Baking with buttermilk

What is buttermilk

Buttermilk is a tangy, milky liquid that is often used in baking. It adds a lovely flavour to the dish, but it also works perfectly with baking powder to add rise to your bakes.

It comes in two different forms. The stuff you buy in the supermarket is a cultured milk that contains acid. This is what you should use if your recipe calls for buttermilk. The other kind is made from churning double cream. This kind of buttermilk will taste nice as a drink, plus you also get butter as a by product. But, it isn’t acidic, and that means it will be no good for your baking.

homemade buttermilk in a jar
Homemade Buttermilk
How to make it

There are two ways to make buttermilk. If you want to use it to bake with, you will have to make a proper cultured buttermilk. This takes about 24 hours and you will need some fresh cultured buttermilk to use as a starter. You’ll also need a big jar. It is simple to make though. Just add one part fresh buttermilk and four parts whole milk to your jar. Give the jar a good shake, seal it tightly and leave it at room temperature. 24 Hours later it will be lovely and thick, and will coat the inside of the glass as you turn it. You can either use it straight away, or pop it in the fridge where it’ll keep for a couple of weeks. The great thing is that you can use this buttermilk as a starter for the next batch. So you should never run out!

If you want to make a buttermilk drink then you simply whisk double cream until it splits. The watery stuff is the buttermilk, and the solid bit is butter. Knead the butter in a bowl of cold water to rinse off the buttermilk, then add a pinch of salt, or your choice of flavouring and you have your own delicious homemade butter too. Homemade butter doesn’t keep quite as long as shop bought, so use it up quickly, if you can.

Why use buttermilk

Proper buttermilk is acidic. It is this acid that reacts with the baking soda in your recipes to create carbon dioxide. It’s the carbon dioxide that makes your bakes rise. The acid also works to make meat more tender, and is often used to marinade chicken, turkey or pork. It also adds a lovely tangy flavour to your bakes so well worth learning how to bake with it.

Buttermilk pancake stack with strawberries and blueberries
Buttermilk Pancakes

You’ll find buttermilk is most often used in baking, especially in Scones (I have an awesome recipe for Scones here), Pancakes, Waffles and Red Velvet Cake.

Buttermilk in Bread

The Irish traditionally use buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda as the rising agent in their soda bread. This is a perfect loaf for a last minute bake as it can be thrown together in minutes. The absence of yeast means it requires only enough kneading to form a ball, and thanks to the buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda, it doesn’t need to be proved. Just mix and bake.


Cornbread, or Hoe Bread, is another quick “mix and bake” style recipe that uses buttermilk. This South American bread is made with cornmeal, and sometimes sugar, depending on how “Southern” you are. In case you were wondering about the name – it was originally baked on the end of a hoe, which was suspended over a fire.

This type of bread is a massive favourite of mine and my friends, I love it served with Chilli, but it”l be a go down well at any BBQ. Get my recipe here…

Cornbread muffins made with buttermilk
Cornbread Muffins
Marinating Meat

Buttermilk also makes a brilliant base for marinading meat, and especially chicken, turkey and pork. The acid tenderises the meat beautifully and adds a lovely flavour at the same time. If you fancy it, here is a basic guide for chicken to get you started…

  • 8 pieces, or 8 breasts cut into strips.
  • One pint of seasoned buttermilk, you can add spices to this like cayenne or paprika too.
  • Soak overnight if possible, but 6 hours is good.
  • Drain and dip the chicken in seasoned flour before deep frying.
How else…

Buttermilk is so versatile. I make my own and use it in mostly baked goods like bread and cakes. But there are so many other things you can use it in. I’ll leave you with a few of my favourites…

  • Try it in place of butter for a lovely tangy mash
  • Use it instead of milk for cucumber and buttermilk soup
  • In place of milk in quiche.
  • Mix it 50:50 with mayonnaise for potato salad and coleslaw.
  • Overnight oats, instead of yogurt.
  • Blackberry ice cream – the tangy buttermilk will taste amazing with the berries.
Whats your favourite buttermilk recipe?

If you have a favourite recipe, or if you have tried any of the suggestions here, I’d love to hear about it.

One comment

  1. […] Choose to use buttermilk instead of milk. It will react with the baking powder which will make your scones rise. This will make them nice and light in texture. It also adds a lovely tangy flavour to the scones. You can learn more about buttermilk, including my guide on how to make your own, and find my awesome cornbread recipe, here. […]

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