Having Christmas land on a Thursday is the best, especially if you have the 26th off, that means it is time for a Boxing Day Brunch and the star of the brunch should be a delicious stack of buttermilk pancakes. If you do have to work on the 26th you still have the whole lovely weekend to enjoy your gifts from Santa while digging into fluffy pancakes glistening with maple syrup.
Traditionally, buttermilk is the liquid left after butter has been churned out of cream. Typically, fresh milk was left alone so the cream separated from the milk, and while it sat, naturally occurring bacteria in the milk produced lactic acid, fermenting the milk slightly and resulting in the familiar and readily identifiable sour taste. But this does not mean the buttermilk has soured, or gone off, in fact the natural fermentation allows the milk to last longer without refrigeration, which explains why it is a popular beverage in warmer countries like India, Pakistan, the Baltic States, and many of the southern states in the U.S., where buttermilk consumed at room temperature on hot days, and is held in high esteem as a symbol of local culture (literally) and culinary identity.
The reason buttermilk is thicker than whole milk is that the fermentation that is a result of the bacterial culture producing the lactic acid that causes the milk’s pH to decrease. This frees up the milk protein casein, which is usually pretty evenly distributed throughout milk, and the casein molecules join together resulting in thickening, or curdling if left alone. This is similar to how cheese is made; when rennet is added to milk, the rennet curdles the milk and you get curd floating around in the remaining liquid (whey)
These days milk has to be pasteurized, so commercial buttermilk is milk that has had bacterial culture, usually Lactococcus lactis added to it, largely producing the same effect. Although its appearance suggests a beverage with a higher fat content, buttermilk is actually significantly lower in fat than whole milk, 2% milk or even 1% skim milk. A cup of 1% buttermilk, for example, has only 99 calories and 2 grams of fat whereas homo milk has 147 calories and 8 g fat. In addition, like yogurt, buttermilk contains probiotic microbes, so is beneficial for digestion, is easier on the gut than regular milk and is often administered to alleviate gastrointestinal distress. nFor more interesting health benefits of buttermilk check this out.
All this is great, and what makes buttermilk even more wonderful is how it performs in baking.The natural tangy taste of buttermilk really does come out in the final product, whether it is a a stack of buttermilk pancakes or a pan of biscuits. Furthermore, baked goods made with buttermilk are typically lighter, less dense and fluffier. Baking soda produces carbon dioxide when it meets an acid (try putting a little baking soda in vinegar!) so when baking soda mixes with the high acid content of buttermilk more gas is produced, fluffier biscuits and lighter cakes. Of course you can make your own buttermilk substitute in a pinch, just add a little lemon juice or vinegar to milk and it will sour and curdle a bit, but it lacks the delicious flavor.
If you are planning on baking some biscuits, or Yorkshire pudding, swap in some buttermilk in your favourite recipe, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Or try these beauties this morning!
Best Buttermilk Pancakes with Bananas & Pecans
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons butter, melted, plus 1/2 teaspoon for griddle
1/2 cup chopped banana
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Heat griddle to 375 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add eggs, buttermilk, and 4 tablespoons butter; whisk to combine. Batter should have small to medium lumps.
Heat oven to 175 degrees. Test griddle by sprinkling a few drops of water on it. If water bounces and spatters off griddle, it is hot enough. Using a pastry brush, brush remaining 1/2 teaspoon of butter or reserved bacon fat onto griddle. Wipe off excess.
Using a 4-ounce ladle, about 1/2 cup, pour pancake batter, in pools 2 inches away from one other. Scatter with bananas & pecans now if you want to bake them into the cake. If not then you can sprinkle them over the pancakes after they cook, both ways are delicious.
When pancakes have bubbles on top and are slightly dry around edges, about 2 1/2 minutes, flip over. Cook until golden on bottom, about 1 minute.
Repeat with remaining batter, keeping finished pancakes on a heatproof plate in oven. Serve warm.
For a great read about how buttermilk is making a serious comeback in the States check out this interesting article in the New York Times