Friday, November 30, 2012

Buttermilk or not Buttermilk

Mom and Dad didn't Bake. 
My sister Pat only baked a few things.  I'm thinking fondly about my sister's Irish Soda Bread that we had after she had Home-Ec at school.   She made it for a good while then we all moved onto other things.

I baked more than the rest, but there was always something else to do.

Now that it is the Holiday Season, it is the Baking Season for me and I'm finding myself looking critically at my recipes.  After all, it has to be fairly sturdy to make the 1200 mile trip to New Jersey.  I can't make things that spoil at "room temperature", even if that room is the back of a USPS truck in a late Autumn temperature band. 

That leaves out un-canned Jellies and Jams.   Mostly cookies and candies, which are always well received.

The breads I make are fine but by the time they churn through 5 to 7 days in the box from the Post, they'd be stale.

That also leaves out my biscuits.

My biscuits are made completely from scratch.   While I don't grind my own self-rising flour, I do churn my own butter and use it along with the buttermilk to make the biscuits.  Got a food processor?  Add a pint of whipping cream to it, turn it on with the cutter blade, and walk away for about 5 minutes.   You will end up with some of the worlds best unsalted butter and a pool of buttermilk.

The thing is that there are at least three different kinds of buttermilk.

The stuff that is leftover from the churning has lumps of butter floating in it unless you strain it is the good stuff.  For baking purposes, a little extra butterfat is always welcome.  If you taste that stuff, it is rather bland.  Think of skim milk that has been skimmed again until almost all of the taste is gone.

That is the "Original" Buttermilk.  That stuff is wonderful in making recipes that call for it, but it is very hard to get at the stores unless you know a friendly farmer's wife.   Or me I guess.

So what do you do if you really need the stuff?

The buttermilk you find in the stores is a thick clumpy brew.  More like Yogurt, it's also quite sour.  That is the kind of buttermilk that most recipes actually expect you to use for the acidic tang. 

I wouldn't recommend drinking it because our tastes don't really go for that sour taste these days.  I tried it once and found it ... vile.

So what do you do if you're baking, have a recipe that calls for Buttermilk and don't feel like hitching up the horse and buggy to go to the local farmer's market?

  • Take one cup of milk.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar.
  • Allow to "brew" for at least 5 minutes.

The vinegar will change the taste depending on what you are making.   If it is to be a sweet recipe, try Balsamic vinegar.  

Luckily there is no need for buttermilk in the cookies I'm planning on making.  There is a need for butter so it gives me an excuse to use up that last bit of cream that is in the refrigerator.  Better to make butter instead of making whipped cream!

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