Baking Tip: How to Make your own Buttermilk

I have a newest favourite ingredient. Buttermilk. Who would have imagined that buttermilk would hold that honoured position? Not only is it my current fad, but learning how to make my own buttermilk has felt liberating. I no longer feel like there’s a barrier stopping me from baking a recipe because buttermilk is ‘another ingredient that I don’t have’ or ‘where can I buy that from?’ when I come across it in a list of ingredients. Since discovering how to make my own cultured buttermilk, my oven has been turning out soda bread, raspberry and buttermilk cake and vast quantities of Allinson’s Banana Cake.

buttermilk and raspberry cake and banana cake

I first came across it when baking scones for an international tea party for 300 students. A friend of mine recommended Delia’s buttermilk scone recipe to me and every single batch turned out great. They rose perfectly and were springy in the middle. Then, I made the banana cake that was on the back of the self-raising flour packet with the leftover buttermilk. Wow – that turned out to be a winner too.

Buttermilk is the liquid that is leftover from the butter making process. Cultured buttermilk that is commonly sold in supermarkets today is curdled, sour milk. I know… I’m really selling it to you, aren’t I? Appetising, it does not sound. However, it is a lovely ingredient when you use it in baking because you’re pretty much guaranteed lightness and a good rise. When I researched the chemistry, I was told that the acid in the buttermilk reacts with the sodium bicarbonate to release carbon dioxide. Those large bubbles help the mixture to rise quickly. Oh, and means you can bake soda bread within an hour from start to finish.

There are two ways that you can make it:

1. Shake double cream really, really hard for a long time and not only will you have butter (and a new muscle-toning exercise) but you’ll have buttermilk from the leftover liquid, or

2. Add 1 tbsp/15ml of white or cider vinegar or lemon juice to 225ml/8fl oz of milk (preferably whole, or at least semi-skimmed) and wait about 10-15 minutes for it to curdle. This is the much easier way. Essentially, buttermilk is curdled, sour milk. I prefer to use lemon juice because the smell is that wee bit more safer when baking a sweet cake, but it doesn’t matter really.

I experimented, as you’d expect me to, with whether the fat content of the milk makes a difference. I think it does. Full-fat milk will curdle better. My results with skimmed milk were disappointingly watery. Those of you who are lactose intolerant or vegan will be pleased to read that you can make it with unsweetened soya milk too. It just needs a bit more vinegar/lemon juice.

I’m still chuckling to myself, as I write this, because it is a random ingredient to get excited about. Oh, I should also add that Miss Buttermilk comes as a pair with Mr. Bicarbonate of Soda.

makeyourownbuttermilkbuttermilk

Butternut Squash, Apricot and Almond Cake

butternut squash and apricot cake

It’s starting to snow again on campus, as I finish writing up this entry.  They look like beautiful, soft flakes and remind me of my birthday in January when there was lots of snow! Maybe it’s the snow which is helping me get into the swing of Christmas this year.  I started wrapping my Christmas presents on Saturday – a previously unheard of phenonemon for the queen of last-minute.  But then again, Saturday was the first day of snow and also the BBC Good Food Show, so undoubtedly I was going to be excited.  My highlights were of the day:

  1. Buying my amazing Titan peeler (see photo below) and later making a courgette, garlic, basil and parmesan pasta dish for dinner with it. 
  2. Chatting to Alan Rosenthal, who has written a cook book called Stewed, about his business.  I think the timing of the book launch is perfect for these dark nights.
  3. Having a fun day out with my former housemates, Claire and Sarah and tasting muchos good food. Mmmm…

Well, it has inspired me to write about a cake that we can indulge in guilt-free.  I think it’s a handy one to have in mind for after Christmas.  I was hooked the instant I saw this on Kitchenist’s blog, ‘And I’m Telling You: No-Butter Apricot and Almond Cake’.  The title read like some sort of guarantee in a shop and drowned out the voice of guilt that says, “A moment on your lips, a lifetime on the hips”.  (Actually at times, the voice of guilt likes to take on the unwelcome guise of various human beings – what is with that?!)  But the real hook for me was to bake with a butternut squash.  Who can resist one of those golden, odd shaped bad boys?

The original recipe is in Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache.  There’s an amazon package sitting in the corner of my room, and I’m hoping my brother has sent me this recipe book as my Christmas present.  I’ll let you know after Christmas. 

When it came to trying out this recipe, I didn’t have any almond essence.  And after staring at a bottle of almond essence in the shop for 5 minutes, I decided to not to purchase it but to substitute it with Amaretto (an almond liqueor) instead, which I had already. 

I think that the hardest part of the this cake is peeling away at the hard skin of the butternut squash.  The best advice I can give you is to invest in a good quality, sharp vegetable peeler.  I didn’t have one both times that I made this cake, so I attacked said butternut squash with a knife.  

cutting up butternut squash

Remember how I mentioned that I have now bought an amazing Titan peeler?  It’s my newest kitchen purchase and I love it.  It peels just about anything.  I want to buy all sorts of root vegetables just so that I can peel them.  I’m a bit ridiculous, aren’t I, for being so excited about a peeler. *v*  Did I mention already that I love it?

the best peeler

So, here are the Ingredients for my adapted version of Butternut Squash and Apricot Cake:

  • 16 dried apricots
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1tbsp of apricot brandy (optional)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 200g peeled and finely grated butternut squash *see top tip
  • 1tbsp amaretto
  • 60g plain flour
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • icing sugar (to serve)

Top Tip: Weigh out the butternut squash before you peel and grate it.  If you go over that’s fine.  You’ll lose some of the weight when peeling it.  Oh, and double check the weight once you’ve done the difficult part. 

