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Jul 3, 2012 06:30 PM

Can I substitute sour cream for buttermilk in a cake?

I've been to the supermarket a few times and I haven't seen buttermilk, so I'm wondering if I can use sour cream instead of the buttermilk. Or should I just use a buttermilk substitute? I'm just nervous about using the buttermilk substitute that calls for adding vinegar to milk, because the recipe that I'm using already calls for vinegar in the batter. It's for a red velvet cake:

Will using a buttermilk substitute affect the flavor negatively, especially since there is vinegar already in the recipe? Will substituting one cup of sour cream for the one cup of buttermilk have a negative affect on the cake?

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  1. Rather than sour cream, I'd use a thinned down plain yogurt. That being said, I don't think a tablespoon of vinegar will make much difference in your recipe. You could also use a tablespoon of lemon juice to accomplish the same thing.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Leepa

      Sour cream would also work, though I'd thin it out as Leepa suggests with the yogurt, to account for the differences in moisture levels. You should be good though---don't worry!

      1. I've tried substituting sour cream one for one and it doesn't work. You could thin it out w/ milk, though. For that recipe, I think either a buttermilk substitute, like cultured dry buttermilk, or milk w/ vinegar would be fine, even though there is vinegar in the recipe.

          1. No, you can't substitute sour cream for buttermilk. What you need for your red cake is lactic acid (which is why you use buttermilk) and you can't get that from sour cream. The whole milk/vinegar trick isn't, IMO, a good idea either. You could try a bit of yogurt, thinned of course, just be sure contains the same percentage of lactic acid as the buttermilk. If you're going to try using whole milk and an acid, use lemon juice instead of vinegar; but not too much (about 1 Tbsp per cup of milk)

            5 Replies
            1. re: todao

              Why would you do lemon juice/milk and not vinegar/milk, todao?

              1. re: chowser

                The acidity in lemon juice is essentially stable, roughly 5 - 6%. The acidity in vinegar is a crap shoot, depending on many factors, and vinegar often has a slight bitterness that is undesirable in a confection.

                1. re: todao

                  Thanks. I usually use lemon juice (well, actually I use powdered normally if I don't have buttermilk but if I don't have either....) but always thought vinegar did the same thing. Since the recipe calls for vinegar anyway, I wondered why it would matter.

                  1. re: chowser

                    "Since the recipe calls for vinegar anyway, I wondered why it would matter."
                    You make a very good point. Frankly, I never really focused on that reality. I suspect that's because when I read "vinegar" in a recipe I think "lemon juice" - it's a mental thing. My recipe for red cake blends the acid and baking soda just before it's introduced to the rest of the already combined ingredients (I suspect for the initial lift it gives to the batter before it reaches the oven) and it uses no baking powder or other leavening agent. It does include buttermilk. I believe buttermilk is added to Red Cake to counteract the alkalinity of the cocoa. Without that added acidity you would probably have red pudding instead of red cake.

                    1. re: todao

                      Could you share your no baking powder recipe. Thanks