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Feb 6, 2009 04:37 AM

Buttermilk V.S. heavy cream

I was planning on making oatmeal scone for breakfast. I realized I only have heavy cream but the recipes calls for buttermilk. I did a quick google search and saw most suggested not make the switch due to the after taste difference. Not really buying any of the reasons I saw, I went ahead and made the change. The scone came out fabulous. But this has gotten me even more curious. Does anyone know, when it comes to baking. How are the two dairies differ from each other? Does it create some sort of chemical change?

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  1. Most buttermilk in grocery stores is low fat, but you can find regular buttermilk, so I don't know which you used but cream is still much higher in fat than either. That would affect the richness factor. Buttermilk is also acidic and reacts to bases eg. baking soda, and creates the rise so your scone might not have been as tall as it would have with buttermilk. But if it used baking powder then it wouldn't matter. Overall, it depends on the recipe. Many recipes call for cream (in fact, from what I've seen more use cream than buttermilk). I haven't compared but I'd guess that recipes that use baking soda call for some buttermilk or another acid. CI says that makes scones too dense and has you use a mix of half and half and whole milk, IIRC.

    1. I would probably have soured the cream first with lemon or vinegar. That would solve any leavening issue if baking soda is the leavening agent. And give a little acidity to the flavour that would be missing without buttermilk.

      Another option I would have considered is diluting the cream with orange juice. I often replace a small portion of the liquid in my scones with OJ. Gives a nice freshness (and would provide the needed acidity for the baking soda).

      1. Baking soda and buttermilk for biscuits, baking powder for scones. Baking soda in scones does, in my experience, tend to make them a bit heavy. I prefer my scones to have a more cake like texture than heavier biscuit like texture that I've found in some. Heavy cream, with it's high fat content, provides what I look for.
        I too, in a pinch, sour milk with an acid to replace buttermilk if I'm using it in a recipe that calls for buttermilk. But I don't like to use vinegar; I prefer lemon juice or orange juice. Vinegar imparts a tell-tale flavor, in addition to its sourness, where the juices tend to blend better and are less of a shock to the taste buds.

        1. Originally buttermilk was the stuff left over from making butter, hence it is more like a low fat milk - except with sitting out during the butter making process it tended to sour. What we usually buy now is cultured buttermilk. Think of it as a variation on yogurt (different culture) or low fat sour cream (with less thickeners as well). Buttermilk is thick for the same reason yogurt is thick - partly the action of the culturing, and partly due to added thickeners like carrageen. Heavy cream is thick because of its high butterfat content.

          Buttermilk is used in biscuits and scones as a liquid, flavoring agent (the sourness), and acidic ingredient that reacts with baking soda to produce CO2.

          Heavy cream, on the other hand, is used to provide some or all of the fat. There are, for example, biscuit/scone recipes that use heavy cream in place of butter or other shortening. Others use it along with those fats to add richness. Since heavy cream is not acid, it does not react with baking soda. Instead you need baking powder, which has its own built in acid.

          As to taste, some people like the slight tang that buttermilk adds to baked goods. Others prefer the fatty richness that cream brings. As long as you pay attention to the baking soda/powder difference, you can freely substitute milk and buttermilk for each other in baked goods. Some suggest adding lemon juice to milk or cream to produce a buttermilk substitute. I'm not sure that adds much in the case of quick breads. If you are adding just enough lemon juice to react with the baking soda, you are making an alternative to baking powder, not an alternative to buttermilk.

          2 Replies
          1. re: paulj

            This is a really interesting reply. I recently made a chocolate tart that called for buttermilk, and while the cake was good, I found the buttermilk sourness (or almost ultra-sweetness, somehow) a little off-putting. I was wondering if I could make the cake with milk or cream instead, and I think you've answered my question.

            1. re: paulj

              Very nice explanation, paulj. Your outline covers both cause and effect; wish I could have done it that well.

            2. Given everyone's reponse, I think I understand why my scone was still yummy after the buttermilk to heavy cream replacement. This receipe has both baking soda and baking powder, so the scones rised beautifully. The high fat content in the heavy cream actually helps this scone since the recipes calls for almost equal amont of oat meal to flour. So the cream actually acts like an insurance policy and makes the scone nice and crumbly but not overly dry as scones sometimes gets.
              I baked 2 dozen, and served them with some home-made strwbery jam. My co-workers looks happy. :)