Substitutes for buttermilk

I’ve mentioned this several times before but I’ve never really written it up properly and have decided to do so to have a quick reference for myself.

If using citric acid, going by this recipe for using citric acid to replace lemon juice, then
1 cup milk + slightly less than 1/4 tsp citric acid.

In all cases, let the mixture stand for five to ten minutes before using.

1) From GourmetSleuth:

These subs. are good for baking and batters – not for uncooked foods like dressings.
For 1 cup buttermilk select one:
1 cup milk + 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup milk + 1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 cup milk + 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

2) Other pages give different quantities:
1 cup milk plus 1 3/4 tablespoons cream of tartar
1 cup milk plus 1 1/2 Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice OR 1 1/3 Tablespoons of cider vinegar to above milk amount.

3) For dairy-free alternatives, these suggestions from Dairy-Free Made Easy by Alisa Marie Fleming, Fleming Marrs:

Recipe I [too vague to be helpful :P]
2 to 3 tsps of lemon juice, apple cider vinegar or cream of tartar to one cup of non-dairy milk (rice, soy, oat etc.) —

Recipe II [very interesting!]
1/4 cup silken tofu
1/2 cup + 3 Tbs water
1 Tbs lemon juice or vinegar
pinch sea salt
–> Blend all ingredients together

4) This page extracted from The Gluten-Free Baker Newsletter has a thorough write-up including tips on:

* improving consistency by making 1 full cup, even when only 1/2 is required
* in recipes, to check for consistency rather than volume of the liquid when using low-fat milks
* differing results when using non-dairy milks
* in gluten-free recipes, if substituting regular milk with buttermilk, add 1/4 tsp baking soda to the dry mixture for every 1/2 cup buttermilk

All about scones

Scones are one of those inherently plain staples that you can add as much or as less little topping to, and which can be made sweet or savoury. That makes them ideal for those with food sensitivities as the whole family can enjoy the scones, customised to each individual. I’ve also turned to plain scones and muffins as bread alternatives when candidiasis has forced me to stay off yeasted breads.

I love scones when there’s nice thick cream available (Carrefour is a good source, in the form of the house brand crème frâiche), topped with a little bit of jam (my vote goes to Meridian brand organic fruit spreads, which have no added sugar and are particularly low in total sugars – as much as half of standard jams or even other organic brands) and enjoyed with a cup of strong English tea (my secret: Marks and Spencer tea bags, especially Red Label or Gold Label, and works out cheaper than standard supermarket brands). Recently, I tried out a few different scone recipes, including a new method I’ve never used before.

The first batch of scones I made were based on this recipe from my grandmother’s notebooks. omitting the sugar and salt. Comparing with Delia’s Smith’s recipe, the amount of butter looked too little to me, so I used a total of 50g butter. I’ve already written a fair bit about the method of making scones here, so please have a look.

N.B. I always make my scones with wholemeal flour. Sometimes I use all wholemeal, the scones here have been made with half wholemeal-half plain flour. The appropriate amount of baking powder to add is 4g (approx. 1tsp) per 100g of flour. Be careful: the same volume of wholemeal and plain flours weigh in differently.

You’ll notice in the photo that my scones were hexagonal in shape. That’s because I used a honeycomb scone cutter (which I’ve described here) that saves you having to roll out the leftover edges again and again. Each time you roll out the dough, it gets more tough too.

The scones came out OK. Even internal texture, dense in the way that scones should be but maybe a little too heavy. The bread-like consistency of this batch could also have been due to the fact that I used high-protein wholemeal bread flour because my packet was expiring and had to be used up quickly.

When I made scones again the following week, I decided to try out an interesting alternative method, which I saw on an America’s Test Kitchen free online video. In this method, the block of butter is frozen, then grated, and the grated bits then quickly mixed into the flour, without rubbing in. After adding the milk to make a dough and rolling it out, more grated butter is sprinkled evenly over the rolled out dough. Make sure that all your ingredients, not just the butter, are very cold.

