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Can't Find Any Buttermilk?

Fine Cooking Issue 88
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Cultured buttermilk lends moistness and a light tanginess to baked goods like Karen Barker’s Pecan Pineapple Upside-Down Cake and Bourbon-Glazed Brown Sugar Pecan Poundcake. Like regular milk, buttermilk comes in whole, low-fat, and nonfat varieties, and Karen likes to use whole buttermilk for these desserts. It’s readily available in the southeastern United States, where she lives, because it’s a popular ingredient in that region. But in other areas, the selection is usually limited to low-fat and nonfat buttermilk.

Fortunately, all buttermilks are interchangeable in baking. With higher fat buttermilk, the results may be slightly richer, but because most baked goods get plenty of fat from butter or oil, the difference is hard to detect.

In some places, buttermilk of any kind can be hard to find. If you live in one of these areas, try one of the following substitutions—the results won’t be quite the same as with buttermilk, but they all work in a pinch.

Try one of these substitutions:

Dried buttermilk powder: You can’t reconstitute it to make buttermilk, but it’s a handy baking ingredient. You add the powder to the dry ingredients and water to the wet ingredients before mixing (check the package for specifics). At the market, look for dried buttermilk either in the baking section or near other powdered milk.

Soured milk: Add 1 Tbs. lemon juice or white vinegar to 1 cup whole, low-fat, or nonfat milk and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Yogurt: Substitute whole-milk or low-fat plain yogurt, thinned if necessary with milk or water to the consistency of buttermilk.


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