Baking with Buttermilk

Sift magazine traveled to Orwell, Vermont, to visit Diane St. Clair, owner of Animal Farm. St. Clair makes exquisite cultured butter for famous chefs, but we were more interested in butter-making’s byproduct: buttermilk. Baking with buttermilk is a sure way to tender, tangy, incredible baked goods with amazing depth of flavor.


baking with buttermilk via @kingarthurflour

“There is one degree of separation between me and the diner,” says St. Clair. “The milk comes directly from my cows. They know how the cows eat, what the cows eat, how they live…. I can explain what’s behind the food, the whole system of the farm.”

After cream is cultured on the farm and churned into butter, the liquid that remains is true buttermilk. It’s flavorful, a little bit rich, and an ideal ingredient for all kinds of recipes. Baking with buttermilk is a habit we think you should cultivate.

Give baking with buttermilk a try. Sift Magazine's Fall issue shows you how. Click To Tweet

baking with buttermilk via @kingarthurflour

Apricot-Ginger Scones

A good place to start is with a tender, buttery scone. These tasty morsels have a tender, light crumb that’s just right for breakfast with a bit of melting butter and a dab of jam or marmalade.

baking with buttermilk via @kingarthurflour

Buttermilk Apple Pie with a Streusel Crust

This pie’s filling is a little bit tart, a little bit butterscotch-y, baked in a bath of tangy buttermilk. The apples keep their shape and an al dente texture. The crust is tender and flaky and uses buttermilk, too. The oatmeal streusel on top provides a nice, buttery counterpoint to the pie.

baking with buttermilk via @kingarthurflour

Buttermilk Dulce de Leche Cheesecake

St. Clair is famous for this cheesecake, and after one bite you’ll understand why. Ultra-rich, it has an intense dulce de leche flavor that gives an enticing caramel note to each slice. Make it for a party or celebration — it’s that kind of food.

baking with buttermilk via @kingarthurflour

Orange-Scented Cinnamon Rolls

These soft, tender rolls bake on top of a sweet glaze. When you turn them over after baking, the molten sweetness drips down over the top. Orange zest in the filling adds a bright flavor, and the walnuts give the rolls a welcome crunch.

baking with buttermilk via @kingarthurflour

Buttermilk Pie

It follows that a dairy farmer would bake a buttermilk pie, and St. Clair’s favorite is this silky, delicate Southern custard version. It balances sweetness with the creamy tang of buttermilk, and is best served warm from the oven.

Buttermilk is one of our favorite baking ingredients: it makes things tender, tangy, and rich. We think you’ll be happy with the many ways to give it a try in our fall issue of Sift.

Susan Reid

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.


    1. Posie Harwood

      If you don’t have buttermilk available you can easily make a substitute at home! Just measure out a scant cup of milk and add 1 tablespoon of either lemon juice or white vinegar. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes. It won’t have quite the depth of flavor of real buttermilk, but it does the trick nicely in baking. Good luck! Posie at King Arthur.

  1. carolina

    I heard a number of years ago that buttermilk purchased at the grocery story isn’t real traditional buttermilk. Given that we all unfortunately don’t have access to a lovely place like St Clair’s Animal farm, how do we ensure good quality buttermilk?
    Excited to try out the recipes! Carolina

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Carolina, depending on where you are shopping, you may find real buttermilk (Kates is a brand we have here in New England). But the recipes were all tested with grocery store cultured buttermilk and they work fine. Susan

  2. Cecilia freeman

    I live in a city I do not have cows or make butter. The cultured buttermilk I can buy in a supermarket is not the same as real buttermilk. I do not know what to use in these recipes

    1. Posie Harwood

      Cecilia, it’s simple to make a substitute for buttermilk at home: Just measure out a scant cup of milk and add 1 tablespoon of either lemon juice or white vinegar. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes. (As I mentioned below, it won’t have quite the depth of flavor of real buttermilk, but it’ll work well for baking). Good luck! Posie at King Arthur.

  3. Laureen

    Where can we buy this buttermilk? If not this brand, is there another, commercially available, brand that you recommend?

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Laureen, any buttermilk will do, cultured or not. I don’t think Diane St. Clair’s 10 cows make enough buttermilk to make selling it (other to her butter clients) feasible, sorry. Susan

  4. Mike Pietz

    Are the recipes for “real” buttermilk or cultured buttermilk.
    We make our own butter. The buttermilk left over after churning butter is thin and watery. Not at all like the thick white liquid that is sold as “cultured” buttermilk.

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Mike. Diane’s recipes were all developed with the real thing, obviously. We tested with store-bought cultured and with Kates real buttermilk, and had no trouble either way. Susan

    2. Pam the Goatherd

      The “real” buttermilk that is the liquid left over from churning buttermilk does not have the acid culture in it that “cultured” buttermilk has. The acidity in the cultured buttermilk is what works together with the leavening in breads to make it rise well. It is also what causes the chemical reaction with eggs, etc. to thicken fillings.
      That said, I don’t understand how the uncultured liquid that remains after churning butter can work the same way as cultured buttermilk does.
      If you want to use the liquid left over from churning butter in these recipes I would suggest making cultured buttermilk from it by following the directions Susan posted above – add 1 tablespoon of either vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of the liquid and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Make sure you use vinegar that has at least a 5% acidity or bottled lemon juice for consistent results.

  5. Maria

    Thanks for this post! With a small herd of dairy goats, I am always looking for great dairy recipes- these look wonderful!

    1. Margy

      Pam, I’m thinking the difference may if you are churning butter from sweet cream, or cream that has be left to sour slightly, i.e. culture. I’m no expert, but I would imagine that the buttermilk left from churning cultured cream would probably be more acid than that from sweet cream.

  6. Audrey

    The problem is you can’t find REAL buttermilk in the supermarkets where I live.
    Only have the low fat, ingredients added kind. At times I have made my own butter, and used the buttermilk for baking, however that is very time consuming.

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      The cultured buttermilk in the grocery aisle will work fine for these recipes, Audrey. That’s what we tested them with and had no trouble. Susan

  7. Bonnie

    Interesting post. I only use “buttermilk” in my baked goods since I was 8 years old. I prefer buttermilk instead of regular milk. My cakes are ALWAYS MOIST, and RICH in flavor. It is a perfect pair with lemon, almond, and vanilla flavorings. I don’t have to use as much flavorings to give my cakes it’s unique taste using buttermilk. This is my number one go to liquids when the recipe calls for “milk” as an ingredient.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Dried buttermilk can be successfully subbed into some recipes, Kathy – think scones rather than buttermilk cheesecake. You’ll want to follow the directions on the packaging, but it typically doesn’t reconstitute, so the powder is added along with other dry ingredients and water is added as the liquid. You can also follow Posie’s suggestion to other commenters above about how to make your own version of buttermilk. If we can help you think through the best substitution for a specific recipe, please give our free Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE. Mollie@KAF

  8. Petie S.

    Here’s a place to buy you own buttermilk culture to make your own real buttermilk. You can use same culture to make sour cream and butter. Good company, bought a culture for a special San Francisco sour dough starter culture. culturesforhealth


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