Can be used for cooking and baking, although rice milk has the thinnest consistency. It’s best used in lighter, savory recipes like soups due to its watery texture. Rice milk is high in sugar, making it one of the sweetest milks, so it’s ideal for light dessert recipes.
Flax Milk: Great for baking or cooking, but its thinner consistency makes flax milk best suited for light, savory dishes.
Best Plant-Based Milks for Sweet Treats
Almond, Hazelnut, Walnut, & Cashew Milk: All of these milks can be used for cooking or baking. Due to their inherently sweet and nutty flavor, they are best in smoothies, desserts, and sweets or in any recipe where you desire a nutty or cheesy flavor. If you’re watching your carbohydrate and sugar intake, skip the hazelnut, which outweighs the others.
Most almond milk brands contain very few almonds — usually less than two percent. If you’re seeking a protein boost, skip all four and look for Orgain Protein Almond Milk, which harnesses the power of pea protein while providing a whopping 10 grams of protein per serving.
Macadamia Milk: High in monounsaturated (good) fat, macadamia milk is a wonderful source of something you may never have heard of: palmitoleic acid. This omega 7 is rare and virtually impossible to find in animal products. Macadamia milk is rich and perfect for decadent desserts and sweet treats. In fact, the Milkadamia brand recommends their vegan creamers in “everything from soups to sweet potato casserole.” They also recommend their Latte Da Milkadamia to create the perfect latte foam when steamed. Sold (they had me at foam).
Coconut Milk: You can use coconut milk in cooking or baking. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have a strong coconut taste; rather, it’s versatile and rich. According to Chef Celine, “Coconut milk is great for custard, but takes a lot more time to set compared to regular milk.” In this case, canned coconut milk might be a better option; it’s much thicker and is ideal in curry dishes, sauces, and for thickening liquids. Alternatively, concentrated coconut cream contains just coconut meat and is great for desserts such as whipped cream or pudding.
Oat Milk: Oat milk is great for cooking or baking as the flavor is very mild, but the texture is thick and hearty. With a combo of texture and a slightly sweet flavor, oat milk can be used in soups, sauces, or baked goods. Look for the gluten-free Oatly brand’s unsweetened version. Or, for my fellow froth lovers, check out their Barista Editions. “Oat milk does not break as much and keeps much of its creaminess,” explains Chef Celine.
If none of the above milks work for you, water lentil milk will soon be coming to a store near you. Or, try pecan milk. Chef Celine makes homemade pecan milk for a client who can’t tolerate any of the milks on the market. She uses it in quinoa porridge, cookies, muffins, and pancakes. “Pecan milk works well and I use fruits such as berries and bananas to achieve pleasant flavors,” she says.