There are a few staples that I keep stocked in my kitchen at all times:  all-purpose flour, brown sugar, white sugar, eggs, unsalted butter, and buttermilk.  There is so much that can be done with these simple ingredients and I get anxiety when I see I am missing any of them.  You never know when the urge to bake cookies will take hold and you need to be prepared!

Of all of these versatile staples, buttermilk may be my favorite.

My first memory of buttermilk doesn’t involve a meal, but rather a movie.  When I was little I loved watching the cartoon movie based on the book Charlotte’s Web.  I vividly remember a scene where the farmer’s wife makes buttermilk pancakes (who cares about the rest of the movie, I remember buttermilk pancakes).  I had no idea what buttermilk was, but it sounded good and those cartoon pancakes drenched in cartoon syrup made my mouth water.

Buttermilk wasn’t a staple in the pantry of my childhood.  Besides the occasional use of powdered buttermilk, I never remember seeing my mom use the real thing (note: powdered buttermilk is actually quite useful, but it’s just not the same as liquid buttermilk).  Once I moved into an apartment and really began cooking for myself, I quickly learned that buttermilk is not only a supremely useful ingredient, but a versatile and luxurious one as well.

I love the way thick and rich buttermilk glugs out of the carton and adds tang and moisture to dishes.  Whether it’s added to muffins, cakes, folded into mashed potatoes, whisked into soups, used to make homemade creme fraiche, even more muffins, and of course pancakes, I can’t get enough buttermilk.

Now, I will also be using buttermilk in quick breads.  This moist and healthy quick bread with the robust flavor of molasses and hearty textures of whole-grains, is expertly pulled together with beautiful buttermilk.  Perfect.

Molasses-Buttermilk Bread

Makes one 4-x 8-inch loaf

From Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Note:  This bread is wonderful served with whipped cream cheese.

1/2 cup rye flour

1/2 cup cornmeal

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 cup unsulfured molasses

3/4 cups raisins, chopped dates, or currants (I used pitted medjool dates)

Preheat oven to 350°F and spray and flour a bread pan.  Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl; whisk the wet ingredients together in a second bowl.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir quickly to combine.  Stir in the fruit.  Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool for at least 15 minutes in the pan before turning out onto a rack for serving.

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