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3.  Line the baking tin with baking paper.  In her blog, Kitchenist, Ele insists that this is a really important step and musn’t be overlooked because the cake has a tendency to stick to the tin as no butter is being added to the recipe.  So, I obeyed.

2. In a small heatproof bowl, soak the dried apricots by barely covering them in boiling water and adding 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract.  For extra apricot-loveliness, try adding some apricot brandy to it, as I did the second time I made the cake.  1 tbsp of apricot brandy seemed a good amount for me.

3. Measure out the dry ingredients in a bowl – the flour, ground almonds, mixed spice, baking powder and salt

4. In a separate large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together until it’s light and fluffy.  Use an electric whisk if you have one.  Otherwise, it’s a good workout for your arms.

5. Add in the grated butternut squash, amaretto, and 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract and combine well.

6. Add in the dry ingredients in 3. to the wet mixture and give it a good mix so that the mixture is well combined.  It should feel quite gloopy but thick.

7. Pour the mixture into the tin and spread it out evenly.  Drain the apricots that were soaking and place them on top of the cake.

unbaked butternut squash and apricot cakebaked butternut squash and apricot cake

8. Bake the cake for between 35-45 minutes in the middle of the oven, or until the tester/knife comes out clean.  The top of the cake should be springy and golden in colour.  Let it cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then on a cooling rack.  Dust with icing sugar, just before serving.

Verdict?  I think that the butternut squash adds a beautiful moistness to the cake, rather than a distinct flavour.  The almond and mixed spice make it a truly delectable cake to eat.

So the combination of: no butter easing the guilt + butternut squash and apricot contributing towards your 5-a-day + amaretto and apricot brandy adding a sweet naughtiness to it = the perfect cake to feel good about whilst eating it.  I baked it for my work colleagues on my birthday and, on another occastion, as my contribution to my church’s ladies day.  Each time, it received good reviews.  Mmmmm…

Nigella’s Clementine Cake

Nigella

I had 6 crinkly clementines which had definitely gone past their prime!  Shrivelled clementines, tangerines, oranges… are so ucky to eat, yet it seemed such a waste to throw them away.  At the back of my mind I knew that I’d seen a cake recipe using clementines before in Green and Black’s ‘Chocolate Recipes‘.  When I opened the recipe book, I discovered that I’d even photocopied the recipe for a shopping trip.  So, I must have wanted to make it at some point a few months ago…  I wonder what stopped me… hmmm… maybe it was the expense of buying ground almonds?  Anyway, I had some ground almonds leftover from a Lemon Polenta Cake baking moment, which was a good start.

So first, I had to boil and simmer the clementines whole for 2 hours.  2 hours!  Perhaps I should have read through the recipe first before starting… (ah! maybe this is what put me off before).  I covered the clementines with cold water, brought it to boil and then simmered it for 2 hours.

clementines

While the clementines were simmering away, I started to put the other ingredients together and realised two things.  Firstly, I had run out of baking powder and secondly, I didn’t have 6 large eggs.  Oooops…  Quick trip to the Co-op sorted out the baking powder.  For the second thing, though, I already had 5 eggs and didn’t want to buy more eggs.  So, I thought maybe this would be a good opportunity to try out a friend’s suggestion for substituting a spoonful of vinegar for an egg (see baking tip: substituting vinegar for an egg).  Admittedly, in the mixing stage, I was still wondering whether it would work and how it would it affect the overall taste of the cake.  The cake mixture definitely smelt like vinegar; the baked cake tasted divine.

Anyway, here’s the recipe for Nigella’s Clementine Cake adapted from ‘Chocolate Recipes’. 

Ingredients
4-5 clementines (I used 6), skin on to weigh 375g (13oz)
6 large eggs (well, you know what I did when I only had 5)
100g/4oz sugar (I tend to halve the sugar so do add more if you’d like it even sweeter)
250g/9oz ground almonds
1 heaped tsp of baking powder
100g/4oz good quality dark orange chocolate (grated)

Method

1. Cover the clementines with cold water in a saucepan and bring it to boil.  Then let the clementines merrily simmer away for 2 hours.  I kept checking up on it to make sure the pan didn’t boil dry, because I do that quite often when I’m hardboiling eggs – ooops!  Then cool them down by covering them with cold water again in the pan for about 10 minutes.  Drain them and then cut the clementines in half to take out any seeds.  Put them in a food processor and whizz them up so that the clementines are reduced to pulp – skin, pith and all.

2. At this point, preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5 and grease and line the cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Getting ready to mix

3. Mix the ground almonds, sugar and baking powder in one bowl.

4. Beat the eggs in another bowl.

5. Add 3. to the eggs and mix well.

6. Stir in the pulped clementines to 5.

pour mixture into tin

7. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 1 hour.  At 40 mins, cover the top with foil or greaseproof paper so that the top doesn’t burn.  To test whether it is ready to come out the oven, pierce the middle of the cake with a clean, cold skewer and when it comes out clean you know the cake is ready.

grated chocolate on cafe

8. Remove the cake from the oven and immediately put the grated chocolate on top of the cake while it is still in the tin – watch the chocolate start melting and smell gorgeous!  Leave the cake to cool in the tin and then remove from the tin to store it in an airtight container.

The verdict?  This cake is sooo simple to bake.  Also it’s made with ground almonds and there’s no butter so, it’s gluten free and dairy free.  The cake tastes better when it’s been left for a day and it gets really moist and gooey.  The flavour of the clementines and almonds have also had time to develop too.  So, let it rest a while and enjoy every mouthful.  Mmmm… Mmmm….