The Best Thing for Your Morning Toast since Sliced Bread
Everyone knows butter. It’s that great tasting stuff we spread on toast and dinner rolls. Or whip into mashed potatoes to make them particularly scrumptious. Or beat into icing to top the perfect cake.
But make your own? Come on, you must be kidding. Everyone knows you buy it at the supermarket, where you find it packed in neat rectangular boxes. The ones that contain 4 quarter-pound sticks wrapped in waxed paper or foil. Or if you want to go upscale, you buy those ½ pound slabs of European (or “European-style”) butter that cost twice as much as the standard supermarket stuff, in return for better flavor.
Anyway, don’t you need a churn to make butter? You know, liked they used in Little House on the Prairie? Who has one of those?
Well, good news. You don’t need a churn. If you have a mixer (or blender or food processor), you can make your own butter in no more than 20 minutes. It’s quick and easy! And when it comes to flavor, homemade crushes even the best and fanciest store-bought premium butters.
Best of all? You don’t even need your own cow.
Recipe: Homemade Butter
If you’ve ever made whipped cream and overbeat it — resulting in a curdled mess — you were halfway to making your own butter. If you whip cream long enough (essentially churning it), you’ll cause the fat globules in the cream to clump together and separate from the remaining liquid (“buttermilk”). So making butter is really a twofer: You get both homemade butter and homemade buttermilk.
Fresh, organic cream is ideal for making butter. But I just use the regular heavy cream (not the ultra-pasteurized stuff) that I find in the supermarket. For the best deal, I buy it in quart containers (much cheaper than those little 8-ounce jobs). Because you get both butter and buttermilk from your cream, you actually end up saving a bit of money by making your own.
This recipe is as old as, well, butter: You just agitate cream until it curdles. You can use a churn, a mixer, or even pour the cream into a jar and shake it. Do a Google search and you’ll find lots of recipes, all virtually identical. The one I found most useful is from a July 1, 2007 article in the New York Times Magazine by Daniel Patterson, which I used as the source for my recipe.
You can use any quantity of cream to make butter, but it’s easiest (and most efficient) to use a quart or more. For this recipe, I used one quart (4 cups) of cream; many recipes suggest 6 cups. One quart of cream yields about 13 ounces of butter, and about 2 cups of buttermilk. Butter is easiest to make in a stand mixer (see Notes for other methods). Total preparation time is maybe 20 minutes.
Well-wrapped butter will stay fresh in your refrigerator for a week or two, and in your freezer for at least a month (see Notes for more info). Buttermilk will stay fresh for about a week; I’ve never tried freezing it.
- 1 quart heavy cream (4 cups; preferably regular heavy cream, not ultra-pasteurized — see Notes)
- salt to taste (optional)
|Butter ready to be drained (left) and after kneading (right)
- Pour cream into the bowl of a stand mixer, and let sit for about half an hour to warm (you can make butter when the cream is at any temperature, but it works best when it’s about 50 degrees F).
- Attach the bowl to your mixer (using the splatter guard, if you have one).
- Attach the wire whip, and place some plastic wrap over the top of the mixer (liquid buttermilk will splatter out of the bowl once the butter forms).
- Turn the mixer on to medium-high, and beat the cream. It will form soft peaks, then stiff peaks. Then it will turn a yellowish color and begin to form little granules (which may become as big as pebbles, and will probably start clumping together). You’ll know when the cream has curdled and the butter is ready: The wire whip will kick up droplets of buttermilk, which will splatter against the plastic wrap that you placed over the mixer (you did use plastic wrap, didn’t you?). When this starts to happen, turn off the mixer. This whole process usually takes 5 to 10 minutes.
- Set a large fine-mesh strainer (in a pinch, you can use a colander with small holes) over a bowl, and dump the contents of the mixer into the strainer. Allow the buttermilk to drain into the bowl for a minute or so.
