Monday, January 08, 2007


2 Recipes with Buttermilk - Oven-Fried Chicken and Buttermilk, Cinnamon and Pecan Cake

Before the divine poetess Suzanne headed for Paris, she left my angelheart Eric and I with a few items she was afraid would "go off" while abroad. One of these items was buttermilk. I had never used it before but knew about its tanginess. Most buttermilk in the U.S. is of the cultured variety, whereby lactic acid is added to non-fat or low-fat milk, though there are some products in which the lactic acid has been added to whole milk, yielding a much creamier consistency.

 I had never heard of buttermilk before moving to the U.S., so I didn't know what to do with it. Upon its receipt, I recalled an episode of Barefoot Contessa in which Ina Garten marinated chicken pieces in buttermilk before lightly frying and oven-baking them. My angelheart Eric loves fried chicken, though he eats it infrequently, and he suggested we try it this healthier way. I pulled out Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Family Style and promptly set about making the chicken. The only adjustment I made was to the dredging flour to which, in addition to salt, I added Sichuan peppercorns and cumin. The quantities of the recipe serve 2-3.

Oven-Fried Chicken
(from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Family Style)
1 chicken (1.5 pounds/almost 3/4 kg), or your favorite chicken pieces
1/2 quart buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper (we didn't use this on account of the Sichuan peppercorns)
2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns, ground
1 tablespoon cumin, lightly toasted then ground
vegetable oil

1) Place chicken pieces in a large bowl and pour buttermilk over them.
2) Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
3) Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).
4) Combine flour, salt, pepper, or Sichuan pepper and cumin in a bowl; this is the dredging flour.
5) Take chicken out of buttermilk and coat each piece in the dredging flour and put aside.
6) Pour oil into a large heavy-bottomed pot (to avoid the splashing of oil over stove top) to a depth of one inch. Heat up to 360 F (185 C).
7) In batches, place pieces of chicken in the oil and fry for about three minutes on each side.
8) Place chicken on a metal baking rack set on a baking sheet, or place chicken on very lightly oiled aluminum lined baking sheet (but the chicken pieces will not turn out as crispy).
9) When all the chicken is fried, bake for 30-40 minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink inside.

In my humble opinion, if you do not add any herbs or spices to the dredging flour, then the chicken is pretty nondescript. The Sichuan peppercorns are quite lemony, and the cumin echoes that really well but on a lower, sort of background note, like a soothing double bass. They are great partners in crime for the dredging flour, giving the final product a little bite and a lot of soul.

The second recipe comes out a desire to enact a late-dawning realization: that I need a sweet hit in the late afternoon with my coffee. In my childhood this was known as afternoon tea. When I'd return home from a hard day at school (from primary right through to high school), there would be a homemade slice of cake or a cookie waiting for me. Once I was done with high school, I was pretty much done with afternoon tea - I was a grown up after all, or so I thought (but that's another story). In the last year or so I have noticed that I start craving for, what I thought was, something to eat at around 3pm. So, I'd just gorge myself on anything I could find: apples, bread, dried figs, walnuts...Sometimes the craving would be satisfied, sometimes it wouldn't. I slowly realized that it is a slice cake or a cookie, a hit of sweetness in a couple of bites, that satisfies the afternoon craving.

Now, back to the story at hand, I have heard of buttermilk being used in baking. For example, it is popularly used in pancake batter in Solvang, the former Danish town that acts as a gateway to Southern California's wine country. Whilst leafing through the (too?) many cookery books in my possession, I came across an interesting recipe in Tamasin Day-Lewis' Tamasin's Kitchen Bible. She, in turn, takes the recipe from Sally Clarke's repertoire. The only change I made was the substitution of pecans for walnuts, which I always seem to have on hand.

Sally Clarke's Buttermilk, Cinnamon and Pecan Cake
(from Tamasin Day-Lewis' Tamasin's Kitchen Bible)

8oz (225g) flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5oz (140g) sugar
5oz (140g) light muscovado sugar
2oz (55g) pecans (or walnuts in my case), chopped
5 fluid oz (150ml) vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1 small egg
8 fluid oz (240ml) buttermilk

1) Heat oven to 325 F (170 C).
2) Mix flour with salt, cinammon, sugars, walnuts (pecans), and oil.
3) Mix in a separate bowl the baking powder, baking soda, egg, and buttermilk.
4) Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and combine until smooth.
5) Pour cake mix into a greased and lined tin and bake for approximately 40 minutes.
6) Test with a skewer, and if skewer is clean, then cool on a rack.

I love watching the cake deflate as it is cooling on a rack. For me, this very moist cake has satisfied the sweet late-afternoon cravings, but do not understand this to mean it is tooth-achingly sweet, for it is not. I love the crunch of the walnuts, the mild spice of the cinnamon, but most of all the moistness that the combination of buttermilk and vegetable oil imparts.
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I just started to use buttermilk last year for cooking and baking. It is wonderful, isn't it. Both the chicken and the cake look divine!
I really need to start using buttermilk! I think its something I could really use in my cooking since I like the tanginess. Your fried chicken looks fantastic. That was all I ate as a child :D.
Sara - Yes, using buttermilk has ensured a very moist cake in this case, and I'm sure that has something to do with the vegetable oil too. I am keen to try more recipes with it.

Veron - The tanginess is actually tempered in baking, but it still adds a nice dimension to the final result. I should imagine it would be great instead of regular milk with traditionally sweet cakes, like carrot cake. The fried chick is better with the addition of the spices; it really is quite bland, though tender inside, without them.
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