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What Is Buttermilk?
In the past, the word buttermilk referred to the sour liquid that was left over from the process of churning cream into butter. It was a cheap ingredient popular for its long shelf life. Today, commercial buttermilk is produced by introducing cultures to milk that ups the lactic acid content, resulting in a subtly sour flavor and highly reactive qualities. With a similar tangy taste to sour cream or Greek yogurt, buttermilk is used in a variety of recipes, ranging from rich ranch dressing to airy baked goods.
Why Use Buttermilk In Baking?
The key to buttermilk’s baking magic is the acidity, which helps to break down the gluten in the dough or batter, creating lighter and moister baked goods. Buttermilk can also act in tandem with baking soda, baking powder, cream of tartar, and other leaveners to create an airy and light texture. In addition to its scientific benefits, buttermilk can also add a pleasant tang to recipes like blueberry muffins, pound cakes, and biscuits.
While liquid buttermilk is most commonly used in baking, dried buttermilk powder—which is made from the dehydrated liquid produced during the churning process—can also be used in baked goods, and can be found in the baking section of most grocery stores.
10 Buttermilk Recipes
- Buttermilk biscuits: Tangy biscuits made with all-purpose flour, butter, buttermilk, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
- Buttermilk pancakes: Airy pancakes made lighter and more flavorful by the addition of buttermilk to the batter.
- Buttermilk coleslaw: A creamy, Southern-style coleslaw made with shredded cabbage, carrots, buttermilk, mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper.
- Buttermilk fried chicken: Chef Thomas Keller’s classic fried chicken features chicken, marinated in buttermilk, breaded, and deep fried, for an elegant take on the Southern staple.
- Blueberry buttermilk ice cream: A creamy frozen dessert made with heavy cream, buttermilk, blueberries, vanilla extract, sugar, and egg yolks.
- Layer cakes: Many cake recipes include buttermilk to achieve a moist and light crumb.
- Ranch dressing: A satisfying combination of buttermilk, mayonnaise, spices such as ground garlic, onion, mustard, black pepper, and paprika, and dried herbs such as dill, parsley, and chives.
- Buttermilk mashed potatoes: Mashed potatoes prepared with butter and buttermilk for a creamy finish.
- Buttermilk waffles: Waffle batter made with tangy buttermilk and vanilla extract, cooked in a waffle maker.
- Roast chicken: Marinating a whole chicken in buttermilk for 12 hours prior to roasting will tenderize the meat and crisp the skin into a beautiful brown lacquer in the oven.
How to Substitute Buttermilk
Plain yogurt, sour cream, and Greek yogurt can stand in for buttermilk in many recipes, but your best bet for subbing buttermilk when you don't have any on hand is to make your own. Making a homemade buttermilk substitute is a deceptively easy process, and can recreate the flavor and effect of real buttermilk with minimal prep time. While larger quantities of homemade buttermilk can be made in an airtight jar for easy storage, this recipe can also be made directly in a liquid measuring cup fifteen minutes prior to baking or cooking.
Easy Homemade Buttermilk Recipe
Want to bake a batch of buttermilk biscuits but only have a cup of milk on hand? Here is how to make buttermilk at home when you're in a pinch:
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 tablespoons distilled white vinegar or fresh lemon juice
- Add the milk and vinegar or lemon juice to a Mason jar or glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously to combine.
- Let the mixture rest at room temperature for 15 minutes until it has begun to curdle and thicken slightly. Store any leftover buttermilk in the fridge and use within a couple of days.
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