A Homemade Buttermilk Recipe, Two Ways!
How is Buttermilk Made? Examples of Traditional and Quick Techniques
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Where can you find a homemade buttermilk recipe to suit your cooking needs? And is making buttermilk difficult? No, but the recipe you use depends on how you’re using it.
Traditionally, buttermilk is what’s left over from making cultured butter. After ripening raw milk, then agitating it until butter is churned, dairy crafters drain off the resulting liquid that separates from butterfat. The liquid gets its tangy taste and acidity from the cultures, and it’s naturally light because most fat leaves with the butter. It can also contain the same probiotics offered within yogurt, offering health benefits if the buttermilk isn’t heated high enough to kill those beneficial bacteria.
The old-time homemade buttermilk recipe yields what’s known on the market as “traditional buttermilk” or “cultured buttermilk.”
A newer product, acidified buttermilk, enters the market as cow milk that has been introduced to an acid until it curdles a bit. This is a homemade buttermilk recipe that can be done within 10 minutes, quicker than running to the supermarket.
What’s the difference? If you’re using buttermilk for recipes such as pancakes, there isn’t much. Acidity within the buttermilk reacts with alkali such as baking soda, which creates carbon dioxide bubbles and acts as leavening for baked goods. It’s how to make whole wheat bread without using yeast. Both homemade buttermilk recipes are acidic; even plain yogurt can be used, since culturing yogurt also yields lactic acid to assist leavening.
But here’s what won’t work: If you learned how to make butter and used the quick method, meaning you simply poured pasteurized cream into a blender and turned it on, your buttermilk will not be acidic enough to act as leavening in a recipe. It also won’t have the desired probiotics of a cultured product. The liquid can be used as a beverage, used as lower-fat milk in recipes, or be given to certain livestock.
This homemade buttermilk recipe is so simple. But simplicity isn’t always best, since acidifying buttermilk with another acid doesn’t give it that tangy taste we associate with biscuits or pancakes. It also doesn’t yield any butter.
If you need buttermilk NOW, for your recipe, simply add a tablespoon of vinegar to 8oz. milk. Let it set a few minutes. Now add to your recipe as indicated. Milk of any fat content can be used, though whole milk is best in recipes if you want a similar texture to what cultured buttermilk would provide.
Culturing dairy products isn’t difficult. If you’ve already tried making cheese at home, you’ve probably worked with cultures. Most cheesemaking cultures can also be used for a homemade buttermilk recipe.
Again, back to tradition: Our ancestors didn’t purchase cheesemaking cultures because raw milk already contains the lactobacillus necessary for ripening and acidifying. They collected milk in a clean matter, to avoid introducing bad bacteria. Then they separated cream, let it age a day or so until tangy, and swirled it around in a butter churn.
If you can legally obtain raw milk in your state, be sure it’s collected cleanly. And, if you obtain it from someone whose operation isn’t inspected and regulated, consider pasteurizing it first. Just in case. Allowing lactobacillus to grow also allows other bacteria to flourish, and if you don’t know exactly how that milk was collected, it’s safest to heat to 160F to kill all existing bacteria then start fresh with cultures.
Obtain some light or heavy cream; unlike with cheesemaking, ultra-pasteurized cream is just fine for a homemade buttermilk recipe. It may be the only cream you can find on the market! Purchase dairy cultures. Though it makes sense to find powdered culture specifically labeled for buttermilk, you can do the same thing with packets intended for sour cream, chèvre, and cream cheese. A simple mesophilic culture works for all the above.
Warm cream to the temperature indicated on the culture, which will be between 75-85F. As with how to make homemade sour cream, gently stir the powdered culture into the cream. Cover so debris doesn’t enter. Insulate by wrapping the jar with towels if your house is below 80F, so temperatures don’t drop so low the culture can’t grow. Then wait 12 or so hours … the longer you let it sit, the sharper flavor you will get.
When I make sour cream or my homemade buttermilk recipe, I prefer wide-mouth quart jars for several reasons. They hold a quart of heavy whipping cream almost perfectly, are easy to cover loosely but securely with a mason lid and ring, and are easy to wrap with towels for insulation. Then, when the cream is cultured, I can set the jar immediately into the refrigerator.
You will know when the cream is cultured because it will be considerably thicker and have a tangy flavor and aroma. You’ve successfully made sour cream! But making buttermilk involves a few more steps.
Refrigerate the cream until chilled. Then empty contents into the bowl of a stand mixer, fit the paddle attachment and turn on low speed. Cover your mixer with a towel, because when the butter separates, the buttermilk will splash! First, the cream will thicken and become “whipped,” then the whipped cream will look a little jagged, and moments later will separate into yellow butter and white buttermilk.
Lift butter from the liquid then pour buttermilk into a jar. You’re done! Remember to use this within a couple weeks, since it has no preservatives. Enjoy both the butter and its tangy byproduct.
Since this homemade buttermilk recipe can be made with almost any dairy culture, I often make sour cream first, then churn any leftovers into butter and buttermilk if I can’t use the sour cream fast enough. The ratio of butter to buttermilk depends on the type of cream used and fat content. When I make goat butter, I tend to get a much smaller yield, but that means I have more buttermilk for other recipes.
Have you tried either of these homemade buttermilk recipes? How did they turn out?