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The Joy of Buttermilk

Kathy Werner
Posted 5/24/24

Buttermilk. What is it?   How is it made? Why does it make baked goods taste so delectable? And why did my Grandpa Kohler like to drink it so much?

Buttermilk, it turns out, was originally …

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The Joy of Buttermilk


Buttermilk. What is it?  How is it made? Why does it make baked goods taste so delectable? And why did my Grandpa Kohler like to drink it so much?

Buttermilk, it turns out, was originally the milk left at the bottom of the churn after making butter. It is a fermented dairy product. According to Wikipedia, “Originally, buttermilk referred to the thin liquid left over from churning butter from cultured or fermented cream. Traditionally, before the advent of homogenization, the milk was left to sit for a period of time to allow the cream and milk to separate. During this time, naturally occurring lactic acid-producing bacteria in the milk fermented it.”

Buttermilk is a probiotic, and therefore helps the gut.  In many cultures (including German), buttermilk was and is a typical drink, which explains why Grandpa liked it so much. He probably drank it as a child.  It was his yogurt.  And when he said, “Try it—it’s good for you,” he was more correct than any of us knew as we wrinkled our noses in disgust.

These days, you are likely to find artisanal buttermilk sold at farmers’ markets around the area, but you can purchase commercially produced buttermilk in the supermarket as well.

I rediscovered buttermilk when I was making Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake.  It happened during the pandemic, when my granddaughter Adeline wanted to bake a cake.  I reached for the Duncan Hines box but was told that she wanted to bake a “real” cake. Thus the online search for a great cake recipe began. All recipe roads invariably lead to Ina Garten, the queen of all things edible and the host of The Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network.  Ina had a killer chocolate cake recipe she had gotten from her friend Michael. She begged him for it and voilà, Beatty’s Chocolate Cake was shared with the world. Here’s the link for the recipe: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/beattys-chocolate-cake-recipe-194752. Or you could just Google “Ina chocolate cake” and you’ll easily find it online.

The cake recipe calls for buttermilk, which explains my interest in buttermilk. It also has rich cocoa powder and coffee.  The combo of the chocolate and coffee is killer. The chocolate frosting, which contains 2 sticks of butter, melted chocolate and more coffee among other things, is beyond.

With Ina’s and Adeline’s help, we made our first chocolate layer cake that didn’t involve a cake mix, and boy was it a hit. It has since become our go-to cake for special occasions. Daughter Liz suggested studding the top of the with fresh raspberries, which perfectly cuts the sweetness of the frosting.

But back to our buttermilk. Since the cake only calls for one cup of buttermilk, I am often left with three cups of buttermilk. Luckily, there are many recipes that call for buttermilk, so I am not forced to drink it—though it does not taste as bad as I remember.  You can use it to soak your chicken, make pancakes, and even whip up your own salad dressings.

As Grandpa would say, buttermilk is pretty handy.


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