Janet's Notebook
Unraveling the Delicious Mysteries of Buttermilk

By Janet Tharpe  


Unraveling the Delicious Mysteries of Buttermilk
Mollie With Hew Italian Cream Cake


Have you ever thought of buttermilk as being mysterious? Does its mere mention make you shake in your oven mitts, the James Bond theme song playing in your head?

Oh wait, maybe it's just me.

For years, this humble ingredient has had me stumped. What do you do with it? Is it for baking or am I supposed to put it in savory dishes?

The answer, it turns out, is a simple "Yes!"

Home cook Mary Lundschen is shedding light on buttermilk and all its many uses in her Just A Pinch discussion group, "Cooking with Buttermilk."

"It is amazing what this ingredient can do for a recipe and how many recipes call for it!" says Mary, whose group members are constantly sharing new dishes that highlight the ingredient.

Buttermilk, I've learned, is simply the liquid left over from the butter making process. And, like butter, it is a delicious addition to both savory and sweet recipes.

Like many, I have fried chicken to thank for my first positive buttermilk experience. It was Virginia Dean's Southern Fried Chicken that got us pulling our way up onto the buttermilk bandwagon. Her recipe will make you look like you're kin to the Colonel!

"Folks young and old enjoy good fried chicken...especially home cooked. My husband says I'm the champion fried chicken cooker. Don't know about that, but everyone who has ever tried mine really loves it, and wants to know how I get it so crispy."

Her secret? Combine a buttermilk soak with a shower of self-rising flour! The richness of the buttermilk adds a truly unique flavor to the chicken and permeates the meat to help seal in the juices. The result is crunchiness to the max.

With buttermilk fried chicken under our apron belts, the Crew and I decided to give old-fashioned buttermilk scones a try. Only we mixed it up a bit and tried our hand at Sarah Byrne's savory take on the traditionally sweet dish.

"[Cheddar-Bacon Buttermilk Scones] are a great breakfast alternative to a sweet scone," says Sarah. "They are a great grab 'n go breakfast when running late for school or work."

The recipe was borne of Sarah's love of all things buttermilk. She began with a recipe that called for cream and baking powder, and swapped those standard ingredients out for her buttery milk substitute. Simple as that!

The more we cooked, the more recipes I wanted to try. The Crew and I even experimented making our own buttermilk by combining milk and simple white vinegar! Start with a tablespoon of vinegar and add just enough milk to come up to the 1 cup line of your measuring cup. Voila, homemade buttermilk! (Insert "Rocky" theme song here.)

But before you go blending your own buttermilk, make sure you truly understand the power you hold in your hands. When used correctly, buttermilk will make you the lightest, moistest, tastiest darn cake you've ever had. It's true. For proof I point you in the delicious direction of Mollie Hubenak's Nanny's Italian Cream Cake.

"My grandmother has made this cake since I was a little girl," says Mollie. "For our birthdays she would always make us the cake of our choice. This was ALWAYS my choice. I surprised her one year and made her one, and she was so excited! Mine was as good as hers, if not better. Shhh!!"

In fact, one of the reasons I love this cake so much is that everyone can create a true dessert masterpiece. Pure Mexican vanilla is combined with coconut and pecans to flavor the tremendously tasty cake. The richness of the buttermilk creates a moist, supple texture that springs back just slightly with that first jab of your fork. Top it off with vanilla-infused pecan cream cheese icing and, well, you'll be the hit of any party!

So there you have it, I've made a new friend in the kitchen. Buttermilk is now a regular performer in my cooking and, dare I say, my new secret weapon. What ingredient mystery shall I tackle next?!



