The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Buttermilk 'plant'

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

Buttermilk 'plant'

I don't know if you remember my talking about the so-called buttermilk 'plant', but I said I would try to find more information on it and here goes.  I've just had an e-mail from Tim Allen of the Ballymaloe cooking school in Ireland, and they no longer use the recipe for buttermilk as it's too unreliable.  He said goat's milk or whole cow's milk has worked well in the recipe, but since our milk these days is heavily pasteurised, they don't always get good results.  They now simply sour their own milk for use in their soda breads.  I did try it, by the way, and ended up with the smelliest mess of rotten milk ever, so bad that we had to lean heavily on the Febreze in order to get rid of the stench.

proth5's picture
proth5

I've been following the buttermilk "plant" saga with interest, although I haven't tried it. 

I've been doing a lot of work with cultured dairy products lately, though, and may have some insight.

Most milk that is available in stores is "ultra-pasturized" - this milk is almost entirely unsuitable for making cultured dairy products.  It will not even sour properly - it will only rot - thus the Febreze inducing experience.

If you are making cultured products you really need to find milk that is simply labled "pasturized" and even then, if the milk was pasturized at too high a temperature, it may not work properly in cultured products.  This milk will sour, though, and quickly.

I fabricate my own buttermilk as a by-product of the butter making process (which, after all, is really where the whole thing started.)  I culture pasturized cream with commercial cultures (mesophillic, buttermilk, or creme fraiche) and after churning the butter, draw off the buttermilk.  I suppose that if I churned butter often enough, I could use some of the old buttermilk to innoculate the cream.  But since I do not churn butter every week, I like to stick with the commercial innoculants.

The consumers of the goods that I make with the buttermilk tell me they enjoy the special qualities it brings very much.  It is a different creature from commercial buttermilk, and if you are working with very old recipes - this is really what would have been used.  I have never drunk it, so I don't know if it is good to drink.

Hope this is useful.

Marni's picture
Marni

Hi,

I make butter a few times a year with my children.  We just use heavy cream (possibly organic) from Trader Joes.  It works beautifully.  I was wondering two things- why do you culture it first, and wouldn't the milk that is leftover from the process be buttermilk?  It would be sweet, I guess, is that the issue?  I never use the resulting leftover milk and feel guilty throwing it out.  Would I need to add a culture to use it in biscuits or pancakes or other baked goods?

Thanks,

Marni

proth5's picture
proth5

I culture my cream because I am attempting to fabricate European style cultured butter.  Cultured butter is usually salted (I do a "demi-sel" which is common in France, but not so much so in the US) and has better keeping qualities than sweet butter.  But, in the end, it is just my taste preference.

In years gone by it would take a while to accumulate enough cream from the family cow to be worth churning.  This cream would be stored and would "clabber" or sour naturally while it was being stored.  This would mean that the resulting buttermilk would always be cultured.

Also, it is said that clabbered/cultured cream will turn into butter more quickly.  This is something to think about if you use a hand powered churn (as I do) and don't have energetic children to put into harness (as I don't.)

Yes, the resulting liquid is "buttermilk" in the old sense of the word.  You can use it in baking.  However, I would be cautious using it in recipes that call for "cultured buttermilk."  Culturing (or souring) milk raises the acidity of the milk.  It is this acidity that acts with chemical leavening ingredients (typically baking soda) to make those fluffy buttermilk pancakes.

It is for these reasons that I will respectfully disagree with PaddyL on this topic.  I believe that there is a difference between the liquid you are getting as a by product of your butter making process and the cultured buttermilk that modern recipes call for - or the plain "buttermilk" called for in old recipes.

You might wish to use lemon juice to sour the sweet buttermilk (as you would to use fresh milk for buttermilk).  I don't remember the portions off the top of my head, but you can find them in any good ingredient substitution list.  Theoretically this should work, but theory and practice vary, so I make no promises.

Alternatively you might consider using baking powder to provide the acidity required.  A quick type of "baking soda buttermilk" into your favorite search engine will give you more information on this topic than I ever could.

But, by all means use that liquid (only the liquid that you first pour off from the butter - not the milky liquid you get after you wash the butter) for your baking in some way.  Waste not, want not.

Hope this is helpful.

proth5's picture
proth5

While I am going on and on, many of you may recognize the brand name of a baking powder as "Clabber Girl."  Yes, this name would have indicated to the home makers of the late 19th century that this new product could be used as a substitute for soured (clabbered) milk.

And now I'm done.

Marni's picture
Marni

Your comments on sour (cultured) buttermilk -vs- sweet is why I haven't baked with it.  But you are right- I should use it, sweet or not.  I believe to make sour milk you add a teaspoon or so of vinegar or lemon juice for each cup of milk.

We only make a pint or so worth of cream into butter at a time.  At treat for special occasions.  The kids just take turns (with us filling in too) shaking the cream in a jar.  It takes about a half an hour.

Marni

proth5's picture
proth5

I usually churn about 2 quarts of cream at a time and fabricate almost all of the butter that I use for eating, cooking, and baking.  The only place I won't use my home churned butter (yet) is confectionary work - where I just don't want to run the risk of variability in the ingredients.

I use an actual butter churn for this amount of butter.

Dependng on the temperature of the cream and the type of culturing it can take from 20 minutes to an hour for the butter to form.

I go through the process of washing and working the butter (with butter paddles) to make sure that all of the liquid is out of it. This is a bit more time consuming but makes a product that more closely resembles the type of butter you would purchase.  Without the washing and working process, the butter will be good for eating, but not so much for other applications.  The more I do this, the better I get, but it is definitely the "artisan" part of making butter.

