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Apr 3, 2009 05:47 AM

Subbing regular milk for buttermilk in a cake?

I'm interested in making a cake (from epicurious) called Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Lemon Glaze. It calls for 1 cup buttermilk and no baking soda. I really do not care for the flavor of buttermilk in cakes, and figure the sourness will already be there from all the lemon. Can I safely sub regular milk? They don't call for low fat buttermilk, but I've never seen any other kind in the store, so do I just use regular or low-fat milk if I make this sub? And how much baking soda do I use to make up the difference? Thanks so much in advance for the help.

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  1. Yes there are substitutes for buttermilk. However, do you really taste the buttermilk in a cake? I don't taste it per se. Lowfat buttermilk is acceptable when a recipe calls for buttermilk.

    These are general substitutions for buttermilk:

    1. Add 1 3/4 tablespoons of cream of tartar to a cup of milk, OR

    2. Add one tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a cup of milk.

    Let the above stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

    3. Use plain yogurt or sour cream instead of buttermilk.

    1 Reply
    1. re: TrishUntrapped

      I don't know if I can taste it per se either, but I think it's important to use it when it's called for - it seems to add a lightness to a cake. But the subs would work too, I guess.
      It's easy for me, b/c buttermilk is a staple for us.

    2. Thanks so much. Last time I made a cake with buttermilk I absolutely hated the cloyingly sweet/sour taste the buttermilk gave it (and really that was all that could have given it that flavor - it was chocolate and walnut cake). So I'm thinking the vinegar sub would end up giving it the same sort of flavor, which I'm trying to avoid. Maybe the yogurt or sour cream is the way to go. Serving it to guests, so am more worried about it than I would normally be.

      5 Replies
      1. re: LulusMom

        I'd be fine made with whole milk, I'm sure. I saved that recipe on Epi - let me know how it comes out, ok?

        1. re: bayoucook

          Thanks bayoucook, I sure will. You both have me thinking I'm crazy and I may well go with the buttermilk as written ...

          1. re: LulusMom

            Oh no, we don't think you're crazy, if you can taste it you can taste it. I think in the lemon cake with cornmeal the buttermilk probably would be an enhancement, but follow your instincts please. Or make another dessert for company then try this one on your own? But as I said, I'm dying to make that cake, too!

            1. re: LulusMom

              I've often substituted plain yogurt mixed with a little whole or skim milk for buttermilk. Not because I dislike bm; just because it was what I had at hand. In my experience, the taste is only slightly different--a little more pointy tang, a little less sour butteriness. The cake will probably be denser/heavier too.

              1. re: LulusMom

                I can't stand the taste of too much baking powder and people thing I'm nuts. FWIW, you could just add some of the lemon juice to the milk and sour it that way -- not "adding" anything to the recipe.

                Have you tried baking with dried buttermilk? I think it's milder in flavor than regular buttermilk but it works equally well in leavening.


          2. Just keep in mind that baking soda reacts better with an acid -- which is why buttermilk and baking soda often appear together (versus baking powder and regular milk). So even if you don't want the sourness of the vinegar, you might need to be sure you have enough acid (not just the sourness of lemon) to make it work. I'm sure someone else can offer more details on the chemistry of it all. But just something to consider.

            1. I really appreciate the replies. I've decided to make it as written this time around since I have a guest coming (I'm brave enough to try it on her for the first time as written, but not brave enough to start messing with it, I guess). I'll let you know what I think (warning: this is not until later next week). Thanks again.

              1 Reply
              1. re: LulusMom

                If there isn't baking soda in the recipe (but plenty of baking powder) then the buttermilk is there for flavor, not leavening. There are plenty of cake recipes that use plain milk. Compare your's with those.

                I was going to write that if it already has lemon in it, why add more, but I found the recipe. The cake itself has lemon zest, but no lemon juice. The juice is in the glaze. In that case it might not be a bad idea to add some lemon juice to the batter if you use plain milk, just add a tart note to the cake. The recipe also calls for 3 1/2 tsp of baking powder. That's more than enough for 1 1/2c of flour. A common rule of thumb is 1 tsp bp per cup of flour.