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Powdered buttermilk (Recipe: pear spice cupcakes)

Pear spice muffins

When you drive toward my town from pretty much anywhere, you pass a mall or two.

Big box stores, little box stores, grocery stores and discount stores. Drive-through doughnuts, drive-up banking. Hardware, software, sportswear.

It's hard to believe that, a century ago, apple orchards and dairy farms, punctuated by occasional clusters of tiny wood-shingled houses along the road, were all you'd find around here. Today, what remains is the name -- Apple Valley -- and just a handful of orchards.

Our house is on the outskirts of Apple Valley, five or ten miles from here to one of those grocery stores, not far to drive in good weather but not fun in the winter. So, at this time of year, I always keep shelf-stable milk and powdered buttermilk in my pantry.

What is buttermilk? And what makes it cultured


First thing to know: real buttermilk contains no butter, and it's not so much milk as the liquid left behind after butter is churned. Commercial (cultured) buttermilk, however, is made by adding a lactic acid bacterial culture to skim milk, which is then left to ferment for 12-14 hours at approximately 69°F. The milk sours and thickens.

For some reason, fresh cultured buttermilk is sold only in a quart size, which is fine if you're planning to drink it, but most recipes for baked goods call for one cup or less, and the leftover usually turns into a science experiment in the back of my refrigerator. Using powdered buttermilk eliminates the "buy a quart, use a cup" dilemma.

When baking, add the powdered buttermilk to the dry ingredients, and the water to the wet. Four tablespoons of powdered buttermilk plus one cup of water equals one cup of fresh buttermilk.

Powdered buttermilk sold in packets (each packet makes one cup of buttermilk) will keep in your pantry forever. If you buy by the canister, refrigerate after opening, and the buttermilk will be happy for a few months.

According to Irish folklore, drinking a glass of buttermilk will offset a hangover.

It should work with powdered buttermilk, too. If you try it, let me know.

Pear spice cupcakes

Adapted from a recipe in the New York Times Bread & Soup Cookbook by Yvonne Young Tarr, this is my favorite spice cake in disguise, perfect for dessert or with afternoon tea. Makes 12 cupcakes.


2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp powdered buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 large ripe pears, peeled and grated on the largest holes of a box grater
1/2 cup water


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or spray with canola spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine first 6 ingredients. Stir in whole wheat flour and powdered buttermilk. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the shortening and sugar until thoroughly combined. Add vanilla and eggs, and stir. Then, alternating a little bit at a time, add dry ingredients, water and pears to the egg mixture.

Pour the batter into the muffin tin, or use an ice cream scoop to fill the tin. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and let cool to desired serving temperature. (Can be frozen.)

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Southern buttermilk biscuits
Apple spice bread
Apple-pear-cranberry crisp
Rum raisin pear pie
Curried squash, apple and pear soup

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Do you find that the old formula

milk + lemon juice = buttermilk

doesn't work? That's what I do.

the old formula is OK, I notice a slight diff., but that might be because I have a super-sensitive palate.
I love when you share the unusal from your pantry. Loved this post.

I just added this to my shopping list! I do use buttermilk to make ranch dressing so I can keep up with it most of the time, but this is great to have on hand for those times when you don't have any.

Too many things are sold in quantities larger than most recipes require... glad to see that buttermilk can be bought powdered... I never knew that.

I usually just do what Mae does -- adding a few drops of lemon juice to milk -- unless I'm making fried chicken or ranch dressing.

I use this stuff all the time and love it, thanks for another use for it!!

Lydia, those look so alluring! What if I should happen to have (liquid) buttermilk at home - what's the equivalent of 2 Tbs powdered? (I feel as if I should be able to figure that out from your post, but I was never good at word problems . . .)

I am definitely going to buy the powdered form. Like you, I shop in a different way as winter approaches.

I'm singing along with Kitty Wells while making spaghetti sauce - but now I wish I was making muffins - I'll have to go find the dry buttermilk. It does make much more sense to use it that way. Thanks again Lydia

Mae, Dawn: The formula does work, but because I only keep skim milk in the house, I find I don't really like the flavor of the buttermilk I make with lemon juice. For baking, especially, the powdered seems to work better for me.

Kalyn, I like that it keeps for such a long time in the pantry, and I don't have any waste.

Julia, there are definitely times when the richness of fresh buttermilk can't be replaced, but for most uses, this powdered buttermilk works just as well.