Similar to making puff pastry, the dough is then folded in half and rolled out again, then put in the freezer to chill. After a short while, repeat the process by sprinkling more grated frozen butter, folding over and rolling out again, then put it back into the freezer.

Reading the buttermilk biscuits recipe in Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America, I’ve just learnt more about this method:

This dough is rolled and folded repeatedly before it is cut into biscuits, a technique referred to as lamination. Laminating a dough in this manner creates layers that add extra flakiness and height to the finished biscuit. Try to make as few scraps as possible. After cutting, you can reroll the dough scraps and cut out more biscuits, but the biscuits made from the trimmings are usually a little less tender than the first ones.

As I didn’t have the exact quantities of butter from the video, I adapted this cheese & garlic scones recipe I have used with great success many times. Instead of the 1/2 cup grated cheese, I measured out the same amount of grated butter. The main problem is that in the hot Singapore weather, grated butter bits melt faster than you can say ‘frozen butter’, which a big problem as you need to prevent the butter from melting in order to get the desired flaky texture.

When you take the dough out from the freezer after it’s chilled, roll out and shape the dough into a rectangular piece about 1/2-inch thick, this time, you can add dried fruit (raisins, blueberries, cranberries etc), distributing them evenly over the dough surface.

Fold the rectangle into thirds, so that it resembles a sort of loaf shape. Slice the loaf into pieces to shape the scones. I much prefer this method of shaping scones to using a cutter. It’s messy to keep having to roll out the dough and be left with odd bits, not to mention the problem of overworking the dough through repeated rolling out. Another method of shaping I use is to pat the dough into a round and cut into wedges.

Bake as normal. Recommended hot oven of 220°C for about 10 minutes or until golden and fragrant.

As you can see from the photo, the results here were distinctive in the lighter, flaky texture produced by the butter and puff pastry method. I loved it! According to the video, the trick is in really, really cold butter and dough, and quick, light handling.

The original recipe included plenty of sugar as well so that this scone is more like eating a piece of cake, without any extra cream, butter, jam that needs to be added when serving.

Making tofu at home P.S.

Sorry, in the last post, I missed out a whole bunch of great links with more photos, tips and information about making tofu at home.

The first is this super set of photos & instructions from The best thing about this is that it provides a cheap & easy solution to the problem of finding at tofu box & press! I’ve excerpted the instructions on how to make one from a used milk carton:



(See the original page here.)
Personally, I would use a fruit juice carton instead as milk smells tend to linger and aren’t easily so washed off the carton.

Here are some others who’ve tried making tofu: [excellent step-by-step instructions and tips with photos] [great step-by-step pics and tips] [has photo of a bottle of commercial Japanese nigari] [no photos, very detailed write-up] [tofu & spicy-foods-fan, Zlamushka, makes flavoured tofu with spices, both savoury and sweet] [sage, leek & dried wild mushroom tofu] [tomato, artichoke, garlic, basil tofu]

What interests me most are these recipes & tips for making the kind of tofu my whole family loves to eat, the Chinese tofu pudding dessert, 豆花 douhua/tau foo fa /tau huay: [includes photo of commercial packaged gypsum (calcium sulphate) powder from Hong Kong] [a modified version, using gelatine instead of gypsum]

There seems to be less information on the internet about making your own douhua/tau foo fa. My guess is that it’s because it’s not a tofu dish common in the west and most people making their own tofu are those who have difficulty buying it where they live. On the other hand, douhua is easily available in Chinese communities everywhere, and instead of DIY instructions, you’ll find tons of web discussions on where to find the best fresh douhua stall! For the uninitiated, this article and its discussion board is a good primer and discusses douhua in different Asian cultures.

Speaking of douhua stalls, I’ve long wondered what goes into the syrup they serve; why is it always that orange colour? I tend to have as little of it as possible, sometimes none. Singapore douha hawkers don’t bat an eyelid when I ask for no syrup, but in Taiwan, one stallholder engaged me in a prolonged discussion and even customers sitting at the stall joined in to question my strange eating habits!

