Buttermilk Basics

Hundreds of years ago when buttermilk was common in all households that churned their own butter, it was consumed daily, made into buttermilk cheese and the excess fed to farm animals.

Nowadays, it is either drunk by humans or used as an ingredient in cooking. Whilst very popular in the Scandinavian countries, it is only used for baking in Europe. In South Africa and the USA buttermilk has been used in food from the beginning and in the rest of the world it is fast gaining popularity. In many countries in the Middle East (and India) it accompanies daily meals and is popular and used widely. It makes a nourishing breakfast, is used as a drink with meals from India to the Middle East where it is, also, used as an aid to digestion and in Muslim countries (like the UAR) buttermilk is used for breaking the fast during Ramadan.

Buttermilk is a slightly sour, fermented, white liquid usually containing little specks of butter. It is formed when butter is churned from cream and is rich in nitrogen and lactose but poor in lipids.
There are four types of buttermilk:

  • Sweet cream buttermilk – the liquid residue from fresh cream that has been churned into butter. This is the traditional buttermilk and is much thinner than the artificially produced brew available in most of the retail outlets nowadays.
  • Sour cream buttermilk, a by-product of butter and produced from raw, unpasteurized cream that has soured naturally or by the addition of a bacterial culture.
  • Traditional buttermilk, which is much thinner than the artificially produced brew available in most of the retail outlets nowadays, is made from the fluid extracted when butter was churned from cream.
  • Cultured buttermilk, like skim milk, consists of 90 % water, 5% milk sugar lactose and about 3% of the protein, casein. It is made from low-fat milk contains about 2% butterfat. In both low-fat and nonfat buttermilk, some of the lactose is converted by the bacteria into lactic acid, hence the sour taste.

Buttermilk has less fat and less kilojoules than ordinary milk because the fat has been removed to make butter.  It is high in potassium, vitamin b12 and in calcium.  It is also much more easily digestible and contains much more lactic acid than skimmed milk.


I dedicate these to an impossibly beautiful, tall and intelligent woman who also happens to be my daughter and the woman I respect and love most in the world. I thank God every day for her.

Rusks were baked by the Voortrekker women for their families. There was little time or opportunity for them to prepare breakfast for their families whilst on trek and these certainly did the trick. Rusks have formed part of the Afrikaans culture for centuries and are now intrinsically woven into the culinary fabric of all South Africans.


1 kg self-raising flour
400 g butter
100 ml sunflower oil
500 ml buttermilk
200 ml sugar
200 ml honey
20 ml baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1000 ml oat bran
250 ml wheat germ
500 ml sunflower seeds
125 ml sesame seeds
125 ml pumpkin seeds
350 ml crushed pecan nuts
60 ml poppy seeds
3 extra large eggs, beaten until frothy


Pre-heat oven to 180 C

Mix flour, bran, pecan nuts and all the other seeds into a large mixing bowl. Rub in the butter with the tips of your fingers until a bread-crumb like consistency is formed.
Combine eggs with the dough mixture and add the buttermilk and oil to form a smooth, soft dough.

Place in a well prepared baking tray and cut into dipping size squares using a wet knife. Should the knife become sticky and covered in dough, wipe clean. Bake for about 50 minutes until golden brown on top. Remove from oven, allow to rest and cool and break into dipping sized rusks.

Dry in a cool oven, around 60 degrees, depending on your oven.

When completely dry, remove and pack away into an airtight container.  This is a wonderful and nourishing breakfast or a great pick me up when the afternoon hunger pangs set in.

Luckily the recipe is just in time for the weekend!


This is a little fussy but Galiemah has a few short cuts.  She uses sosatie skewers to keep the cake firm after layering and then she refrigerates it for about an hour. Before icing, the skewers go out, the icing is applied and the dessicated coconut is patted firmly against the icing before it has a chance to set.

Ginger-lime curd
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
½ cup fresh lime juice
¼  cup grated lime zest
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons butter, cut into little blocks at room temperature

5 cups sifted cake flour, sifted & then measured
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½  cups butter again at room temperature
3 cups sugar
8 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk at room temperature

1 ½  cups sugar
2 large egg whites
about 1/3 cup water
2 teaspoons golden syrup
¼ cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups of dessicated coconut


Ginger-lime curd
Whisk the eggs, sugar, lime juice & zest, ginger and and salt in large bowl. Put this bowl over pot of barely simmering water  and whisk constantly until the mixture thickens (about 10 minutes).  Take the bowl off the pot and whisk in the butter. Put the mixture through a sieve if you like. Cover tightly with cling wrap and refrigerate overnight. 


Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare cake pans.
Beat butter and sugar together until light and frothy after which you whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Sift in flour mixture (all the dry ingredients sifted together) and buttermilk alternately.  In other words, add the flour and then a bit of buttermilk and then so on. Whisk in eggs individually and then pour equally into cake pans. Bake on for about 35 minutes until golden brown and  the skewer comes out clean. Please note that all ovens are different and you will have to keep an eye on your cake.
When cool, stack layers together with ginger lime curd in between and when you reach the final layer, spread the last curd on top. You should be able to make four layers with this recipe.

Whisk egg whites, sugar, 1/3 cup water,  syrup and cream of tartar in large bowl.
Put bowl over a pot of lightly simmering water and with your little electric mixer beat on medium speed until mixture looks like white, thick soft fluff. Take bowl off the water and add vanilla extract and whisk until the mixture is cool. Take the dessicated coconut and press against the icing of the entire cake.

This recipe is from a Cape Malay friend of mine that lives in an area in Cape Town known as the Bo-Kaap. It should, therefore, only be served with tea –  try  Dilmah Ceylon Supreme, surely your best bet!



Filed under Uncategorized

6 responses to “Buttermilk Basics

  1. Lisa

    ai Mamma. Dankie 😉 Blvj

  2. Jacoba,

    Thanks, a few people will learn a bit about buttermilk! Most people I know can’t believe I’d actually drink milk made out of butter! Even my friends, who I’ve told many times that it’s like yogurt (cultured) they still consider it low class.

    Your buttermilk rusks bring back some memories. When I was growing up we used to have piimäkorppu all the time with milk to dunk it in. My dad would dunk cookies, doughnuts, and anything in his coffee and my mom would tell him to quit. But it was always O.K. to dunk the korppu!

  3. Hi Tess!

    Would love a recipe for the korppu – I only know it’s a rusk or biscuit and that it’s sweet but, truth be told, I have never ever had the real thing and would love to try it. If you feel sharing one with us, I’d be thrilled – or, if you prefer, we could link up somehow.

  4. I shouldn’t be sitting here reading blogs, but I could find my recipe sometime soon. Your buttermilk rusks are much more fancy! The simplest korppu we had was made with leftover pulla (cardomom bread), but we didn’t really have that often with 4 kids in the family eating it fresh!

  5. When you find it, I’d love to share it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s