If you have ever craved warm buttermilk biscuits but lacked buttermilk, we are going to show you how to make buttermilk with just a few simple ingredients. Buttermilk was originally the byproduct of churning butter—the leftover liquid filled with cultures that gave it its distinctive tartness.
Today, buttermilk is more like kefir that is created by adding friendly bacteria to pasteurized milk. Old-fashioned buttermilk was essentially fat-free because all of the fat was in the butter, but modern buttermilk can be purchased as skim or even full-fat.
When making buttermilk at home, you have the ultimate freedom to choose whatever percentage of fat you prefer. For a rich and creamy buttermilk, use whole milk—or even whole milk with a touch of cream added. For a lighter version try 1% or 2% milk, or whatever milk you have on hand.
What Does Buttermilk Do?
Buttermilk, because of its slightly acidic nature, imparts a unique flavor to foods, but buttermilk also helps with the leavening and texture. Most recipes that call for buttermilk will also include baking soda as the primary leavening agent. The acidity of buttermilk balances baking soda’s naturally alkaline compounds.
It is important to note that substituting plain milk in a recipe that calls for buttermilk will leave a lot to be desired. You really do need to use buttermilk in recipes that have been formulated for it.
How to Make Buttermilk
Let’s start with a traditional buttermilk recipe. This is no substitute—it’s the real deal! (You do need a kitchen thermometer.) And as a bonus, you’ll end up with 1 pint of buttermilk and 8 ounces of fresh butter!
Traditional Buttermilk Method
- 4 cups heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
- 1 cup plain yogurt with live cultures
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- Heat 4 cups of cream in a large saucepan over low heat until the cream reaches 70℉.
- Scoop 1 cup of plain yogurt into a bowl and pour the just warmed cream over the top. Stir until smooth.
- Cover the mixture tightly and let rest on the kitchen counter for 24 hours. The buttermilk base will thicken overnight.
- When you are ready to make your buttermilk (and butter), pour the buttermilk base into your food processor bowl outfitted with the metal blade.
- Secure the lid and process on high for 6 to 9 minutes, or until little bits of butter start to form.
- Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl or saucepan. Let the butter solids rest and continue to drain for at least 10 minutes. Press the mixture gently with the back of a clean spoon to extract more buttermilk.
- Pour the drained buttermilk into a glass jar, seal with a tight-fitting lid, and refrigerate.
- Now, while the butter is still in the sieve, rinse it thoroughly under cold running water until the water runs clear. Pull together the bits of butter into a ball or lump and set aside.
- Add 1 cup of ice cubes and 3 cups of water to a large bowl. Submerge the ball of butter in the ice water bath and knead it to release the last traces of buttermilk.
- When the ice water gets cloudy, toss the water and start with fresh water and ice cubes again. You may have to change the ice water bath two or three times until the water remains clear.
Congratulations! You now have butter. If you prefer unsalted butter, wrap the butter in plastic wrap and stash it in the refrigerator.
If you prefer salted butter, place the butter on a cutting board and sprinkle it with a 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt, and then knead it together. Take a taste of the butter, and if you feel it needs more salt, add a touch more.
Wrap the salted butter in plastic wrap and keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
The Internet is filled with buttermilk substitutes that mix milk with either vinegar or lemon juice to curdle the milk—but that’s not true buttermilk. However, these types of buttermilk substitutes can be used in a pinch for baked goods like cornbread. These quick-and-easy buttermilk substitutes are not ideal for buttermilk biscuits, buttermilk pancakes, and definitely not buttermilk pie.
How to Make Buttermilk Substitute in a Flash
This will produce soured milk that is acidic in nature and will help with the leavening process in baked goods. But this buttermilk substitute will not be as thick and creamy as true buttermilk and will have a different flavor profile overall.
- 1 cup milk (2% or whole milk is best)
- 1 tablespoon vinegar (apple cider vinegar is best)
- In a jar, pour in 1 cup of milk and 1 tablespoon of vinegar.
- Secure the lid and shake well.
- Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before using.
Best Buttermilk Recipes
These recipes will produce the best results using the traditional buttermilk technique above—not the quick-and-easy method.
What is better right out of the oven than a warm buttermilk biscuit? Especially when you have butter left over after learning how to make buttermilk! This Easy Buttermilk Biscuits recipe comes from Live Well Bake Often, and it is truly flawless.
Buttermilk pie is a Southern staple. It is creamy, sweet, and decadent. This Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Pie recipe from Spicy Southern Kitchen must be made with real buttermilk—curdled milk just will not do. Try this recipe the next time you are craving something sweet. It comes together quickly and partners beautifully with a dollop of whipped cream and fresh berries.
Lazy weekend mornings are just made for this Perfect Buttermilk Pancake recipe from the New York Times. True buttermilk would definitely be best here, but you could make it with the quick-and-easy buttermilk substitute technique above—if you use whole milk. This recipe needs the lusciousness from the fat.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Here is another decadent splurge on this list—Buttermilk Fried Chicken from Epicurious. Here, the buttermilk is used in the marinade to help tenderize the chicken and make it incredibly moist after frying.
Wedge Salad with Buttermilk Dressing
We had to throw an excellent buttermilk dressing salad recipe into the mix—and this one, also from Epicurious is fantastic! Grilled Iceberg Wedge Salad with Buttermilk Basil Dressing is a showstopper. If you have never before tried grilling lettuce you will be thrilled with the result. And please, use true buttermilk in this recipe, not a substitute.