It was only a few years ago that I asked myself that very same question. It was Puff Pastry day in the Professional Baking College of LA's famed New School of Cooking. I always sat in the front row, so I could see the recipe demonstrations better.
As my female professor placed ingredients in a large mixing bowl, I wondered to myself if I could replace the buttermilk with soy milk. Then I thought, what is buttermilk? For years I've ordered buttermilk pancakes and never once questioned the namesake ingredient. Enough was enough. I had to know.
I raised my hand, ready to face the ridicule of my hoity-toity, know-everything classmates. They were there to learn about Créme-Brule and Miniature Florentine Squares. I was there for waffles and pancakes. Call me a slave to the working class - call me Joe Everyman, but my people - you people, aren't satisfied with a breakfast of tortes and tarts.
"Yes, Mr. Breakfast?" asked my sultry teacher, her chef's frock hanging loosely from her petite frame.
"What is buttermilk and could I replace it with non-dairy soy milk?"
"Good question," she replied with a wink.
My classmates stared at me with distain. "He doesn't know what buttermilk is! Why is he wasting our time?" They were jealous. The attraction that my ample-breasted professor felt toward her manly, eggs and bacon, rough-housing student was all too apparent. I was the student who brought in shoeboxes to take my muffins home. When I added honey the topping of a strudel-swirl, she could tell I liked to experiment. It made her quiver.
My professor began to gyrate her hips, mimicking the movement of grabbing on to a large stick. "In the old days," she said rhythmically pumping her fantasy stick up and down, "buttermilk was a byproduct of making butter. People would churn and churn and churn. The result of churning milk was butter and liquid. This liquid byproduct was buttermilk."
"These days," she said sadly, her lips softly pouting, "the buttermilk we buy at the grocery store is made by adding a lactic acid bacteria culture to skim or non-fat milk. The milk is then fermented to make modern buttermilk."
"But what about replacing it with soymilk?" I asked politely yet forcefully, "Isn't buttermilk fatty and unhealthy?"
"Of course it is, stupid," I could hear my classmates thinking, "It's called BUTTERmilk isn't it."
Oh, but they were wrong.
My teacher smiled wickedly. She loved this part. Her students thought they were so smart. But so many times, only she knew the secrets. Here fingers entered the large mixing bowl. She creamed the butter as she spoke.
"Actually, buttermilk has considerably less fat than you would think. Keep in mind that buttermilk is milk with the butter removed. It would be better named "butter-less milk". The buttermilk we have here is 90% water, 5% lactose sugar, a little live bacteria culture and just a hint of butter fat - just enough butter fat to give it that rich, tangy flavor that makes it so great to bake with."
She looked at me longingly. Was I satisfied? Did her answer excite me?
I was. It did. My question -- your question Caroline - was a smart question. As my professor continued with her recipe demonstration - creaming the quivering butter with her gentle fingers, I leaned back in my chair, relaxed.
So that's what the buttermilk is. I don't know about you Caroline, but I could use a shower.
Have fun cooking with buttermilk.
UPDATE: How To Make Homemade Buttermilk
This article was written by Mr Breakfast (aka Eddy Chavey).
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