When I eat a slice of levain bread with home fabricated cultured butter, I thank the micro-flora who have given their lives to make this delicious food...

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

The very definition of buttermilk is the liquid left over after churning cream into butter, so you wouldn't have to culture it at all, and you could definitely use it in baking.  This buttermilk 'plant' was, I hoped, an alternate way to keep the cultured type of buttermilk going during those times when I couldn't get my hands on the buttermilk in the stores.  It didn't turn out that way, so I'll just keep buying a litre of buttermilk every couple of weeks for my buttermilk sourdough bread, and use soured milk for soda breads, scones, muffins, etc.

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

Thanks, proth5, I had no idea, probably should've read my Maura Laverty a little closer.  It all makes sense now, except that I don't understand how you could use baking powder - Clabber Girl - in lieu of buttermilk, or am I getting this all wrong.  And the bit about adding lemon juice to already cultured buttermilk.  I don't really understand that bit.  I consistently failed chemistry in high school, much to my father's disgust.

Marni's picture
Marni

The baking powder or lemon juice goes into sweet buttermilk to make it soured or clabbered.  If you have the store bought, cultured buttermilk, nothing will need to be added.

Marni

proth5's picture
proth5

The lemon juice goes into the milk to sour it, that is correct.

Using baking powder in the dough or batter actually provides the acid to the batter so that using soured milk is no longer required.  One doesn't usually add it to the milk.

So, you can bake with soured dairy (or buttermilk from the store) and (for example) baking soda or use sweet milk and baking powder.

The internet provides many ideas on just exactly how this can be accomplished.  Not all of them agree (as usual.)

Hope this helps.

granniero's picture
granniero

granniero  I had an aunt in the backwoods of Miss. that made the most wonderful yeast rolls you ever ate. She used to keep a jar of buttermilk all the time and when she needed more, would mix up a quart of powdered milk, add some of the current batch and sit it out on the counter overnight. Next morning it went into the fridge and she always had buttermilk. I don't know how much old milk she used but I have been going to try this myself. I,too, have made the spoon of lemon juice in the cup of milk kind, as well as the dried kind.

bjnjii's picture
bjnjii

I also am from Miss. After my grandma and mother quit churning butter, they would make buttermilk using powdered milk. As granniero stated, they would usually make a half-gallon of milk following directions on dry milk container, only use less water allowing for buttermilk to be added. I do not have the directions at hand that I wrote down, but am almost certain that it is 1/2 cup buttermilk to one quart milk (made with dry milk powder), less 1/2 cup water.

They mixed this thoroughly, tied a cloth over the top of the jar and left to sit on the counter overnight. The next day there would be this most "delicious", yes, we drank it, clabbered milk. I liked to drink the clabbered milk before it was stirred. This milk would be stirred and used for baking, drinking, etc. It is used in any recipe calling for buttermilk, sour milk. You would use baking soda along with buttermilk in baking.They would save enough to make their next jar of clabbermilk.

When they made biscuits, Mother measured her baking soda and put it in the buttermilk allowing it to mix well before adding to the flour. I have read that this made a more "tender" biscuit. Mother was known for her biscuits. Always, though, when our families gathered and we sat down at her breakfast table, no matter how wonderful her biscuits, Mother would say, "I got just a little too much baking soda in it." Once when Mother said, "I got these just right," my kids nearly fell out of their chairs laughing. "Are you sure, Grandma," one asked.

 Though I have not tried it, I believe the clabbered milk can be drained in cheesecloth overnight in the refrigerator, resulting in a cottage cheese.

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

Interesting, granniero, I might try that, but not in the hot summer weather.  I'll wait until fall, when we should have more to spend on extra milk powder.  She just added the quart of milk to some commercial buttermilk?

proth5's picture
proth5

If you are playing around with buttermilk, you can warm cream (pasteurized only, not the ultra pasteurized stuff) to about 80 degrees and then add some buttermilk.  Put this in a warm place for 8 hours or so and you will have creme fraiche at a fraction of the price of commercially produced creme fraiche. 

Again, since I do not do this type of work every week, I rely on commercial innoculants that store easily in the freezer.

Nothing like riding the micro-flora range...

Marni's picture
Marni

I've been thinking about trying to make cheese.  I will need vegetarian rennet and have found a possible source but if you have any sources for learning about cheesemaking I'd love to know about them.  A sourdough grilled cheese sandwich!

Marni

proth5's picture
proth5

I do make soft cheeses from time to time.  My personal schedule does not allow me to do anything that takes more than two consecutive days of attention as many hard cheeses do.

You may wish to check out www.leeners.com for cheesemaking kits, supplies, and books.  I have found them to be a reliable source and they seem willing to help.  They also have butter making supplies.

A sourdough, homemade cheese, grilled cheese sandwich with house made butter - it is delicious!

Marni's picture
Marni

I'll be sure to check it out.  My husband really wants to try making hard cheese, but I think it is best to start with the soft ones.  Anyway, I think we are going to brew beer first.  He used to do it in college, so it will be a trip down memory lane.  Fun with Yeast!  Thanks again for the input.

Marni

peckerdunne's picture
peckerdunne

I tried the Tim Allen recipe on Friday & went away for the weekend. When I got back last night (Sunday) the milk had separated into solids on the bottom of the bowl with a pale, almost clear, whey over.


It doesn't look anything like the supermarket buttermilk


Is this normal?


Peter G.

peckerdunne's picture
peckerdunne

Well the first batch wasn't so good but I washed the resulting plant and tried it again.


It turned out fine and I've been using it regularly since my original message. The resulting buttermilk is quite thick, wobbly and tastes OK.


I've also found that the plant can be frozen and re-activated by putting into some warm milk.