Although one of today’s recipe ingredients may seem a bit old-fashioned, it’s the perfect addition to baked goods such as muffins, pancakes, quick breads and cakes. The ingredient is buttermilk.
Beyond adding a subtle tang to balance the sweetness of baked goods, buttermilk does a couple of amazing things. First, the acidity of the buttermilk activates the baking soda and produces a gas that causes the dough or batter to rise. That acidity also breaks down protein strands in batters, which gives baked goods a delicate texture.
The buttermilk our grandparents enjoyed was the liquid that remained after butter was churned from cream. Today, buttermilk is typically made by adding cultures (beneficial bacteria) to 1% milk. The result is a slightly thickened milk with a tart, tangy flavor. Because buttermilk tends to separate while sitting in the refrigerator, shake well before using.
If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can make a substitute by stirring one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar into one cup of skim, 1/2% or 1% milk. Most instructions for making this instant buttermilk recommend letting the mixture stand for about 10 minutes, allowing it to thicken and curdle slightly, before adding it to the batter.
Interestingly, the folks at American’s Test Kitchen did some experimenting and found the 10-minute wait