It’s easy to be bewildered by buttermilk.
Part of the confusion actually stems from its versatility as an ingredient: why is this thing that’s in my pancake recipe also a major feature in this fried chicken dish? How can it work in both smoothies and quick breads alike? It’s not actually milk, and it’s not butter…so is it just sour milk? Because, to be honest, that doesn’t exactly get the ol’ salivary glands going.
Well, don’t you worry, because we’ve got you covered for everything you need to know about this essential baking ingredient. Welcome, friends, to Buttermilk 101.
What is buttermilk?
Traditionally, buttermilk used to be the liquid that was left over after the butter-churning process. That liquid (which was actually quite low in fat, since almost all of the milk fat remained in the butter itself) was left to ferment until it developed its tangy flavour, usually overnight. These days, however, most buttermilk is commercially produced by adding a bacterial culture to whole or skim milk, heating it, and allowing it to ferment in a controlled environment.
The result is a thick, almost creamy dairy product that manages to be rich and flavourful while at the same time being low in fat. Its tangy flavour means that most people wouldn’t want to drink it straight from the carton (though if you love yogurt or kefir, you should give it a try!), but this does make it a tremendous ingredient for baking.
It makes a wonderful addition to waffles, breads, and even homemade crackers. As a general rule, you can usually swap it in 1 for 1 with any baking recipe that calls for milk if you want a slightly more tangy final result. Due to its naturally high acidity, the reverse is not true; milk shouldn’t be substituted on its own for buttermilk in a recipe, as it there might not be enough acidity to activate the leavener (if the recipe calls for baking soda), causing issues with the recipes rising properly.
If you aren’t able to get your hands on some buttermilk (or you just really want to make that scone recipe right. now. and don’t want to go to the grocery store), there are plenty of ways to substitute buttermilk in a recipe. The easiest is to add 1 Tablespoon of acid (ideally lemon juice, white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar) to 1 cup of milk, give it a stir, and allow it to thicken for about 10 minutes before using. You can also thin out Greek yogurt, creme fraiche, or sour cream with milk until you have the consistency of thick (but not quite whipped) cream.
How to use up leftover buttermilk:
One of the most frustrating things about buttermilk is that it’s often sold by the litre, but recipes rarely call for more than 1/3 cup of it at a time, leaving you with a whole lot left over. Here are some great ways to use it up:
- Swap it in for yogurt in your morning smoothie
- Freeze it in an ice cube tray, then transfer the cubes to a resealable plastic bag. Thaw them as needed for future recipes.
- Swirl some into your mashed potatoes for a tangy kick of flavour
- Whip up a batch of homemade buttermilk ranch dressing for your next salad or slaw
- There’s a reason it’s such a hit with chicken! Use it to marinate chicken pieces overnight before dredging them in batter and frying (or baking) them.
- Use it to substitute some or all of the milk in raspberry sticky buns, apple cheddar loaf cake, or croissant bread pudding
What are some of your favourite things to bake with buttermilk? Let us know in the comments below, or tag us with your creations at #bakedtheblog and @baked_theblog.