Tuesday, July 10

MAKE IT: Buttermilk (Getting to know Buttermilk or Sour-milk)

Buttermilk is one of the most misunderstood baking ingredients. It is used often in baking, called for in recipes, and makes a great marinade for meats. But do you really know what it is? Most believe that buttermilk contains high fat or butter, when in reality it contains neither. Buttermilk is actually lower in fat than Skim or Fat-Free milks.

So what exactly is buttermilk?

Traditional Buttermilk is the milk left over after churning butter. It is the milk of the butter, hence butter-milk or buttermilk. The remaining milk takes on a slightly tart flavor, very similar to plain yogurt. It will occasionally contain small traces of butter solids or "flakes", which is why buttermilk cannot be classified as a Skim milk. This also explains why when your in a grocery store looking for buttermilk you only ever see Fat-Free or Reduced Fat, in order to make buttermilk it really needs to be Fat-Free or Reduced Fat.

If you want to find Traditional Buttermilk, the organic section is where to look. Or try at a farmers market where fresh butter and milk are being sold.

These days store bought Buttermilk is made slightly different. It is classified as Cultured Buttermilk. Lactic Acid bacteria is added to skim or part skim milk, on occasion to sweet whole milk, and then allowed to culture. Similar to the process of making a yogurt or sour cream. The milk is then allowed to ferment for 12-14 hours at a very low temperature. The resulting milk will contain no butter flakes and is labeled "Cultured", indicating the process behind it. Many store bought buttermilks also contain salt. These labels will indicate "Salted" and you will want to note if your buttermilk contains salt when baking. Cultured Buttermilk can also be found in powdered form, similar to dry milk and is generally located in the baking section.

Store bought or traditional Buttermilk will last up to 2 weeks due to its high acid level. But ideally should be used the first week or it will take on a slightly bitter taste.Truthfully when ever using Buttermilk, you really want it fresh to have the perfect milk to acid blend. The buttermilk will slightly continue to ferment which brings on the bitter taste after a few days.

The third type of Buttermilk, is called Acidified Buttermilk or Sour Milk. This can easily be made at home and will have the same flavor and texture as Cultured Buttermilk. It is one of the easiest things to make and cuts down on your shopping list instantly. Buttermilk is generally only sold in quarts and most recipes only need a cup or two, which leaves you with most of the quart left over.

Being able to make Acidified Buttermilk at home will allow for several bonuses.
1) You'll always have it on hand for when you need it.
2) You'll never have leftover hanging around going bad in the refrigerator.
3) You won't spend the extra money.
4) If you run out, just make more!

There are two drawbacks to Acidified Buttermilk though.
1) Acidified Buttermilk should only be made prior to using it. You don't want the Acidified milk hanging around too long, 30 minutes is the maximum. Since houses don't generally have clean Fermenting tanks which maintain constant temperature on regulate air flow, the milk will continue to culture and ferment rapidly. Waiting to long on use actually gives you bad milk.
2) Acidified Buttermilk can not be used in making creams or cheeses. The ratio of fermented culture to acid can really only be achieved in a Fermenting tank. This ratio is important when making sour cream, creme fraiche, or cheese.

To make Acidified Buttermilk you only need two ingredients. Milk and White vinegar. Although lemon juice can be and is often used in this home process, it will leave a trace taste behind. The tartness of the buttermilk will cover the acid or vinegar flavor but will not mask the lemon. It is not hugely noticeable in small but in recipes which call for the buttermilk to shine (example Buttermilk Biscuits or Pancakes) you will notice it.

Now that we know what Buttermilk is, let's make it:

This will make 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
Full time: 10 minutes

You want to start with a clean 1 cup measuring cup. Add in 1 tbsp of white vinegar.

Now pour in milk. Try using 2% or Whole for the best results. Bring the milk up to the 1 cup line.

Allow the measuring cup to sit for 10 minutes, you will see the skin of the milk ripple. Don't stir or mix just let it sit.

You are now done! See how easy that was. You now have a fancy new technique which can be used anytime you want. It is one of my favorite things to do and almost everything I make calling for Buttermilk has been started this way. Enjoy!