- Leaving the butter in the strainer, use your hands to “work” (squeeze and knead) it for 5 to 10 minutes. This process will squeeze out every last drop of buttermilk and concentrate the butter’s flavor. (Doing this in the strainer allows the excess buttermilk to drain directly into the buttermilk bowl). You’ll know you’re done when you’re no longer expelling buttermilk, and the texture of the butter becomes dense and, well, buttery. (Some people like to rinse butter in cold water before kneading; I don’t, but see Notes.)
- Put the buttermilk into an airtight container and refrigerate (but take a sip first; this is some of the best tasting buttermilk you’ll ever have).
- If you want to salt your butter (I don’t), add salt to taste — start with ½ teaspoon of kosher or sea salt, and knead into the butter. Taste, and add more if necessary, kneading it in.
- Transfer the butter to an airtight container (I often roll it into logs in a sheet of shrink wrap) and refrigerate or freeze.
- You can also make butter in a food processor (the plastic blade works better than metal) or a blender (in which case, use only about 2 cups of cream; a quart will be too much unless the bowl of your blender is large). Or you can use a hand mixer (watch out for flying buttermilk at the end). If you have strong wrists, you can even put the cream into a mason jar and shake it until the butterfat congeals and separates from the buttermilk. But using a stand mixer is the easiest way.
- I have not made butter with ultra-pasteurized cream. But from what I’ve read, regular heavy cream (usually 40% butterfat) yields a slightly better tasting result, and the butter forms a bit quicker. But ultra-pasteurized should work if that's all you can find.
- If any buttermilk remains in the butter, it can cause the butter to go rancid after a couple of weeks. For that reason, some people (and most commercial butter makers) rinse their butter before kneading. If you wish to do so, here’s how: At the beginning of Step 5, remove the strainer from the bowl. Refrigerate the buttermilk. Then place the “pebbles” of butter in a large bowl filled with cold water, and begin kneading the butter. As you do so, the fresh water will help dilute and remove the buttermilk. Change the water once, and then remove the butter (it should be almost ready by this time). Knead on a hard surface until it becomes, well, butter.
- Rinsing will help the butter stay fresh longer. But here at Kitchen Riffs central, we go through the butter so fast (and freeze whatever we don't immediately use) that for us this is a moot point.
- The “buttermilk” you buy at the supermarket is cultured — meaning it’s not a byproduct of butter making. It doesn’t taste nearly as good as what you’ll be making.
- It’s traditional to use wooden paddles for kneading and shaping butter. Using these keeps your hands cleaner, and they make it easier to form the butter into rectangular blocks. The paddles generally have one grooved side, so you can also impart a nice groovy surface to your butter if you wish. I’m fine with using my hands to shape butter, but the wooden paddles are a cool kitchen gadget.
- If you really get into butter making, you might want to start investigating sources of locally produced cream. Vendors at farmers’ markets sometimes sell organic cream of high quality. The better the cream, the better your butter.
- That’s partly because the diet of the cows that produce the cream can affect the flavor of the butter. Butter from France’s Normandy region is considered to be some of the best, reportedly because of the grass their cows eat.
No More Store-Bought Butter!
“So what prompted you to make butter?” asked Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, slathering a second slice of toast (made from her No-Knead Bread).
“Well,” I answered, “remember when we visited the new location of Niche Restaurant? And they served us their aged homemade butter?” (Niche is a nice local restaurant. If you ever visit St Louis, it’s well worth checking out.)
“Yeah, that whole meal was great,” Mrs K R answered, half-gazing into the distance as she remembered the occasion. “But you’re right — the butter was a standout.”
“Anyway, that got me thinking about making butter. I remembered reading about it some time ago. But until I started making our own, I had no idea how easy it was. Or how tasty.”
“This is definitely better than anything we buy at the store,” Mrs K R said. “And the color is beautiful — such a gorgeous yellow!”
She took another bite, chewing thoughtfully. “You know, once I learned how easy it was to bake our own bread — and how good it was — we haven’t bought bread since,” she said.
I could see the wheels turning in her head. Finally, she added, “This is some really nice butter you’ve made here. And easy too, huh?”
I can take a hint.
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