Oh buttermilk. I used to dread seeing this ingredient in the list when scanning baking recipes. Now it wasn’t that I didn’t like the taste of buttermilk, I actually prefer the notable tang that it adds. I groaned every time it came up because it is only sold in large cartons that I can never use up before it spoils. It baffles me that heavy cream and half & half are sold in cute pint-sized cartons, usually just what you need for your frosting or cake. Then comes along the behemoth buttermilk. Sure you can substitute the recipe with the milk you already have in the fridge, but your baked treat will come out slightly different because it will be lacking the chemical reaction that buttermilk provides. So, what do you do? Buy the buttermilk and waste most of the carton or skip the buttermilk and have a slightly denser scone? My answer…none of the above! I choose answer C, make my own “buttermilk!”
First off, what is buttermilk? Contrary to its title, it is not melted butter mixed with milk so don’t rush off to the kitchen just yet thinking you’ve got the solution. Traditionally, buttermilk is the leftover liquid after cream is churned into butter and has fewer calories than whole milk. What makes buttermilk so unique is its acidity which helps puff up your baked goodies. A great test to see buttermilk in action, is to make two batches of pancakes, one with whole milk and one with buttermilk. That second batch is going to be lighter, fluffier and “tower” over the first stack. So when you substitute buttermilk with regular milk, there will be a notable difference in what you have baked.
How do we solve the problem of the half empty carton without giving up on a fluffier treat? Combine whole milk with an acid you probably have in your cupboard right now, white vinegar! Lemon juice will also do in a pinch, but it will produce a stronger sour flavor. To make the “buttermilk,” measure one tablespoon of white vinegar into a glass measuring cup and add whole milk to the 1 cup line. Gently stir and let this mixture sit for at least 5 minutes until the milk starts to thicken and small curdles start to form. And that’s all there is to it! While not completely buttermilk in the traditional sense, this mixture will give you the tang and leavening your baked good is missing.
I used this trick this weekend when I made Sweet Potato Scones using the Brown Eyed Baker’s recipe (http://www.browneyedbaker.com/sweet-potato-scones-with-maple-cream-glaze/). I also had sweet potatoes on hand so this recipe was the perfect way to use up this week’s left-over groceries. Add buttermilk to any scone recipe to lighten it up!