Find out what to use if you don't have buttermilk, sour cream, or yogurt you need.

By Amy Sherman
July 20, 2020
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Whether you're baking for fun or as a way to help you get through challenging times, any amount of time spent in the kitchen can be a great distraction. And while baking relies on science, it doesn't have to be complicated or stressful. With just a few pantry staples there are many things you can bake. In addition to flour, sugar, salt, butter, baking powder, and baking soda, many recipes for baked goods include cultured dairy products such as buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt. Cookbook author and baking expert Alice Medrich explains, "They are used to make baked goods tender and can also add lovely flavor."

Typically used in things like biscuits and pancakes, commercially available cultured buttermilk is thicker than milk and is made from milk combined with lactic acid. Sour cream, often used in coffee cakes and muffins, is also made with lactic acid and has a similar acidity level to buttermilk, but is much richer in fat with a thicker creamier texture. Yogurt is another cultured milk product that is similar to buttermilk and sour cream. Yogurt is milk fermented with a variety of different bacteria and has a more acidic flavor than sour cream and a firmer texture. Greek yogurt is yogurt with whey drained out, so it is thicker than regular yogurt. It is used in a wide variety of baked goods, and it can also be a good substitute for other dairy products you might not have on hand.

Baked goods that contain cultured dairy products often also include baking soda. The reaction of the baking soda and acidity of the dairy products creates leavening and lift, but if you don't happen to have buttermilk, sour cream, or yogurt on hand, there are easy ways to substitute these common dairy ingredients. Medrich says it's easiest to replace them in simple cakes, quick breads, and recipes such as biscuits, scones, muffins, waffles, and pancakes. When substituting, keep the texture in mind, thinning out thicker dairy products to approximate the same texture of thinner dairy products. Avoid non-fat dairy product which may have stabilizers or other ingredients that may affect the finished baked good.

Replacing Buttermilk

Chef Barbara Alexander, a certified executive chef, certified chef educator, and CIA consulting chef, says you can use milk to thin down yogurt as a replacement for buttermilk using about half milk and half yogurt, depending upon the thickness of the yogurt. Medrich adds that you are aiming for the same consistency of buttermilk. Another easy replacement for buttermilk that Alexander recommends is to make sour milk by combining one tablespoon of either vinegar or lemon juice with milk and allowing the mixture to rest for 15 minutes or so. While white vinegar is recommended, she says any vinegar even red wine vinegar works just as well.

Replacing Sour Cream

Alexander says that if you're replacing sour cream with yogurt, you can reduce the baking powder in half or increase the baking soda slightly. Add one teaspoon of baking soda to yogurt if you're using yogurt in place of sour cream to make up for the change in acidity.

Replacing Yogurt

Depending upon the recipe, buttermilk may work as a replacement for plain yogurt. You may need to reduce the liquid in the recipe to make up for the difference in texture however. Greek yogurt or sour cream should also work, but you will need to thin them down with a little bit of milk or water.

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