Butter pound cake, egg custard, whipped cream frosting — these are some of the obvious perishable foods applications found in the dairy department. While farm-fresh ingredients may be feasibly sourced and used by smaller bakeries, larger operations and commercial manufacturers tend to rely on industrial formats of these ingredients, which perform many behind-the-scene functions, from helping cookies rise to slowing their staling.

For economic reasons, many egg- and milk-derived ingredients are sold in a dry format, which extends shelf life and makes products nonperishable. With powders, bakers are also not paying to ship water. When preferred, bulk-tank liquid formats are available, as well as frozen options. With solids such as cheese, not only are dried powders available, but so are shredded, crumbled and even concentrated formats. No matter the format, bakers find value in these dairy and egg ingredients.

Amazing milk

Cow’s milk is a very complex liquid, composed mostly of water but also loaded with fat, protein and even sugar in the form of lactose. Milk can be converted into butter, cream, cheese and yogurt, all of which have application in baked foods. Its macro and micro components also may get separated and purified into ingredients that not only contribute to the physical and sensory qualities of baked foods but also add nutrition, specifically protein and calcium. In recent years, advances in separation technology have resulted in the development of new value-added dairy ingredients, enabling on-trend innovations such as products designed for sports nutrition, weight management and healthful snacking.

“Dairy ingredients such as milk powders, milk and whey proteins, lactose and permeate can all help formulators meet growing consumer demand for more nutritious and delicious bakery offerings across a wide range of applications such as bread, cakes, pastries, cookies and crackers as well as icings, fillings and glazes,” said Terri Rexroat, vice-president, team lead for Latin America, US Dairy Export Council (USDEC). “The functional properties and performance of different dairy ingredients in bakery applications is influenced by each ingredient’s composition.”

The dairy ingredient most commonly used by bakers is high-heat nonfat dry milk (NFDM). As the name suggests, NFDM is fat-free milk that has been dried into a powder and treated with high heat, which denatures the proteins. This is necessary to prevent them from interfering with the rising properties of some baked foods.

Traditionally, NFDM is used to enhance water binding and prolong shelf life. It also contributes dairy flavor notes, desirable crust browning, enhanced yeast fermentation and improved stability of the batter or dough emulsion.

Permeate is a newer dairy ingredient for the baking industry. Also called dairy product solids or deproteinized whey, permeate is a high-lactose ingredient regarded for its flavor-extending and sodium-reducing characteristics.

Recent USDEC research conducted with Singapore’s Food Innovation and Resource Centre showed permeate’s impact on Southeast Asian cakes and cookies. Scientists found that product made with permeate resulted in measurable improvements, Ms. Rexroat said. These include increased production efficiency via a shorter mixing time, a softer dough and improved spreadability for cookies and a smoother batter for cakes, along with improved moisture.

“Both resulted in an ease of handling on machinery and cost savings in raw materials,” she said.

The mineral content of permeate makes it possible to reduce added salt in some recipes. Formulators at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (CDR), Madison, Wis., were able to replace some of the salt with permeate and cut sodium contents in half in scones, chocolate chip cookies and pound cake, and as much as a 70% reduction in muffins.

“In general, 10 to 11 grams of permeate will replace 1 gram of salt,” Ms. Rexroat said.

Permeate will improve browning of some baked foods. It also has been shown to improve emulsification of the fat in the formula and enhance a dough or batter’s water-holding capacity.

“As consumer interest in higher protein diets continues to expand, dairy protein ingredients are being used significantly in bakery applications to provide a protein boost,” Ms. Rexroat said. “This includes everyday consumer favorite breakfast foods, such as pancakes, muffins and waffles, and of course convenient breakfast bars for on-the-go eating.”

Whey protein concentrates and isolates are concentrated sources of whey proteins that also assist with emulsification and foaming/whipping properties. Milk protein concentrates and isolates contribute both types of dairy proteins — casein and whey — and are known for their water-binding properties.

