In Defense of Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a peculiar substance. Milk already unnerves me to no end, so obviously its thicker, sour-smelling cousin further creases my brow. However – and speaking from experience – baking with the stuff proves to be incredibly lucrative. The acidity and consistency of the buttermilk makes denser cakes, richer breads and fluffier biscuits.

The byproduct of butter-making, buttermilk is fermented longer than plain milk (gross), producing a high acidity that tenderizes the gluten in the batter (less gross, still wildly unappealing) to give baked goods a softer texture and more body (I’ve forgotten everything – hello gorgeous, and get in my belly!) Also, because most of the fat has been removed to make butter, buttermilk has a far lower fat content than its all-American whole/vitamin D counterparts, which TOTALLY makes up for the copious amount of butter and sugar used in the recipe that follows.

Clearly, I am the Bill Nye of buttermilk.

The point of all this is that the use of buttermilk is completely justified by and glorified in this Buttermilk Berry Bundt Cake. Even though it is such an easy recipe, the richness and density of the cake will make your eaters think otherwise. Let the buttermilk do all the work for you and (note to self) don’t think it about it too much.

Buttermilk Berry Bundt Cake
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

2 1/2 cups (355 grams) plus 2 TBS (20 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
1 cup (8 ounces or 225 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups (340 grams) granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (175 ml) buttermilk
3 cups (350 to 450 grams) mixed berries

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease a bundt pan with coconut oil. I like to use a paper towel to get it all the crevices and limit the mess.

In a medium bowl, whisk or sift flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and impossibly fluffy (3 to 5 minutes). Then, with the mixer on a low speed, add your eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Beat in vanilla, briefly. Add 1/3 flour mixture to batter, beating until just combined, followed by half the buttermilk, another 1/3 of the flour mixture, the remaining buttermilk and remaining flour mixture. Scrape down from time to time and don’t mix any more than you need to.

In a separate bowl, toss the berries with the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour, then gently fold the berries into the cake batter. The batter will be very thick and this will seem impossible without squishing the berries a little, but just do your best and remember that squished berries do indeed make for a pretty batter.

Plop the batter in the pan in large spoonfuls in the prepared baking pan and spread the top smooth. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, rotating the cake 180 degrees after 30 (to make sure it browns evenly). The cake is done as soon as a tester comes out clean of batter.

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