Essential ingredients: dairy products

Milk, cream and butter are all the building blocks of flavour and texture as The Ferrandi School of Culinary Arts explain...

Image credit: Toy cows and bottle of milk
Milk, cream and butter are basic building blocks of flavour and texture as The Ferrandi School of Culinary Arts explain...
Most of us use dairy products in our baking every day or week, here the Ferrandi School of Culinary Arts tells us a bit more about all of these products.


Cow’s milk is the most commonly used variety in baking. It is best to use either pasteurised milk from the refrigerated section of the supermarket or ultra-pasteurised (UHT) milk rather than raw milk. Pasteurised milk can have a more pronounced flavour, which may vary seasonally, depending on what the cows have eaten. UHT milk produces identical results throughout the year. Many recipes work just as well with whole or low-fat milk, but in certain types of desserts, such as custard, clafoutis, or flan, whole milk will produce creamier and richer results.  


It is important to choose the right type of cream according to what you are making. Higher fat creams are thicker and easier to whip, and they are less likely to curdle when mixed in with hot ingredients. When a minimum fat content is required for a recipe to work, it’s best to follow the recommended percentage specified. Dairy products

Crème fraîche

Crème fraîche is a common product in supermarkets, but is not always readily available elsewhere. A substitute can be made at home by adding 1 tablespoon of buttermilk to 250ml (8fl oz) of heavy cream. Mix well, cover, then allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for up to 24 hours, until thickened. Refrigerate until ready to use.


This Italian triple-cream cheese with a minimum fat content of 50% has a soft and spreadable consistency and a mildly sweet flavour. It gives desserts a rich, velvety texture. Mascarpone is a key ingredient in tiramisu, and it can also be used to make whipped cream more stable. To do so, replace 30% of the total cream called for in the recipe with mascarpone, then whip as usual.

Powdered milk

Powdered milk is simply milk that has been dried to a powder; it does not contain any additives, and it retains the same proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals as liquid milk. In pastry making, powdered milk contributes dry matter and in some cases fat content to recipes without adding water, which makes it possible to experiment with texture and flavour. Powdered milk is used most notably in certain ice creams and viennoiseries (breakfast pastries).

Sweetened condensed milk

Sweetened condensed milk is made by cooking milk at high heat until more than half of the water content evaporates. Sugar is then added, resulting in a thick, sweet syrup that works well in shiny glazes.

Evaporated milk

Evaporated milk is made in the same way as sweetened condensed milk, but no sugar is added. It is called unsweetened condensed milk in many countries. Evaporated milk contributes creaminess to preparations like caramels and glazes.


As butter contains such a high level of fat, the quality you use is all-important, for the texture and flavour it imparts. In pâtisserie, both pasteurised unsalted and salted butters are used. Try to get butter with as high a butterfat content as you can (preferably a minimum of 82%): the higher the fat content, the less water the butter contains, which equates to creamier, more flavoursome butter and flakier crusts. Successful pastries also depend on the temperature and texture of the butter used, so always take care to prepare the butter as indicated in a given recipe before mixing it together with the other ingredients.

What is browned butter (beurre noisette)?

Browned butter is made by heating butter beyond the melting point until the milk proteins begin to caramelise, resulting in a golden brown colour and a slightly nutty aroma. To make browned butter, gently heat your butter, stirring frequently, until it is light brown, then carefully submerge the bottom of the saucepan in cold water to quickly stop the cooking process and prevent burning. Strain the melted butter through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer and use it to give an irresistible nutty flavour to cookies and cakes like financiers or Madeleines.

What is clarified butter?

Clarified butter is pure butterfat obtained by melting regular butter and removing the milk solids, water, and other impurities. Because clarified butter is 100% fat, it has a higher smoke point than regular butter and does not burn as easily. Clarified butter can be purchased, but you can also make it at home. To make your own, melt unsalted butter in a saucepan over a very low heat and let it simmer gently, without stirring, until a foamy white layer forms on top. Skim as much of the foam off the surface as you can. Once the butter stops foaming, remove the pan from the heat. Carefully pour the top layer of clear golden butterfat through a strainer into a separate container, leaving the milk solids at the bottom of the pan. SaveSave
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