Making tofu at home

After making soya bean milk at home, with okara and yuba as by-products, the next logical thing to try was making tofu. It was so easy and gave me a great sense of satisfaction (^_^). I refered to the ‘bible’ of tofu by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi.

For the coagulant, I used nigari, purchased from a health food store (Nature’s Glory). This is the coagulant usually used in Japan comprising mostly magnesium sulphate and is made by evaporating sea water. Shurtleff advises that ‘calcium sulfate, a fine white powder, is sometimes mislabelled in the West and sold as nigari. The latter usually has a coarse, granular or crystalline texture, natural nigari is beige and refined nigari is white.’

Aside from nigari, Epsom salts/magnesium sulphate (a popular antidote for food intolerance reactions!), gypsum/calcium sulphate, lemon or lime juice or vinegar can also be used as coagulants. The coagulant used for Chinese tofu is gypsum/calcium sulphate. Glucono delta-lactone (GDL) is a naturally occurring organic acid that is used to produce ‘silken’ tofu. Read more in my earlier post on coagulants for tofu.

The choice of coagulant affects the texture and taste of the tofu, as does the amount used. For firmer tofu, use nigari; softer tofu, use calcium sulphate. The amount of pressure used when pressing the tofu and the length of time it’s pressed also influences how soft or firm it is.

For a quantity of soya bean milk using 1 1/2 cups soya beans + 16 cups water, Shurtleff suggests:
* for subtly sweet, nigari tofu: 2 tsp natural nigari (magnesium chloride) or refined nigari (calcium chloride)
* for mild, soft tofu: 2 tsp Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) or gypsum (calcium sulphate)
* for subtly tart or sour tofu: 4 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice or 3 Tbs apple cider vinegar.

Here’s what I did:

To use nigari, dissolve 1 tsp nigari in 1 cup water. Reduce quantities as appropriate.
For every 4 cups soya bean milk, use 1/2 cup nigari solution.

1) Start by making soya bean milk. See the detailed instructions at Just Hungry.
2) After boiling the milk for 5 mins, remove from heat and leave to cool for another five minutes.
3) Slowly add coagulant and stir gently. Watch the curds form.


4) Leave for 10 mins and allow curds to settle in the bottom.
5) Prepare tofu-mould. Ideally, use a square/rectangular box with holes. If not, you can improvise with a colander but you will end up with an unevenly-shaped piece of tofu (see photo below). Next time, I will try using one of those plastic boxes for storing ready-made tofu from Daiso, or by Lock & Lock, which have an inner container or even non-tofu specific Daiso plastic containers with inner strainers.
6) Place a piece of muslin cloth into the colander/mould.
7) Gently scoop the curds into the muslin cloth. Squeeze out whey liquid.
8) Fold the cloth over the top of the curds.
9) Place a plate or something flat on top of the curds, and weight it down. I used an unopened 1kg bag of rice and balanced a heavy tin can on top.
10) Leave to set. The firmness of the tofu depends on how long it is left to set and how heavily it is weighted down. I left mine for about 3hrs and ended up with the firm consistency of taukwa, which can be easily fried.


This small slab (about 12cm or 5 inches across) was made from 2 cups of soya bean milk.

What to do with the whey liquid? If you’ve added the correct amount of coagulant, the whey will be amber-coloured and taste sweetish. Too little coagulant and the whey will be cloudy from bits of loose curds; too much coagulant and the whey will taste bitter.


Don’t throw away the whey as it’s full of B vitamin nutrients, protein (9% of the protein originally found in the dry soya beans) and natural sugars. You can add it to soup, use in cooking in place of other liquids, or even use it as a biodegradable soap! According to Shurtleff, traditional tofu shops in Japan use the whey to wash their equipment at the end of the day because the soy lecithin in whey cuts through fats. Whey can also be used as a facial wash or shampoo (how’s that for homemade, environmentally-friendly, chemical-free toiletries ?), washing and polishing wooden floors or woodwork to give a natural, seasoned look, as well as a plant nutrient.

Please check out Just Hungry’s detailed tofu-making instructions complete with step-by-step photos (she’s got a real tofu press!).
The comprehensive Wikipedia entry on tofu.
Read about the history of tofu in China here.

