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Jul 15, 2007 09:52 AM

Question about buttermilk from homemade butter

OK, I'm making my own butter today. The residual liquid, obviously, is buttermilk. Now, here's my question. In certain baking applications, store-bought, cultured buttermilk is used for it's acidic content. Does buttermilk from homemade butter have any acidic content in it? Doesn't seem that it would...

(Just want to know whether pancakes with my buttermilk will benefit from baking soda or not.)

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  1. I read up on this recently. The product we buy at the store today as buttermilk is very very different from what you're going to end up with. That's because in the old days, folks would save several days' milkings for the cream. So by the time they churned the cream into butter, it was slightly soured. Thus, the acidic nature of buttermilk. Today's buttermilk mimics that slightly soured product by adding bacteria intentionally. Obviously, then, if you start with fresh, sweet cream (unsoured), which you probably are, you will end up with a thin "buttermilk" that won't be anything like the commercial product, nor the old-fashioned buttermilk that commercial buttermilk is supposed to mimic. Seems like it would be perfectly usable as a liquid for pancakes, but it won't taste like commercial buttermilk and it shouldn't react very well with baking soda.

    4 Replies
    1. re: k_d

      thanks for the explanation. That's what I figured. I made the butter today and it turned out awesome. I tasted the buttermilk and it tastes like, well, non fat milk. Your comment about how in the old days the milk was a little soured makes sense.

      Now I'm just trying to figure out what to use it in (in addition to pancakes, etc.).

      - Adam

      1. re: k_d

        I made my own butter recently and used the buttermilk for from-scratch whole wheat blueberry pancakes. They were wonderful -- light and fluffy. The recipe called for both baking power and baking soda. The buttermilk was, as indicated above, sweet.

        I didn't notice any bad reaction with the baking soda. What kind of reaction were you thinking it might have?

        1. re: chicgail

          not a bad reaction, just a chemical reaction of the sour (acid) with the baking soda (base). baking powder already has the acid component, which is why you don't need an acid to mix with it.

          1. re: DGresh

            yeah. with cultured buttermilk, you get some acidity. Add baking soda to acidity and you get leavening. as dgresh mentions, with baking powder you don't have to add anything more.

            but if you want baking soda to work, you need acid, which was why I was wondering if homemade buttermilk had any acidity. (mine didn't taste like it)

      2. I actually just made butter also but for the second time and this time around I cultured my cream beforehand by adding a little yogurt and letting it sit. First off, you get really great flavors in the butter, almost a honey kind of taste, and the buttermilk tastes like the stuff you get in the store. Many European butters are made that way. And the way they did it "the old way" in some ways has different reasons/effects. Yes, it was probably more useful to save several days worth of cream to make butter, though you really only need a gallon of milk to make about a stick of butter, but also, allowing the cream to sour a bit makes it easier to turn into butter. I know none of this is what you asked, but I have recently gotten very passionate about butter making!

        4 Replies
        1. re: polyhymnia

          OK, you've given me a great idea. I frequently make a mock creme fraiche by adding a TB of buttermilk (store bought kind) to some good fresh cream, heat it to 90 degrees then let it sit overnight. If I did that, then tried making butter out of it, I bet it would have a great tangy flavor. Do you think it would work? Would I need to adjust the method at all?

          1. re: adamclyde

            you don't even need to heat it, and honestly, I"m not sure you even need to do it with the creme fraiche, though it probably speeds it along. Also, I researched how to make creme fraiche today, and what you make isn't mock at all, that's how you make it! at least according to what I found. So basically what I do is pour the cream in a jar (1 pt. of cream), add 2 heaping tablesppons of yogurt (buttermilk is fine too) mix fairly thoroughly and let it sit overnight. The cream will get very thick and then makes a super tasty butter!

            1. re: polyhymnia

              yeah, I think heating only speeds it up...

              thanks for the tips here. Next time I'm definitely going to culture the milk before making the butter. The butter I made is pretty awesome, but not that different from the high quality stuff I get in the store. (but man, it's cool to know I can make it just as well). So if I make my own, having it from cultured will really make it worth it.

              By the way, the economics of it, I figured, aren't too bad. Not as cheap as store bought, but if you factor in the resulting buttermilk, it's pretty good. Here's how it broke down for me:

              Cost = $6 (for 6 cups of cream)

              Result = 1.25 pounds butter; 3.5 cups buttermilk

              The store bought equivalent of that would be $4 for the butter and about $1.50 for the buttermilk. So, as long as you use it all, the price works out pretty well.

              You know, one other thing I'm thinking. If you culture the milk first, so you get a cultured buttermilk as the result of the buttermaking, then you can use that buttermilk as the seed starter for the next batch. So it will live forever.

              Funny that I'm just figuring things out that people have been doing for thousands of years...

              1. re: adamclyde

                exactly! it's a self-perpetuating food product. Although in my yogurt recipe book it says that after a while homemade cultures get weak and you need to restart with some that you have gotten from the grocery store. I haven't tested this, and honestly it sounds a bit scammy to me. If people have always done it like this, why is my own starter not good enough?