“If adding an 80% whey protein concentrate ingredient into cookie or cake dough, it is best to add it at the creaming stage,” Ms. Rexroat said. “You may need to decrease the amount of water or adjust the level of emulsifier or shortening so that the dough does not get too sticky.”

She said that when a baker uses a whey-based ingredient in bread, there are various formulation considerations. To optimize loaf volume, for example, the whey-based ingredient should be low in lactose, high in protein, and the protein should be significantly denatured.

“Water absorption is lower for whey ingredients than for flour, with water absorption increasing as protein denaturation levels increase,” Ms. Rexroat said. “Thus, water requirements may need to be adjusted depending on the whey ingredient used.”

If the whey-based ingredient is high in lactose, adjustments in the process or other ingredients may be needed to maintain yeast growth and carbon dioxide production. Further, baking time and temperature may require adjusting because crust color might develop more rapidly with whey-based ingredients.

“One aspect of dairy ingredients that probably doesn’t get enough attention is browning,” said Kimberlee Burrington, dairy ingredient applications coordinator at the Commission on Dietetic Registration. “Many cookies and other bakery products use caramel color to provide the desired appearance. They can achieve this with many dairy ingredients.”

Bakers also are getting creative with dairy ingredients. Divina Specialty Foods in The Netherlands, for example, produces a namesake crispbread. A combination of milk protein with nuts and seeds delivers five grams of protein per piece.

Portland, Ore.-based The Cookie Department markets Tough Functional Cookie, which contains 10 grams of protein per cookie. It is made with a proprietary protein powder blend of partially hydrolyzed milk protein isolate and milk protein isolate.

The Smart Baking Co., Sanford, Fla., recognizes the functional benefits of dairy, especially when working together with eggs. Its new gluten-free Smartcake relies on eggs, whey protein isolate and a proprietary fiber blend to deliver a nutrient-rich protein snack cake. Erythritol and monk fruit sweeten this zero-carb snack that contains only 38 calories, 5 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein.

High Key Snacks, Blaine, Wash., rolled out keto-friendly, low-carb brownie bites. The product relies on whey protein concentrate and egg whites to deliver a snack with 5 grams of protein, 12 grams of fat and 1 gram of sugar per 30-gram serving, about 10 bites.

Wuel Nutrition L.L.C., San Antonio, developed Cheddies crackers. With the No. 1 ingredient being cheese, this low-carb, high-protein baked snack also contains whey protein. 

Cheesy and buttery flavors

While permeate and dairy proteins are used by bakers for function and nutrition, butter and cheese are common additions for flavor and color. One of their biggest challenges, however, is cost.

“When it comes to products like brioche and croissants — any laminated dough products — our customers are looking for the right combination of cost and taste these days,” said Roger Mullins, senior vice-president, First Choice Ingredients. “Obviously, butter makes everything taste better, but it’s expensive. Baking companies are finding a secret weapon with butter concentrates, which are essentially commodity butter naturally fermented to a higher concentration level. Replacing the amount of butter in a formulation even slightly, say 5%, can make a huge impact on price without sacrificing any flavor.

“A client came to us with a laminated dough product where they wanted to pull back on the sweetness of the brown butter and transition it to a more savory product,” Mr. Mullins continued. “Our teams worked together for weeks, and the end result was a new, more savory product, focusing on the caramelized note but still letting the butter shine through. It was organic, clean label and just packed with flavor.”

First Choice’s butter concentrates are constantly evolving to meet customers’ needs. They now include different concentrations and sweetness levels, organic options, even sweet and savory brown butters.

“Where we offered only a few butter concentrates a decade ago, we now have close to a two dozen options,” Mr. Mullins said. “There are even more and quite varied cheese concentrates.”

Layers of flavors also are available in concentrates. For example, First Choice offers a toasted cheddar concentrate that adds a slightly brown note to the cheese profile.

“Adding cheese concentrates to any formulation can provide a signature flavor while also adding protein,” Mr. Mullins said. “Sharp cheddar concentrates can really provide a flavor punch to items like crackers and breadsticks without breaking the bank.”