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41 Comments
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kattie dubbs - Jan 30, 2013
ur a very lucky lady
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Terry Wilson - Jan 30, 2013
I love buttermilk - for baking - not so much for drinking (my father-in-law drank glasses of it)My husband clued me in to its versatility. I add it to any "mix" that calls for milk/water, such as biscuit, pancake, cake, etc. I have not found any change in flavor and everything is so much more light and fluffy. Our local Kroger discounts close dated milk products and we often find buttermilk at 50 cents a half gallon.
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kattie dubbs - Jan 27, 2013
lol yep it works but fresh churned b milk is so much better . especially for drinking lol. nothing like a glass of cold b milk and onion chopped in it along with corn bread . yumm yummm
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Melanie B - Jan 27, 2013
lemon juice does the trick also.
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Nonni Norman - Jan 27, 2013
I know you aren't going to want to hear this...LOL....BUT when I don't have buttermilk for the recipe and it is called for, my momma taught me that adding a dribble of vinegar (approx 1 tea) to the amount of milk the recipe calls for will create your own buttermilk. Just add the vinegar to regular milk...leave it set on the counter for a few seconds, maybe a minute, and it will gain that texture. NOW I am not a milk drinker, or a buttermilk drinker, SO I also have to laugh, when she said this so many years ago, I thought to myself, isn't buttermilk supposed to be sweet? Isn't vinegar sour? Nonetheless I still to this day, "do it the way momma said".
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Jewel Hall - Jan 25, 2013
Soon I hope Dear
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kattie dubbs - Jan 25, 2013
yep i know what u are talking about Jewel. lol if we ever get togather we will have so much to talk about its bound to be a good visit lol hugs
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Jewel Hall - Jan 25, 2013
Sally, we grew up on freshly churned buttermilk. I know how to milk a cow, strain the milk, clabber the milk by a warm heater, churn it by hand, skim the butter off the top and whip it until it is firm. And, chill that great buttermilk. You first poured the whey off before churning. We used to kill hogs too and render out our lard in a big, black, iron washpot. GOOD MEMORIES !!
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Sally Royster - Jan 25, 2013
I waas raised by a Mother AND Father who cooked with buttermilk. If we were out (for some crazy reason) Mom would create the substitute with milk, preferably whole milk, and a tablespoon of vinegar. Voila, buttermilk ala good-ole-American-ingenuity!!!!
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Laurel Pickens - Jan 21, 2013
I hope everyone understands that "cultured buttermilk" (milk with a buttermilk starter or vinegar in a pinch) and "buttermilk" (milk that is left over after butter is churned) are not the same and not interchangable. Both of them are really good though ;).
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Robin Carter - Jan 21, 2013
I am ADDICTED to buttermilk and my rapidly expanding middle proves it - lol! I wish I could find fresh buttermilk like mom and I used to get straight from dairy farms years ago - we are country girls. I used to help with milking on my great uncle's dairy farm when I was a little girl, many, many years ago ;) I've never cooked with it because I'm too busy drinking it, but I am going to look around here for something now that tickles my fancy and try it out! Thanks Janet!!
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Norma Martz - Jan 20, 2013
This is so helpful. I have so many old recipies and when they call for butter milk, I am stumped. This has helped a lot!
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Wilda Rogers - Jan 20, 2013
Of all the many uses for buttermilk I have read here, no one mentioned that it was great for making cornbread. My mother made cornbread with it and I have always used it .
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DoraBethe Bays - Jan 19, 2013
Oh the joys of buttermilk. My family tradition as a child was devouring mom's homemade peanut butter fudge with a large tall glass of Southern Belle or Chappells Dairy butternilk. Both these brands had the most delightfully tantalizing chunks of butter that would just dance on your tongue on the way down. One year we came across a recipe for Buttermilk Fudge...we made it one time and just as it was almost done, the electricity went off in a storm. We never got to see the finished product as it was supposed to be. We could hardly stand the delightful aroma when it was boiling. By the time the electricity came back on way out in the country, we were all in bed asleep and did not get to complete the project. Mom just shook her head at us kids for thinking we could make cany out of buttermilk....to her it was for biscuits and upset stomachs. I was always sneaky when pouring my big glass for the peanut butter fudge. Yum...I would love to find the recipe for that Buttermilk Fudge. If anyone has one, please send it my way!