Buttermilk vs Sour Cream – Substituting, Combining, and Using When Baking

Published Categorized as Ingredients

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Just about every cake we make calls for flour, sugar, eggs, and butter. That pretty much is all you need to bake a cake, but this can only get you so far with your love for making tasty treats. There are a number of ways to add flavor to your cakes and spice things up a bit!

You can add certain powders like cocoa and coffee, you can throw in some spices, you can add dried fruit or fresh fruit, fruit pulp and even a splash of alcohol to some of your baked goods. Whatever you desire, the options to flavour a cake are indefinite and you can always find something to tickle your fancy.

However, sometimes a recipe calls for additional ingredients that make absolutely no difference to the flavor of the cake and, like me, I am sure you have often questioned what the point in these ingredients is.

Two of the most commonly used ingredients to help improve your cake are buttermilk and sour cream. Although some argue that this helps to give it a tangy flavor, I personally do not find this to be the case. So, if it doesn’t impact the flavor, and if we already have our four main ingredients to create the basis of a cake, then why on earth would anyone feel the need to add ingredients as specific as buttermilk or sour cream? Well, today I am going to answer this question for you, but first let’s understand what both ingredients actually are.

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What is Buttermilk?

Traditionally, buttermilk is the residual liquid that comes out whilst butter is churned. It has a very strong, sour flavor but is extremely low in fat. It was easier to store and lasted longer than regular milk due to the cultures, which is why people often used it in baking as it would not go stale in the cake as quickly as regular milk.

These days, buttermilk is still cultured milk but instead of being a bi-product of butter churning, now it is simply fresh milk that has had cultures added. This means the milk is fermented by the strains of lactic acid bacteria. This makes the milk a lot thicker and acidic.

You can make your own buttermilk at home by adding lemon juice to regular, pasteurized milk.

What is Sour Cream?

Sour cream is fermented cream. Similar to the way modern-day buttermilk is created, only using cream instead of milk. This means It has a similar taste to buttermilk, however it is a lot thicker, creamier, and the fat content is higher. It would be a lot easier to remember what sour cream was if it was called soured cream, as this is a quick term to sum up what it is.

You can make your own sour cream at home by adding lemon juice to regular cream.

Baking with Buttermilk and Sour Cream

Buttermilk vs Sour Cream_Alices Kitchen

So, if adding sour cream or buttermilk adds little change to the flavor, then why do so many recipes call for it? The acid present in both ingredients brings some benefits to the recipe. Not only can it add a slightly tangy flavor to plain cakes, but it also helps to break down the gluten in the flour, meaning the batter is not as heavy and therefore the cake comes out a lot lighter, softer, and tender.

For recipes that call for normal milk, you can substitute either in place of it if you would like to achieve that fluffier sponge. However, it is important to keep in mind that substituting sour cream will bring a higher fat content. It is also important to note that when using buttermilk or sour cream, you should also use some baking soda as a levelling agent as this balances out the acid. Most recipes will call for this anyway.

Substituting Buttermilk with Sour Cream

Buttermilk is creamy and acidic like sour cream, however it does have a higher water content and so it is slightly runnier in texture. Because of this, you should use ¾ cup of buttermilk for every 1 cup of sour cream called for in a recipe, and similarly, if swapping buttermilk for sour cream you should up the quantity by ¼ cup. This will work in your baking and also for things like salad dressings and sauces, however substituting sour cream for buttermilk when using a dollop of it on top of your chili or potato wedges will not have the same outcome due to the runnier consistency.

Combing Buttermilk and Sour Cream

Not only do buttermilk and sour cream blend so beautifully with the other ingredients in the cake, but they also blend well together. If you are low on one or the other, then you can top them up with each other. The main difference between the two ingredients is the fat levels. Just as you can combine milk with cream, you can do the same. Bearing in mind that sour cream will have a thicker consistency and so adding buttermilk will slightly thin it, the same way adding sour cream to buttermilk will thicken it. Again, be cautious of the change in fat content when combining.

Buttermilk vs Sour Cream

Buttermilk vs Sour Cream_Alices Kitchen

As we have established, both are made by adding cultures to either milk or cream. Buttermilk has a higher water content, and sour cream has a higher fat content. Both ingredients mix perfectly into cake batter, and due to the acidity then can help to break down the gluten and create a delicious, light, and fluffy cake. Although they may alter the flavor slightly in a plain sponge, the flavor change is very discreet. Both can be substituted for each other, and both can be combined successfully. Both can be easily made at home, so next time you are looking to take your cakes to the next level, look no further than adding a splash of buttermilk or sour cream!