Don’t forget to check out my postscript to this entry, with many more links, including how to make your own tofu mould/press from a used milk carton!

Tahini soy muffins (no sugar)

Looking at my stocks, I realised I had some recently-expired kinako to use up so I decided to make nutty no-sugar muffins using kinako (soya beans) and tahini (sesame). You can buy kinako in Japanese grocery stores or Daiso, or even make it yourself from roasted soya beans. This was pretty experimental and I improvised all the way through, using a buttermilk muffin recipe as a base.

Incidentally, to give sugar-free muffins a bit more kick, eat them preferably hot, with salted butter, plain yoghurt, cream cheese or fresh cream (^_^) **mmmmmm**….



[N.B.: If you want to stick more strictly to anti-candida principles, then omit the pine nuts and replace dairy milk with alternatives.]

1 cup plain flour
3/4 cup wholemeal flour
1/4 cup kinako
2 Tbs okara [because I happen to have plenty lying around after making soya bean milk] — be sure to grind to fine powder
1 tablespoon black sesame & walnut powder [a packaged powdered grain drink, can omit]

11/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

handful of toasted pine nuts as desired

1 egg
3/4 cup soya bean milk
3/4 cup buttermilk [which I substituted with plain milk + 1/4 tsp citric acid]
30g melted butter – about 1/8 cup
3/8 cup tahini made from unhulled sesame seeds [I put the melted butter into measuring cup and added tahini up to total of 1/2 cup]
1 tsp vanilla essence

1) I sifted all the dry, powdered ingredients together.
2) Then stirred in pine nuts.
3) In another bowl, I combined egg, soya bean milk, buttermilk, butter and tahini.
4) Added dry ingredients to wet, mixed quickly in a few strokes till just mixed. Did not want to make the mistake of over-mixing which would make the muffins heavy and too dense. Although initially there seemed to be quite a lot of liquid, the mixture was just nice.
5) Preheated oven to 200℃. On previous attempts, my muffins never seemed to rise much so I decided to try a higher temperature and it seems to have worked. The muffins were done in precisely 20 mins as well. I suspect my 15 year-old oven is not as hot as what is the temperature dial but I’ll need to get an oven thermometer to check.

These taste delicious, even at room temperature! Plus the texture is the best of all the batches of muffins I’ve made recently (read about my muffin problems here). They are just right, not at all gummy, not too dry and the crumb texture is fine and even without much tunnelling.

Now the only thing is, the crack appears on the side of the muffin top, not in the centre. Maybe I’m just being silly here but I want my muffins to look perfect too!

Because the tahini I used was very dark brown in colour, these muffins came out in this deep colour. So the colour isn’t actually from the miniscule amount of black sesame powder but from the unhulled seeds in the tahini (which was made from normal white sesame seeds, not black sesame seeds).

Apple soy muffins (no sugar)


I’m back on the anti-candida diet so that means no more sweet snacks for the time being. No matter what Sue Dengate says about the counter-productiveness of combining anti-candida with Failsafe diets, I’m trying! It seems pretty logical to stay off sugars that feed the growth of yeast in the body. I think I’m experienced enough at trying to manage both individually to attempt to do both together. Recently I had to make a series of bento that were suitable for a vegetarian environment. Now that’s a major creativity challenge (admittedly, I didn’t keep to either an anti-candida or Failsafe diet strictly for that whole series of vegetarian bento :P)!

Frustrated with the less-than-satisfactory muffin results of my last batch (see the update on Green tea, azuki bean and pine nut muffins), I decided to make some apple muffins, which were my fortnightly staple — alternating with scones — when I was following the anti-candida diet a few years ago. Apples provide flavour and a hint of sweetness, and I’ve even had friends unable to detect the complete absence of sugar.

