How to make buttermilk substitutes for fluffy pancakes on the fly

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Buttermilk has a wide variety of uses in your kitchen. If you bought a bottle for making pancakes, you might end up using the supplement for everything from fried chicken to peach sherbet. But what if you don’t have one and don’t want to go to the store? Or did you go to the store and they all came out? Today we’ll cover how to make your own buttermilk substitutes and share some highly recommended recipes for using them wisely.

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What is buttermilk, anyway?

Traditionally, buttermilk is a liquid by-product of churning butter. Here’s the gist: You start with cream, a churn (or food process) until it separates, and you end up with butter and buttermilk. If you make American-style butter – with sour cream as a starting point – the buttermilk will be just as fresh. If you do cultivated butter – with sour cream as a starting point – the buttermilk will be as hot as you expect, but not as thick as you’ll find in the supermarket (we’ll talk about that in a bit). Because butter contains most of the fat and little protein, old-fashioned buttermilk is also naturally low in fat and high in protein.

But maybe you’ve seen (and perhaps been confused by) recipes calling for whole milk buttermilk, like this Cracklin ‘Cornbread from Chef Sean Brock. In the past, this would have been an oxymoron. These days, however, commercially available buttermilk “is only cultured milk,” according to dairy farmer Randy Lewis. “It has nothing to do with butter. And whether it’s whole or low in fat depends on the milk you start with.”

Can I really make my own buttermilk at home?

Sure! To make modern buttermilk, all you need to do is grow milk. This can be accomplished with a crop like Flora Danica. Or, just like making homemade yogurt or crème fraîche, you can add buttermilk to the milk (The pleasure of cooking recommends ½ cup of buttermilk for 1 liter of skimmed milk, both at room temperature). Let the two do as one over a day or so, depending on your cooking temperature.

That said: if you don’t have something like Flora Danica, a buttermilk starter, or a bunch of time to waste (hey, me neither), don’t worry. This is where homemade buttermilk substitutes that you can make with refrigerator and pantry staples come in handy.

Easy buttermilk substitutes

Milk plus lemon juice or vinegar. Estimate 1 cup of milk (any type works) to 1 tablespoon of acid. Mix and leave at room temperature for about 10 minutes, or until curd begins to form, then use immediately.

Plain or Greek yogurt diluted with milk or water. Add milk or water, splash by splash, to any type of yogurt (or even sour cream or sour cream) until you get a consistency similar to buttermilk, and whisk until smooth.

Kefir. This cultured dairy product is similar in thickness to commercial buttermilk. Plus, if a recipe calls for whole milk buttermilk and you can’t find it in stores, whole milk kefir is your next best bet.

buttermilk powder Dehydrated buttermilk powder can be found in specialty markets online and is made up of exactly what it sounds like. Add a few tablespoons of powdered buttermilk to a cup of water for a great substitute that doesn’t require you to keep a bottle or carton in the fridge. You can also add buttermilk powder directly to the dry ingredients to enhance the flavor.

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Great Ways to Use Buttermilk

Buttermilk Mochi Pancakes

These pancakes will taste richer, more buttermilk, and fuller in any side-by-side taste test – all thanks to a little switcheroo ingredient. The end result is a chewy, extra satisfying texture that you have to experience to be believed.

Buttermilk Waffles

This Buttermilk Waffle Recipe that hosts the Buttermilk Substitutes Recipe is adapted from Kenji Lopéz-Alt’s Bacon, Cheese, and Scallion Waffle Base on Serious Eats (just with more butter). Make it big – they heat up beautifully.

Buttermilk cookies with sausage sauce

Bake buttermilk cookies, whip up a casserole dish of meat sauce, and set yourself up for a breakfast so filling and satisfying it’ll force your bowl of cereal into retirement.

Punjabi Buttermilk Stew with Spinach Balls

Similar to chili, this buttermilk stew tastes better as the days go by and flavors develop. It has a rich and tangy taste thanks to the buttermilk, punctuated by the crispness of garlic and ginger.

Strawberry Buttermilk Ice Cream

This excellent no-bake ice cream is perfect for summer: quick and easy, no need to turn on the stove, and it showcases summer berries at their peak. The creamy texture and tang of buttermilk and sour cream balances it out.

Classic Southern Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Chef James writes that this recipe took almost 20 years to develop, and we think it shows. The result is an intensely flavorful and expertly spiced chicken with a crisp, dark skin reminiscent of parchment and juicy, flavorful meat from a buttermilk soak before frying.

Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Cookies

Colossal cookies have a slightly mushy texture and a sticky, moist center. The tangy touch of buttermilk is the perfect counterweight to the incredible sweet and slightly salty dough.

Instant Pot Buttermilk Leek Mash

The world’s easiest mashed potatoes are made in the Instant Pot, and this buttermilk-infused recipe that puts leeks front and center is no exception. All variations are a cinch with these potatoes: if you don’t feel like rinsing and chopping leeks, substitute them with shallots, more garlic, a yellow onion, or nothing at all.

Maida Heatter Lemon Buttermilk Cake

This light, chewy, lemony cake is a genius for so many reasons: it’s powerfully crisp. It has both more juice and fresh lemon zest than you would expect or normally see in a recipe, and the flavor is heat resistant.

Buttermilk White Beans with Eggs and Greens

Boil the beans with a little onion and garlic and, once tender, cool them with a generous amount of buttermilk and fresh garlic. While they are steeping, the buttermilk adds a lot of acidity and spiciness, while the garlic adds depth of flavor.


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