When you winter a dozen of your neighbor's heifers in exchange for your family's milk, you churn your own butter, right? Well, what do you do if you don't like buttermilk?
Around here, we fed it to the chickens … but as I trudged down to the coop every other day, poured out a quart-plus into an old pan, and watched the hens guzzle madly, I always wondered if the extra egg a week was worth it. I mean, our neighbor was giving us the milk on the assumption that it was for people to drink. Shouldn't it go into our kids' bellies without first passing through a chicken?
While I was getting out the fixings for a batch of biscuits one morning, the solution hit me in the head. What were all those packaged mixes I passed by so self-righteously in the store? Buttermilk Biscuits, Buttermilk Pancakes, Great American Buttermilk Baking Mix — buttermilk recipes! That's what, dummy! What was I waiting for?
My first batch of buttermilk biscuits came out of the oven puffed up like balloons … twice as light and crusty as any we'd ever eaten, with a special edge on the flavor I can't even describe. From then on, every baked goods recipe that calls for milk has gotten the buttermilk recipe treatment, with spectacular results. The only thing I haven't managed is a good buttermilk doughnut, and I'm still working on that.
Here's the whole "secret" to buttermilk baking: The acid in the tart liquid — or in plain sour milk, for that matter — reacts with the antacid of baking soda to form lots of gas bubbles inside your batter, which makes just about the best non-yeast leavening there is. When you substitute this rising action for the baking powder-salt formula of a standard recipe, however, it's usually advisable to just cut back on your baking powder measurement rather than eliminate it entirely. (So there'll still be salt in your mix, and the combination will give you some extra leavening insurance.)
1. Cut the amount of baking powder in half.
2. Add one-quarter teaspoon baking soda per small batch.
3. Leave the salt measure intact.
4. Replace sweet regular milk with buttermilk.
You can probably cut down on the baking powder more drastically without getting flat biscuits, and if you want to experiment with using none at all, go right ahead. I'll just stick with what turned out perfect for me first time on every recipe (not counting those dang doughnuts). The following goodies represent our best use of all the buttermilk we've found ourselves with. Enjoy these recipes and expand on them … and for goodness' sake, don't just feed a treasure like buttermilk to the chickens!
Recipes excerpted from In Praise of Buttermilk Baking.
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