        2. Just a quick question here. I've always been told that ultrapasteurized cream (which is what is commercially and readily available) does not take bacterial cultures well, and that you should use only unpasteurized (or regular pasteurized) cream for creme fraiche and sour cream... and I guess, butter, if you're going old-fashioned. True, adamclyde? Sounds like you have made creme fraiche before. And although it does sound like the commercial outfits are just sending you back to the store to buy more culture, I do think it is true that a culture will "wear out" and not work as well after a time.

          5 Replies
          1. re: k_d

            hmm, when I cultured my cream last time, I used Horizon cream, which I think is ultrapasteurized. It seemed to culture just fine.

            1. re: k_d

              I only get pasteurized, not ultrapasteurized cream. I have a great source with good cream at a reasonable price. Best of all, it's only pasteurized, not ultrapasteurized. My experience confirms to a degree what you've heard. It's harder for ultrapasteurized to culture or sour or whatever. It seems to take longer.

              To the second point, I don't know a whole lot about cultures, but if it is like sourdough, then it seems that if you know how to feed it, it would be self sustaining. Question is, how do you feed these kinds of cultures. Is it enough to refresh each time with new fresh buttermilk? If not, then maybe it takes more? Not sure...

              1. re: adamclyde

                Is Stew Leonard's your source ;)

                1. re: Ora

                  most definitely! 40%+ butterfat content in their half gallon heavy cream. Awesome stuff. Their pint sized heavy cream is the standard 36% - 38% I believe.

                  1. re: adamclyde

                    Oh--I didn't know of that difference. I usually get the pints. Interesting..
                    I made a vanilla malt ice cream using a pint from Stew's--amazing diet killer!

            2. I sometimes catch a scandinavian cooking show on PBS. One episode featured making butter from cream. Before churning the butter, a little sour cream was added. I suppose the sour cream added the acidity missing from the simple recipe featured in the NYT. I will try it some day...

              1. I just wanted to chime in with how my mom in India has been making butter for a good 40 years now. It sounds like you all might find it interesting and I get to reminisce about this ritual from my childhood.

                We used to get fresh raw milk from the dairy, delivered within hours of milking (and amazingly it did not go bad even in peak summer months.) My generation grew up with refrigeration, but my parents' generation did not. In any case, if you bought unpackaged raw milk that the milkman doled out with liter and half liter measures, the first thing you did was boil it. As it cooled, a thick pancake of cream formed on top. (If the pancake was not thick, you wagged a finger at the milkman the next day.) In summer, you'd pop the milk in the fridge soon as it came to room temperature. The next time you had reason to heat the milk - usually for tea in the afternoon - you'd remove the cream pancake first, to the "cream bowl" sitting in the fridge. You'd use a bowl scraper to remove any cream that had solidified on the wall of your milk pan. Only then you'd reheat the milk for tea. Once the milk had cooled again you'd get another cream pancake but a much thinner and more chewy one.

                Now, after a week or two depending on whether your milkman was thinning the milk with water ;-), your bowl of cream would be full with layers of cream pancakes. At that point, you'd add a teaspoon of yogurt culture to it one morning and let it sit by the stove for a few hours while you cooked. Then it went back into the fridge. Within the next few days, hopefully on a Sunday, you'd dump the contents of the cream bowl (nicely tangy by now) into a blender. Add some ice to help the butter separate. Then you'd process for a few minutes until you saw lumps of butter floating to the top. The butter would get skimmed off the top, rinsed with ice-cold water a few times to remove any traces of buttermilk adhering to it, or hiding in pockets. Buttermilk left behind in the butter could make it go rancid faster. Most of the butter would be cooked into ghee right away. Some would be held back for spreading on toast and some more if there was any baking or pancakes (Yay!) planned. My mother started using the blender much later in her butter making career. For the longest time she used a churn that's specifically sold for the purpose. But that took a bunch of elbow grease. I also think she figured out the ice trick all on her own.

                As for the age of a yogurt culture, I think my mom's used to get replenished once every 4-6 months. Every time we went out of town (ok, everytime my _mom_ went out of town), it would break the continuous cycle of yogurt/buttermilk making. On her return, any remaining yogurt or buttermilk in the fridge would typically be too sour to use. A knock on the neighbor's door and she'd be all set again. :)

                3 Replies
                1. re: sweetTooth

                  Your mother's use of yogurt culture is similar to the sour cream addition used by that scandinavian chef. Interesting...I wonder what else can be added to up the acid--which increases flavor, yes?

                  1. re: Ora

                    I am not sure why my mom added the culture, I will ask her. I can guess why my grandma did - without refrigeration, the only way to keep that cream from spoiling for a week would be to add a desirable culture which probably kept undesirable microbes from taking over. Maybe my mom just never questioned the tradition of adding culture, or added it because there are all those traditional uses for buttermilk with culture versus buttermilk with no culture.

                    1. re: sweetTooth

                      culture gives a nice flavor to the butter, though I"m sure that's not why it developed as a practice! It also makes the cream turn to butter a bit faster. I know that in America, culture wasn't usually added to cream, but it was allowed to sour naturally on its own as the cream was collected. I'm very curious about the microbiology here, I wonder if the heat in India makes it necessary to put culture in b/c otherwise the souring process is too fast.