Sunday, August 24, 2014

Cooking with Sour Milk: Kit's Spice Cake and Biscuits

Don't just pour it all down the drain!

A few weekends ago, my parents and brother were out of town, leaving my sister and I in charge of the homestead. My sister vastly overestimated how much milk two people (or three, including her boyfriend) would be drinking while they were gone, so we wound up with about a gallon of expired milk. I was pretty mad until I remembered hey, sour milk actually works pretty well in baking, and quickly ran off to find things to make with it.

When I mentioned this to some friends, they were very surprised and more than a little dubious about how well this would work. Wouldn't expired milk make me sick, even if it was something I was baking with?

Fear not! While I wouldn't recommend drinking it straight out of the jug or leaving it to sit around for weeks and weeks (seriously, please don't do that), sour milk has been used in baking long before I wound up in this jam, so today, we're going to talk about three ways you can stretch any expired milk you might have in the house.

During the Depression, people were very focused on finding ways to make their food dollar stretch. With uncertain financial futures, most families really needed to make sure nothing was being wasted, and if milk went bad - which isn't hard to do, especially if you couldn't afford ice for an icebox - you really needed to find a way to incorporate it anyway just to make sure you weren't effectively throwing out something that could help feed your family until you could afford to buy more. Because of this, there are a lot of recipes from this period that can be made with sour milk, most of which came from creative housewives who basically used it as a buttermilk substitute.

This might all sound a little odd to us, but as long as you cook the milk to kill off any bacteria that might be going to town in there, it's seriously perfectly safe! The cakes that result are moist and delicious, and this spice cake is no exception. Even Kit's mother's snooty garden club friends would have a hard time seeing this as anything more than an elegant, tasty cake!

You start off by creaming butter (the recipe calls for shortening, but we like butter better for cakes) and sugar together, sifting the dry ingredients, and then adding one egg to the wet ingredients.

You dissolve some baking soda in the sour milk, and then alternate adding the dry ingredients with the milk and soda mix, beating well in between each addition. You're left with a nice thick cake batter.

Pour all that into a pan...

Bake it in the oven for about half an hour at 350 degrees, and you've got a delicious cake!

My only warning while making this is that my cake took a lot longer than half an hour to set in the center, a lot like what happened the second time I made my coconut tea cake. It didn't overbake on the edges, but the center was really soft and gooey for a long time, and required a couple quick trips back in the oven. Overall, it took maybe 45 minutes for my cake to bake, and it tasted great, so don't lose hope if you're hit with the same challenges!

The next way we put the milk to use was in biscuits! I love biscuits, and I was definitely excited to see what sour milk biscuits would taste like, since I've only ever made them with real buttermilk before.

This is a pretty standard biscuit recipe. You get your dry ingredients together and then cut up your cold shortening with a pastry cutter. Again, we used butter because as it turns out, we actually didn't have any real shortening in the house, but either way, it does the same job. Once it's all nice and crumbly, you add in the milk and carefully mix everything together. Don't over mix! Your biscuits will get all hard and gross instead of fluffy and flaky.

I don't know if I've just gotten more comfortable handling biscuit dough or if this recipe just made dough that was easier to work with, but I really felt like this was the easiest to handle dough I've ever worked with for something like this. I got really nice cuts with my cookie cutter and got them onto the baking sheet without feeling like I was mangling them or over handling the dough.

These got popped in the oven for about fifteen minutes, and came out looking beautiful!

The biscuits were absolutely addictive. I easily could have eaten an entire batch by myself, and they were a hit with my taste testers too. They're so easy to throw together and require so few ingredients to make, it's no surprise that they were a popular side dish at tables throughout the country during the 1930's, and they're something that can easily be stored to use for tomorrow's dinner or lunch if there are any leftovers.

The spice cake was similarly very delicious. Spice cakes and cookies most people usually seem to associate with the fall and winter because they've got a little bit of a kick to them, but this was flavorful without tasting like something that has to be served at Christmas. It easily could be! But it works well as a summer treat too, especially with some whipped cream and chopped up fruit like peaches. The cake was super moist with a really nice body - I like when you can chop off a slice and eat it with your hands! - and could easily be a breakfast treat, too!

Now, I didn't do a thorough retelling of the third way we used the milk because I wasn't really involved in the cooking process, but my mom used it instead of yogurt to marinate some chicken for dinner! It worked pretty much just as well as it would have if we'd used the yogurt. The chicken was tender and juicy, and there wasn't a huge difference in flavor.

So there you have it. Unfortunately, most Americans live in a culture where we waste a lot of food. Grocery stores have to throw out slightly rotten fruit and vegetables that would be perfectly fine to eat if you just cut away the bad spots, which is what people during the Depression would have done anyway.This is a great thing because it helps stop people from accidentally eating something that might make them sick, but it's kind of a bad thing, too, because most people's first response at home is to throw out anything they don't feel like eating, too. I'm not saying you should try to save everything and anything, even if it's moldy or clearly unsafe to eat, but next time you have some expired milk sitting around, don't despair! You can still put it to good use in your kitchen and create something really tasty.

I know you definitely won't regret giving these two recipes a try!


  1. Great post! Reminds me of growing up, LMAO

    1. Glad you enjoyed! If you've got any good family recipes to share, don't be shy. ;D

  2. Awesome! I can totally see that this is something my Nana would have made (was a young adult during the Great Depression). We can be an awfully wasteful society, its nice to see ways to curb that!

    1. It really is! I'd definitely like to explore more in the future. Nice to hear about another Nana who knew how to put ingredients to good use. :D

  3. Sour milk/buttermilk also reacts well with baking soda and cocoa powder to make a rich chocolate cake. I usually throw out milk when it has gone bad. That always happens when it's too hot to turn on the oven.

    1. My mom made a cake like that several years ago, it was super tasty! Definitely have to try something like that again. :)