Since You Asked: Buttermilk lifts baked goods

Whenever I buy a pint of buttermilk for pancakes, I use about a half-cup, and the rest just sits in the fridge until I finally throw it out. What other recipes could I consider for using it up?

— Betsy R., Phoenix

Any baked good's taste and texture can be improved with buttermilk, which adds moisture and richness without a lot of fat.

Because acids in buttermilk relax gluten in flour, biscuits and the like are more tender when made with buttermilk. And buttermilk's chemical reaction with baking soda produces plentiful bubbles of carbon dioxide, lifting baked goods to great heights.

Substituting buttermilk for milk in a favorite recipe only requires adjusting the leavening agents. For each cup of buttermilk used in place of regular milk, reduce the amount of baking powder in the recipe by 2 teaspoons and add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

Conversely, if you don't have buttermilk on hand for baking, make a substitution by mixing 1 cup low-fat milk with 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice and letting it stand for 10 minutes. Or thin 3/4 cup plain, low-fat yogurt with 1/4 cup milk.

Bacterial cultures added to low- or nonfat milk make commercial buttermilk, although the name is a holdover from old-fashioned butter-making. After butter was churned, the leftover liquid was allowed to stand, becoming thick and sour as airborne bacteria consumed its sugars and produced lactic acids.

Because it is highly acidic, buttermilk has a much longer shelf life than regular milk, keeping in the refrigerator for at least two weeks and probably well beyond its sell-by date. Just be sure to shake the carton vigorously before pouring, as buttermilk will thicken and get a little lumpy after a couple of weeks.

Send questions to "Since You Asked, A la carte" Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; email to

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