Noble Pig, agreed, I love it too.

Judy, in this recipe, substitute 1/2 cup of buttermilk and add it at the end, alternating with the flour and pears.

Satonahat, it's especially handy for those of us in smaller households. I wish the dairies would package buttermilk in cups instead of only in quarts.

I have never seen those packets before! The powdered stuff is definitely convenient when a trip to town becomes an adventure in the winter.

I always keep this in my refrigerator [that brand too, but mine is in a paperboard canister instead of a box]. My husband loves buttermilk biscuits and dressing, but I hate the waste of fresh buttermilk. I love that I can have this powdered buttermilk around whenever I need it.

I've never seen it in the packets. I always buy the cannister and have it stored in my fridge.

I did not even know powdered buttermilk existed! Will have to check it out. For a sub in baking I use 1 Tbsp of vinegar and then fill the milk to make 1 cup.

I like to have a muffin for mid morning snack at work. These look really delicious and I am going to try and make them,. If I can't find powdered buttermilk, how much of the liquid kind would I use? I also never heard of powdered buttermilk but totally agree how it always gets wasted when a recipe calls for a cup

Janel, Pam, Kat: Most supermarkets have this in the baking aisle, often in the paper canister. When I can find the packets, I prefer those because they can be stored in the cupboard. Once the canister is opened, it should be stored in the fridge.

Panya, I keep hoping someone from the buttermilk industry will read our complaints about large-size containers!

Daryl, for this recipe, use 1/2 cup of fresh buttermilk, and substitute it for the 1/2 cup of water.

Ah, so you need to store it in the refrigerator. That explains why my opened canister was filled with a hard buttermilk rock instead of fluffy buttermilk powder.

oh i've never seen powdered buttermilk! i've always used lemon juice and milk if i didn't have any on me. but this might be a great investment. thanks for sharing!

my issue with the dried is it is so hard to dissolve. i always end up with lumps of dry milk no matter how I try!

I have powdered buttermilk and have never thought of just adding water and using it in recipes as liquid buttermilk - what a great idea!
Mine is just bulk though, I don't have that cool little box. ;-)

Lisa, yes, store the canister in the refrigerator. It should keep for a few months without clumping, as long as it doesn't get damp. You can decant into a glass container with a tight-fitting lid, too.

Diva, I love the powdered buttermilk because I don't need to have both milk and lemon to make my own!

Erin, if you've stored the buttermilk in the refrigerator and it's still clumping (it should be fluffy and dry), perhaps it's absorbing some moisture. Try transfering it to a glass jar or plastic container.

Natashya, either the bulk or the packets will work fine. If you use powdered buttermilk in baking, most often you'll add the powder to the dry ingredients, and the water to the wet.

This has been one of my big culinary dilemmas for years - the issue of buttermilk gone sour. I've tried to keep the powdered buttermilk in stock, but for some reason, every time I've bought it, I go off the buttermilk baking kick, so it sits for month. And, of course, then I'm scrambling again for fresh when I need it for a recipe. I'm going to check out what new sizes of powdered packets might be available now.

Where can I buy the powdered buttermilk?

Fresh buttermilk can also be frozen, so you can buy a quart and get 4 cups for 4 recipes, and spread them out as you wish.

My dad (in Texas) has a box of powdered buttermilk in the fridge he offered to me, but now that you have to pay to check luggage, I doubt I could get it past security. "What's that strange white powder you're trying to carry aboard? Yeah, right."

interesting - who knew buttermilk was sold in packets?? great post!

Lydia....thanks! you would think that solution would have been obvious to me, eh? ; )

TW, the packets work really well and will stay fresh in the pantry for, oh, eons, I think. But see Sandra's comment below -- the fresh can be frozen, too.

Easy Recipes, it's in the baking aisle of most supermarkets.

Sandra, isn't it sad that we live in a world where buttermilk could be considered dangerous? My mother always said it was good for my health!

Giao, it is, and it's a great thing to have in the pantry if you can find it.

Erin, no problem. Glad to help!

wow! goodbye "hidden valley ranch" packets and hello "homemade ranch dressing."
also great for "homemade shake-n-bake!"

Ohhhh... I'm so thankful for you in this moment, Lydia. We don't like buttermilk in this house, but we love to cook with buttermilk! This is going into my bookmarks right now. :)

Now that I keep powdered buttermilk on hand we get to enjoy buttermilk pancakes almost every weekend - it's fantastic!

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