if i learned to like buttermilk

heather bouquet

I should learn to like buttermilk. It seems so elegant, so cultured. Essential for unfussy but sophisticated cakes. Rich in its simplicity.

I like it in things—baked things like cakes and pancakes, but I can’t handle it straight because I can’t get over the word curdled. The word sounds like it’s congealing right there in your mouth. Curdle. That flat, low-in-the-throat “ur.” And -rdle: girdle, curdle, turtle. Weird words. Lemon curd, too. It’s the most marvelous spread, but honestly. Curd?

oats soaked in buttermilk

now with butter

So, buttermilk: I never keep it around because of that terrible, sour combination of sounds, though now that I think of it, I haven’t actually tasted it straight since I was maybe ten, which isn’t a reliable guide for food preferences. In the meantime, I’ve come around to such basic things as onions and mushrooms (still a little squeaky-freaky raw), ketchup and salad dressing. Also ground beef in my tacos and cheese on my burgers. I even convinced myself to like plain whole milk yogurt, which has in fact turned me against thin, strawberry-flavored yogurts in cute packaging.

You’d think I could work up the courage to take on buttermilk. I do like it for baking, which is perhaps where my love can begin. Buttermilk transforms whatever it’s in into something magnificent—tender and sweet, tangy but not tart. I usually make do with lemon juice plus milk, which works alright, but ends up simply curdling (!) the milk without imparting any of buttermilk’s luxurious, tangy beauty.


pancake perimeter

If I learned to like buttermilk in its own right, it might earn a regular spot in the Claus fridge, one that would make it available for buttermilk baked goods all the time. Until then, I’ll do the lemon juice / milk trick or, on special occasions, buy it in small quantities, just enough for a recipe.

And these pancakes are a special occasion. They don’t need one. They make one.

They start the night before, preparing while you sleep to make your morning what I wanted that one to be. Perhaps because they’ve had the night to get a running start, they make good on their promise. These pancakes are buttery and hearty and delicate all at once. They take well to banana pieces or chocolate chips or blueberries. They suggest maple syrup but don’t require it. They love to be cooked in bacon fat and accompanied by bacon. They give an opportunity for buying a little extra buttermilk than necessary and learning to acquire the taste.

breakfast spread

Oat and Buckwheat Pancakes

adapted from Molly at Orangette

A while back, I substituted buckwheat flour for the all-purpose that the original recipe calls for, and I’m so happy I did. Buckwheat and oats complement each other, plus the buckwheat flecks the pancakes all through and gives the batter a lavender hue. If you don’t have buckwheat, use all-purpose or give some other whole grain flour a try.

2 cups rolled oats
2 cups buttermilk
½ cup buckwheat flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. table salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled a bit
butter or bacon fat, for greasing the pan
maple syrup, for serving

Before you go to bed the night before, stir together the oats and buttermilk in a large bowl, coating the oats well. Cover the bowl and leave it in the fridge.

In the morning, pull out the oats from the fridge and set aside to warm up. In a small bowl, combine the buckwheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Stir the melted butter and the beaten eggs into the oats. The butter will probably harden against the cold of the eggs and oats, but that’s okay. To that, add the dry ingredients, and stir everything until just combined. The batter is very hefty.

Melt a pat of butter or a spoonful of bacon fat in a cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. After a few minutes, fling a fingerful of water onto the surface of the pan. If it sizzles, the pan is ready. Pour the batter by the quarter-cup onto the pan. When the edges of the pancakes have started to turn lacy and set, flip them. The backs should be gorgeously golden.

Serve with butter and maple syrup. Makes about 15 pancakes.


One thought on “if i learned to like buttermilk

  1. Yay for soaking grains! And those look and sound delicious! Another trick for buttermilk: half plain yogurt and half water. I consider buttermilk to be a suggestion in most recipes. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your beautiful words and pictures and recipes with the world!

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