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Tasteful tips for holiday baking with dairy

Baking for the holidays is a time-honored tradition that conjures up warm memories. Whether you're making Grandma's pumpkin pie or Aunt Sue's special cookie recipe, be sure to keep your pantry and fridge stocked with baking staples.

One product that will make or break your holiday recipes is dairy. In preparation for the prime holiday baking season, the California Milk Advisory Board offers tips, recipes, serving suggestions and fun facts to help bakers get the most out of the California dairy products they buy. California produces more milk, butter, ice cream and yogurt than any other state. How you do know it's from California? Look for the Real California Milk and Real California Cheese seals to guarantee you're getting products made with milk from one of the state's 1,752 dairy families.

Milk

Milk is used in many baking recipes, including custards, cookies, cakes and breads. Milk encourages the browning reactions characteristic in baked goods like pastry crusts, cookies and biscuits. Milk also contributes to the keeping quality of bread and gives it a soft, tender crust. Tip: Most of the time, milk can replace cream in baking to reduce fat in recipes.

Butter

Flavor is essential to bakers, and butter delivers sumptuous flavor better than any other fat. Butter enriches baked goods by contributing tenderness and moistness, and is responsible for the flakiness in biscuits, pie crusts and puff pastry. Tip: Soften very cold or semi-frozen butter by grating it using the large holes of a box grater. Remember to measure before grating.

Buttermilk

Buttermilk is essential for adding tang and tender crumb characteristics to Southern favorites such as buttermilk biscuits, buttermilk pie and cornbread. The acid in buttermilk, when combined with baking soda, produces light baked goods. Tip: Buttermilk can separate as it sits, so shake well before using.

Cottage cheese

Cottage cheese is another dairy product that adds flavor and the necessary fat for flakiness and tenderness to baked goods. Its characteristic texture creates small pillows in pastry dough that brown beautifully in the oven. Tip: Baker's cheese, ricotta and farmer's cheese will yield the closest results to cottage cheese if you need a substitute when baking.

Cream

As the saying goes, cream rises to the top, and that is certainly true in baking. Cream's richness produces tender cakes and pastries with a luscious flavor. Tip: Brushing heavy cream onto the surface of pastries or breads produces a rich, golden crust.

Crème Fraiche

Crème fraiche provides the richness of heavy cream with a pleasant tang similar to sour cream. It ranges in texture from that of sour cream to almost as solid as softened butter. It has a slightly nutty flavor and a velvety nap that enriches without being heavy. Use it to garnish a dessert and add special flair and flavor to your holiday pies and tarts. Tip: Crème fraiche can be heated - even to the boiling point - without the fear of curdling.

Sour cream

Rich and acidic in nature, this semi-liquid acts as a fat to produce moist, tender textures in cakes and pastries. The acids in sour cream tenderize baked goods by breaking down long, stringy protein molecules into smaller pieces. Tip: Reduced-fat sour cream but not nonfat, can be substituted for regular sour cream in baking.

Yogurt

Yogurt tenderizes the protein in flour, resulting in soft-to-the-bite muffins, pastries or cakes. Its slightly acidic flavor adds a bit of tang. Tip: Prevent curdling when using yogurt in hot dishes by adding as late as possible during preparation, heating gradually and stirring gently.

Whether you're making a treasured family cookie recipe, quiche, tarts or turnovers, California has a delicious dairy product to suit every recipe. For more Real California dairy recipes and holiday baking and entertaining ideas, visit RealCaliforniaMilk.com.