Because there it sat like a dare, nestled among the other milk at the end of the lunch line.
I bought. I tasted. I gagged. And that was the end of my interest in buttermilk until, a couple of decades later, my then-partner and I opened a restaurant, needed a muffin recipe at the last moment, and I decided to try one that called for -- yuck! -- buttermilk.
Wow! I cannot begin to fathom how many thousands of buttermilk, whole-wheat muffins I baked over the five years I co-owned that restaurant. And I never for one minute failed to think that buttermilk is what made Martha's muffins, Martha's muffins.
This was the beginning of my ongoing romance with buttermilk baking. And this Monday morning, since the weather's once again cool enough to turn on the oven, I thought I'd pass along two related -- and buttermilk-tinged -- baking staples; one of my own invention, and one borrowed from a downtown Charlottesville breakfast institution.
- I'm not much of a measurer. So, my suggestions will not contain exact amounts of any ingredients. But I'm sure that if you are a measurer, you can figure out exactly how much of what to use by tinkering around with your own recipes.
- As I wouldn't dream of drinking buttermilk and usually bake only on weekends, I often use powdered buttermilk, mixing it in with the dry ingredients and then using water as the moistener.
Baking staple #1: Buttermilk, whole wheat pie crust.
The crust came out disappointingly tough. So, as buttermilk tenderizes, the next time I decided to toss the whole wheat flour/white flour/butter/shortening crumbles with that. The resulting pastry was in my opinion as perfect as Baby Bear's porridge. Tender, with just a hint of tartness and crunch.
I've used buttermilk crust for apple pies and for breakfast pies (quiche variations). I give buttermilk, whole wheat pie crust all the stars I'm entitled to give as a pastry cook.
It is, as I'm sure a lot of you know, a great place. Non-demanding decor, scratch-cooking, nothing nouvelle in sight, plenty of butter. And the Bluegrass Grill and Bakery turns out to be partially owned by J. Lalah Simcoe. And I'd done a story about Womenfolk, a 60's folk group -- of whom Lalah used to be a member.
I cannot resist biscuits and ordered one with my omelet. It came looking more like an enormous, square, soft dinner roll, than the round, crusty biscuits I make. And it was light brown through and through, obviously not made with all white flour.
Nothing special, she said. Just half-whole wheat flour in a standard buttermilk biscuit recipe.
I thought about those biscuits most of the weekend and concluded that Lalah's description might be a bit over-simplified. First of all, Bluegrass biscuits are both buttery and tender, so I suspect that the shortening used was half-butter. I also suspect that their fine texture came from the shortening being cut into dry ingredients extra quickly and extra finely so as to leave the shortening granulated but still hard. The biscuits were then rolled and cut twice normal biscuit size and baked closely enough together to give them their square shape and soft edges.
Buttermilk (often accompanied with a pinch of baking soda) also gives tartness to all-things chocolate.Don't ignore it in the kitchen just because it tastes soooooooooooo buttermilky. . .