This time I decided to try something a little different. Have been thinking of trying a buttermilk muffin recipe for some time, hoping that the buttermilk will provide a bit more lift in the batter. It just so happened that I came across one in an Ayurvedic vegetarian cookbook I recently picked up, Heaven’s Banquet by Miriam Kasin Hospodar. I like the detailed explanations about each category of recipes, the thorough background information makes this book much better than simply a collection of recipes. The book has a half page on the ‘The Seven Pillars of Eggless Muffin Wisdom’, the last being that ‘eggless muffins become leaden and clunky if they sit too long, so it is best to bake them just before serving’. That didn’t sound so good to me, especially after suffering heavy gummy muffins of late, so I decided to keep the 1 egg I have been using all along, but adapt the instructions for including buttermilk+bicarbonate of soda (which react with each other, as I explained here).

I also made soya bean milk yesterday, with okara as a by-product, so I added in a handful of dried okara into the flours. This is supposed to help produce a lighter texture.


1 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup plain flour
handful of okara
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
cinnamon, generous sprinkle (approx. 1 tsp?)

1 apple, chopped

3/4 cup yoghurt [to replace buttermilk; there’s a large tub of yoghurt with live cultures in my fridge to assist in the anti-candida diet]
1 cup soya bean milk
1 egg
1/4 cup oil

1) Sift dry ingredients together.
2) Toss apple bits in flour mixture.
3) Mix together wet ingredients.
4) Put all of the dry ingredients into wet mixture. Combine quickly till just mixed, about 15 strokes. Over-mixing will produce a heavy muffin.
5) Bake in preheated oven. I made it hotter than the 180℃, which I used to use, by using the ‘fan bake’ function. Hospodar’s muffin recipe recommends 200℃. Bake until golden brown and fragrant, 20-30 mins. I had a really big apple so there were lots of apple bits that made the surrounding batter soft and wet, even when the muffins were done, so skewers didn’t come out clean but upon dissecting a muffin, they seemed to be ready.

Recently, for some reason I seem to have lost my ability to determine whether something in the oven is done. The baking instructions never seem to be right and skewers come out clean but they aren’t done, or skewers are not clean but they seem ready. I’m beginning to wonder about the temperature control in my rather old oven; will have to invest in an oven thermometer. Another problem is having the baking trays on different racks on the oven, necessitating switching them around half way to ensure even baking. This never works for me though – the lower rack inevitably gets less heat at the all-important initial rising period so that tray is always not as good. I also must start paying more attention to my bakeware as dark and silver surfaces produce different results.


You can see an airy texture inside, without large tunneling or the gummy texture of the green tea muffins.

But guess what, I forgot to crush the dried okara chunks into a fine powder texture, so I ended up with these dry airy bits inside (the white part in the centre of photo). Okara is tasteless and I don’t really notice these dry chunks, but they don’t really add anything to the muffin, so it would be better to have all the okara crushed into a coarse grain instead.

To serve these sugarless muffins to friends and family with more conventional tastes, I cut a small hollow in the centre of each muffin and filled it with jam or marmalade.

I often don’t use paper cases because it’s wasteful and unnecessary. In this case, I wanted to make the muffins more presentable to give to friends, and also I used the paper cases to measure out smaller muffins (as compared to the giant size of normal muffin tins). I have a stack of 1000 paper cases to use up anyway (yes, that is the standard pack size in baking stores, or you can get packs of a few tens for an exorbitant price at supermarkets).

One problem of paper cases is that some of the muffin will stick to the paper. Muffins stick to the paper cases much more when they are hot; at room temperature, the paper cases will peel off relatively nicely, though there is the small problem of paper fibres sticking to the muffin (rather than bits of muffin sticking to the paper). [29/6/08 update: the more expensive glazed paper cases have less muffin sticking to them; they usually come in black or dark brown (think of the cases for expensive chocolates).]

Muffins: green tea, red beans and pine nuts

Inspired by the visual effect of this cake on Obachan’s Kitchen – the sliced black soya beans amidst the green cake, I decided that today’s rapid-baking session to fulfil urgent take-away snack needs would comprise my faithful muffin recipe, spiced up by matcha, azuki beans and pine nuts.

[N.B.: If you want to stick more strictly to anti-candida principles, then omit the pine nuts and replace dairy milk with alternatives, and perhaps avoid the green tea too. Guess that leaves you with a red bean muffin!]


