Thursday, January 28, 2016


What is buttermilk? What does buttermilk have to do with baking? Why is buttermilk made from low-fat milk? What do I do if my recipe calls for buttermilk, but I have none? All these questions are very good and on point for today's post. I'll be talking about buttermilk and its history and place in the culinary world.

Butter resting in buttermilk

Simply put, buttermilk is what is left over after butter is churned. That's it. If you wish to make your own butter, just put 2 cups whole milk and 1/4 teaspoon salt in your food processor or a large jar. Process it or shake it up until the curd separates and you will have butter. However, the buttermilk you get from this will not be the buttermilk it was in the days of old when milk was collected from the cows and churned into butter. 

Old fashion butter churns
The reason is that the milk we get today from the store is homogenized. That means that it has been heated and processed to kill the bacteria needed to make proper buttermilk. Homogenization is done because milk on its own turns bad very quickly. In our modern times, milk has to survive long travels to the grocery store and ultimately to our table. Having said all of that, please know that in some place you can still get raw milk from farmers. For those who do not have access to that, there is the cultured buttermilk in the grocery store. 

Before the age of refrigeration, buttermilk was commonly consumed after butter was churned. Nothing was wasted. This was mostly common with poor farmers and slaves. Those with more financial standing fed the buttermilk to the farm animals. 

Eventually, in the late 1800's, buttermilk found its way into the kitchen for baking. Not so coincidentally, baking soda was being used in place of yeast for some recipes. However, baking soda doesn't work without an acid to help it along. Because of the lactic acid in buttermilk, it was a match made perfect for the kitchen. Scones, cornbread, biscuits, muffins, pancakes, etc. all considered some sort of quick bread, can include buttermilk. If you find a recipe that uses cream of tartar, it is because cream of tartar has its own acidity and helps the baking soda do its job.

So let's say you decide to make something that calls for buttermilk. Maybe you didn't read the recipe through and didn't realize you needed buttermilk. Or maybe you thought you had buttermilk but, in fact, didn't. What to do? What to do? No worries. There's a solution. If you have milk and you have lemons, you have the makings for buttermilk. No lemons? Or maybe you don't want the lemon taste, then you can use vinegar.

Just pour 1 cup whole milk in a bowl and add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to it. Allow it to sit for about 10 minutes. The milk will begin to thicken and even clump a little. You now have buttermilk. Your one cup of buttermilk can be a substitute for regular milk in your recipe. Buttermilk gives your muffins or biscuits and better rise and it also gives it a bit lighter or tender texture. 

I will add that lighter texture to today's recipe.  I made lemon poppy seed bread using homemade buttermilk and fresh lemon juice.

What you need:

3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 cups white sugar
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice and zest (you will need between 2-3 lemons)

What you need to do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare 2 loaf pans or one bunt pan with butter and flour.

In large bowl combine flour, sea salt, baking powder, poppy seeds and sugar.  

In medium bowl combine oil, eggs, buttermilk, lemon juice and zest.  

Pour wet ingredients into dry and gently stir until combined.  DO NOT OVERMIX.  Pour batter evenly into 2 loaf pans.  Bake for 40-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Cool on rack for 10 minutes and remove bread from pans.  Allow to cool completely.

It is always a really good idea to read through each recipe before you begin preparing the ingredients.  You don't want any surprises.  But in the case of buttermilk you have an option if you don't wish to run to the store.  

No, go out and make something good.

No comments:

Post a Comment