Buttermilk Bread

The leftover liquid derived from beating or churning cream into butter, genuine buttermilk has been prized by Southerners for centuries, not only as a delicious drink but also as a key ingredient in certain biscuits, cornbreads, loaf breads, cakes, and pies. Today, most buttermilk you find in markets is cultured skim milk, and while it’s not as thick or as rich as the beverage I drank as a child, I think it’s still far superior to regular whole milk when it comes to baking virtually all Southern breads. This yeasty, tangy loaf, for example, is ideal for sandwiches and makes a mockery of commercial sliced bread at the breakfast table. Just never forget that when baking anything with buttermilk, you must neutralize the high acidity with an alkali such as baking soda—a cardinal rule that many cooks (and cookbook authors) fail to observe.

Ingredients

  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • ½ cup lukewarm water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup regular buttermilk
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water

Method

In a small bowl, combine the yeast, water, and sugar, stir, and let proof till bubbly, about 5 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk and whole milk and add the yeast mixture and salt. Add 1 cup of the flour plus the baking soda and mix well. Continue adding the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing steadily with a wooden spoon and, if necessary, adding a little more flour till the dough is smooth and not sticky. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes. Place in a well-greased bowl, turn to coat all sides, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm area till fully doubled in bulk, at least 2 hours.

Transfer the dough back to the working surface, punch down, and knead about 5 minutes. Grease a 9 by 5 by 3–inch loaf pan with butter. Place the dough in the loaf pan, cover again, and let rise till doubled in bulk, 1½ to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Slash three lines along the top of the dough with a razor blade, brush the top with the egg wash, and bake till the bread sounds hollow when thumped, about 45 minutes. Transfer the bread to a rack and let cool.