Ingredients & baking notes:

1) 2 tsp matcha green tea powder for 2 cups of flour. This is the quantity I derived from making green tea glutinous rice balls. A very delicate matcha flavour and I think I could have used more in the muffins as wholemeal flour has a stronger taste compared to white flour so unless you are paying attention, the green tea flavours might just pass unnoticed. The brown colour of the muffin is from the wholemeal flour, no sign of green tea at all (no wonder so many commercial green tea products use colouring).

2) I cooked 1/2 cup dried red beans using this method. Cook till just soft and not disintegrated, and make sure they are dry enough to separate out into individual beans before mixing into the batter.

3) The pine nuts were roasted beforehand, by dry-frying in a skillet over very low heat.

4) Just over 1/4 cup of white sugar went in. I wasn’t sure what would be the appropriate amount to balance out the bitterness of the matcha and the bean taste. In the end, I think there wasn’t enough green tea taste and I could have used a little less sugar (or perhaps none at all, in which case everyone else in my family would be spitting this out at the first mouthful).

5) Decided to use butter instead of vegetable oil today.

Verdict: it was OK tastewise, but I think the main problem is that I don’t like the texture of this muffin recipe anymore. It seems too close-textured and sort of gummy. And they don’t rise enough to produce those enticing giant cracks on the top. [13/2/08 update: reheated the frozen muffin in microwave for a snack, and somehow they seem very nice today!?! The texture is crumbly and light – maybe they just needed a bit more cooking time? Useful to slightly underbake muffins that will all be frozen, so that the reheating won’t dry them out too much. The pine nuts and red beans are great but not enough green tea taste.]

I got rather sick of these muffins after a period where I was making a big batch of them once every week or every fortnight (in the days when the only food intolerance friendly snacks I made were muffins and scones). Today was the first time in many months that I’d made them but no, I’m still sick of them.

Looks like it’s time to be more adventurous with my basic muffin recipe. I used to avoid ones that use buttermilk because it’s so expensive, but now that I know some substitutes for buttermilk, there’s no excuse not to try them .

12/6/08 update: made these muffins again as I needed a sugar-free snack (omitted sugar this time) for bento. Increased the amount of green tea powder to 2 1/2 Tbsp and it was great. Also, the texture is definitely slightly gummy. A check on various troubleshooting websites suggests that there’s too much liquid. I also wonder if I have been over-mixing the batter…


Making coconut milk

There are numerous Southeast Asian desserts that feature a soup of coconut milk. So when I made these Five-Coloured Glutinous Rice Balls, I substituted the cow’s milk with coconut milk for a more fragrant soup.

Choose a mature coconut that’s not too old. Use a large knife to chop into quarters then peel off the brown husk.

coconut milk peeling

Then grate the white flesh as finely as possible.

coconut milk grating

A traditional grater, such as this one which my family has been using for decades, is made from aluminium and has dozens of tiny sharp teeth. This produces much finer shreds than conventional western graters.

coconut grater
coconut grater closeup

Add a little bit of water to the grated coconut, then put into a muslin cloth. The more water you add the thinner the milk will be so it’s better to start with a thick consistency as you can always dilute it later. Squeeze hard to extract the coconut milk (first yield). When no more liquid will come out, add more water and repeat squeezing (second yield).

coconut milk squeezing

In a pot, bring the coconut milk to a boil then turn off the heat. A couple of pandan leaves knotted together can be added for a fragrant taste.

coconut milk cooking
This is the amount produced from half a coconut.

Coconut milk turns very easily so refrigerate as soon as possible and use it up in a couple of days. It’s also very rich, so one can easily get an upset stomach from consuming too much as well.

Read more information about choosing coconuts and making coconut milk in Southeast Asian cooking here (Thai) and here (Indonesian).

23/12/07 update: See my post on graters for coconut and other foods.

9/4/08 Update: Traditional coconut graters on display at the National Museum of Singapore, read more here. And see also my solution to improving the yield for homemade coconut milk.