We’ve been talking buttermilk the past couple of days, and I realize not everyone knows what I mean when I refer to “good” buttermilk. So, let’s look at the dairy counter for a bit.
Undoubtedly, you’re going to see a minimum of three different kinds of buttermilk when you look at the labels – Cultured Whole Fat – Cultured Non Fat – and generic, non-specific buttermilk… let’s call it – FAKE.
But to get a sound understanding as what it is supposed to be, we’ll go back to the very beginning, and start with the original way to get it.
… is a by-product of butter production. Whole, cream top milk (meaning – milk straight out of the cow) is dumped into an earthenware churn jug and allowed to sit in a warm area for a minimum of 24 hours. This time allows the milk base to form enzymes that begin to break down the milk and causes to liquid to sour slightly and clabber (clump up a bit). Once the proper aging has happened (I can’t tell you what that is; My great Grandmother could tell by the smell) you’d assemble the paddle and churn collar, don an apron to guard against a sour milk bath, and churn away for a very long time until the butter solids gathered together and clung to the paddle. That fat would be removed and worked down into butter. The remaining liquid in the churn is true buttermilk. It is naturally low fat – running about 3 to 4% fat solids in the resulting liquid. The lactose has been eliminated by the enzymes, and it has a thick, silky texture. This is the real stuff. Unfortunately, with current FDA standards, traditional buttermilk is forbidden to be sold in commercial outlets.
… was the dairy industries answer for the disallowed traditional process. Pasteurized, whole milk is warmed and introduced with a bacterial culture to clabber and sour the milk – eliminating the lactose in the process. True cultured buttermilk has live and active cultures in the product. Only Whole Milk is a true cultured buttermilk. Low Fat, cultured buttermilk does not contain enough butterfat and solids to affect the process without additional additives.
…is the process of converting low fat milk into buttermilk. Here, low fat or skim milk is treated with an acid (vinegar or citric acid) to clabber the milk, then non-active buttermilk cultures are introduced into the liquid. It’s important to note that the fat percentage differences between whole buttermilk and non-fat buttermilk are only 2% at most.
… is the stuff you really need to stay away from. It is simply labeled as “Buttermilk” in the dairy counter. It isn’t buttermilk, and there isn’t much there that you could call milk. A typical “ingredient list” for non-specific buttermilk is as follows: Fat Free Milk, Enzymes, Vinegar, Buttermilk powder, Natural flavor, Citric acid, Guar Gum, Carrageenan Gum, Modified Food Starch. Without utilizing whole fat milk and allowing the enzymes to properly do their job, a multitude of additives have to be introduced in order to produce something that only resembles buttermilk. It will not behave the same way as cultured buttermilk; it wont taste the same; it wont store as well either.
So, for all recipe purposes here at Plate Fodder, we only use Whole Milk – Full Fat – Cultured Buttermilk. That being said, I do have a particular favorite. The cute-ass, glass bottled stuff from Homestead Creamery is outstanding, but it is pricey … that bottle there was almost $4.00. And, that’s okay if you have a ton of money to toss down the chute every week. My personal favorite though is:
… it’s local (ding- ding – ding) it’s non- homogenized (ding – ding – ding), and they cost about the same for a half gallon as a quart of the super premium stuff (DING!). So, do yourself and your baking / cooking / drinking efforts a favor – and only use the real stuff…. you’ll thank me for it.
Buttermilk French Toast
While you all know I’m not a fan of pancakes, I do love me some french toast. And nothing makes a richer, more flavorful, soggy fried bread than some Tanzhong Bread in a simple buttermilk egg batter… it’s even good unadorned with syrup or cinnamon sugar. But today we’ve gone the extra step and served it along-side some sauteed spiced pears. It is the perfect entree for a late Saturday breakfast or brunch. The one thing to remember is the trick to a good french toast is time. Your bread must sit in the egg batter until the slices have soaked up all the batter – it’ll take about 30 minutes to do it justice, or you can save yourself some time in the morning and do it up the night before and leave it covered in the fridge to soak while you’re sleeping.
For 6 to 8 Slices of French Toast (Serves 3 to 4):
6 to 8 Slices Good Quality Egg Bread (See the Tanzhong Bread Method above)
3 Large Eggs
1 Cup Whole Buttermilk
1/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Nutmeg
3 Tablespoons Butter or Good Quality Margarine (meaning – less than 30% water)
you’ll also need:
Medium Mixing Bowl
Add the eggs, buttermilk, spices and salt in the bowl and whisk until well mixed and frothy
Place the slices of egg bread in a glass dish and cover with the mixture and cover with plastic wrap. If you are doing everything the same morning, allow to soak for 30 minutes; turning the bread over 1/2 way through the time.
Heat the griddle over medium heat (6 on electric) until evenly hot. Dot the butter over the griddle and place the soaked bread on the melted butter.
Flip the french toast over only once. Check to see that the toast is golden brown and the edges are crisp. Once the second sie is golden – remove from the griddle and top with the spiced pears
Now, I know you can use fresh pears… but the canned ones work just as well for our purposes.
1 Can Tinned Pear Halves in Light Syrup – Drained and liquid retained
2 Tablespoons Butter or Good Margarine
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/8 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/8 Teaspoon Nutmeg
1/4 Cup Honey
Large Slotted Spoon
Over medium heat, melt the butter and spices. Add the pear halves – cut side down and saute without moving for 3 minutes. Carefully turn the halves over and saute another minute on the rounded side. Add the honey and gently swirl the pears around in the butter / honey mixture carefully coating all sides. (If the honey becomes thick; add a little of the retained pear syrup to loosen the honey a bit. Reduce to low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes while you’re making the french toast.