21 August 2011

Homemade Buttermilk

If you're anything like me (and if you are, there are medications that can help), you love buttermilk in pancakes and biscuits, but find it absolutely vile by itself. Indeed, even if you've never used buttermilk in your baked goods because you find it vile by itself, then this is for you. Why? Simple: buttermilk pancakes are wonderful. Buttermilk biscuits are divine. Buttermilk makes quick breads better, that's all there is to say--you can use it in almost any quickbread recipe that calls for milk, although I don't know how it do in chocolate chip cookies.

But buttermilk doesn't last all that long in the fridge and, if you don't use it up, it just sits there and gets chunky and eventually turns into a cross between bad sour cream and rotten pumpkin, at which point you simply have to take it up to the police department and have the bomb disposal squad get rid of it because you can't open the bottle or it will kill you. And unless you bake biscuits every morning (and you don't, I know this), you can't use up the buttermilk.

But I have the solution for you! I learned this trick from Smitty-ex, The Former Lepidopterist (hereinafter TFL), who figured it out a couple years ago after a bomb-disposal situation with the buttermilk.

TFL is lactose-intolerant, like in fact the majority of humans (just not the majority of European-descended humans). But yogurt has no lactose (nor do aged hard cheeses, but that's another matter), and we found that a tub of plain fat-free yogurt was a good thing to keep in the house. You can substitute it almost one-for-one for sour cream and, except on quesadillas, you can't tell(we made stroganoff that way, and even though sour cream is supposedly what makes stroganoff stroganoff, I swear you would never know the difference). Well, she thought to herself one morning, why not try making biscuits with yogurt instead of buttermilk?

It worked beautifully. You get that same hint of sharpness the wonderful moist texture, but not only do you not have to keep buttermilk in the fridge, you can also avoid most of the fat by purchasing fat-free yogurt. They even make fat-free Greek yogurt now, which is what I used this morning for these biscuits.

Yes, that's right. I'm a straight bachelor and I bake biscuits. I never did this before I got married, but having got used to TFL's biscuits I find I can't go without them. So I had to learn to make the darn things myself. Of course I don't do it from scratch; I use Southern Biscuit premade biscuit mix, with yogurt-buttermilk (use about a 3:1 fat-free Greek yogurt to milk ratio, mixed together to a buttermilk consistency; regular plain yogurt (non-Greek) use about 7:1 yogurt:milk for consistency) and a couple tablespoons of flax meal*.

And there you have it. With homade jams and preserves (strawberry, apple butter, and Rainier cherry pictured here), you have a wonderful breakfast.

Of course keeping a tub of Greek yogurt in the fridge just to make buttermilk is kind of silly, although it does last substantially longer than buttermilk. But you can add a dollop or three of yogurt to almost any thin sauce once you bring it off the stove and you have a nice creamy sauce (I do this all the time with tomato sauces that seem thin; don't do it while it's still cooking though). It's wonderful stirred in to ratatouille, and you can make a quick raita with some chopped cucumber and mint (try this on the side next time you make a spicy dish; nothing cools the fire better). And honestly, it's a good mayonnaise alternative on sandwiches, especially if you're not real fond of mayo. (I haven't tried making tuna salad with it but now that I've thought about it I'll give it a go.)

*Flax meal is a great all-purpose baking ingredient to make unhealthy things seem a bit healthier. Basically it's ground up flax seed. Flax has all sorts of good things in it, particularly vitamin B1 and Omega-3 fats. It's relatively high in protein but not complete. Flax meal stores for several months at room temperature; just keep in a cupboard out of the light. A few tablespoons at a time mixed into any baked good provides no signicant textural or taste effects while significantly improving nutrition. I put it in everything: pancakes, waffles, cookies, biscuits, banana bread. I haven't baked yeast bread with it, mainly because I haven't baked yeast bread at all, but I intend to try.

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