Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Butter in Any Language...

...is always delicious.  So, today is butter - an ingredient so often maligned, blamed, and imitated with truly awful analogs (I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! - Really? I can).  Making butter always conjured images of someone churning for hours on end, and for some reason always struck me as difficult.  So today's process is a story of not going with your gut.  Sometimes, going with your gut is a really good idea - but if I had done so, I would have never made delicious butter.  

This is a process for what is usually called 'sweet cream' butter. Allow yourself to be amazed at how much you've been missing by getting those squared-off blocks and spread some on your bread, add some to your vegetables, and never again return to an imitation that calls itself out in its brand name.

Sweet Cream Butter
- Heavy Cream (Any kind you want: ultra-pasteurized, regular, or you can skim it from the top of raw milk, though if you want to do this be sure that the milk has rested for a few days, better yields come from a well-rested milk than fresh)
Seriously, you only need heavy cream for this (and some salt if you like to add it to your butter).  Throw your cream in a jar which has a good lid so that it is 1/2 - 2/3 of the way full.  You can do this in whatever quantity you would like.  Make all the butter you want or need.  
Now, shake your jar* in a vigorous manner for a good bit.  You need to be firm and confident with your cream - you are clobbering membranes here.  The membranes must be thoroughly clobbered before you can possibly have any hope of delicious butter.

A note on the shaking - you well may grow weary and a bit dinted from all the vibration.  If you feel this way, pass the jar to a spouse, child, or any person reasonably capable of performing a good shake and have a whiskey sour, a Campari on the rocks, or a few raw oysters.  Also, at some point you will inevitably feel as though you have a jar of thick whipped cream that is no longer moving, do not give up here, an amazing transformation will take place shortly!

The transformation will look something like a whitish liquid and small globules of butter suddenly moving around.  You now have butter and buttermilk**!  You are now at a crossroads again, though less morally ambiguous as yesterday's.  If you plan to use your butter soon (like that day), give it a few more shakes to get it to the point of clobbered cleavage, take it out of the jar and put it in some kind of urn (you can also add some salt now if you'd like).  

Alternately, if you have either made a tremendous quantity of butter, or would like to use it in the future you need to give it a wash.  To do this, get a nice bit of very cold (possibly ice) water.  After extracting and saving your buttermilk, pour a bit of water into the jar and shake, it will get cloudy.  Pour this off.  Add some more water and mash your butter around a few times with a fork.  Pour the cloudy water off again.  Repeat this alternating process a few times until your water is reasonably clear.  Then do the same as above.  Urn it and cool it off, it will last about a week if you've done a good job washing.

* Please do this by the jar method.  I am not even going to tell you another way because it is just such a caricature of everything I stand for.  You can probably figure it out though.

** Save your buttermilk.  This is not the sour-tasting stuff you get for pancakes.  That is usually just skim milk with some cultures in it.  You can culture this buttermilk if you would like, but it goes nicely in pancakes, or any number of other baking applications.  You can also just drink it.



  1. Hey, this was sweet no pun intended. I m curious what you mean by urn? You said put it in a urn and then urn it off... I looked at a video and the person uses a cheesecloth which I understood would that be the same step.
    Also Do you ever add other ingredients like garlic and if so when would that happen?

    If this is not appropriate forum I wont feel bad if you delete my comment.

    Its always good to read this with a coffee in the morning.
    Thanks. matt.

  2. Hey Matt, thanks for reading! An urn could really be anything that could hold the butter. Some people squeeze it in a cheesecloth to get some extra moisture out/give it a different shape. For storage, any container would qualify as an "urn," I just like the term "urn" so I used it. Add other ingredients like garlic or honey or whatnot right before you cool it (after the last wash with water), as it will be most pliable at that stage. Mash them in with a fork or spoon to be sure you get them incorporated fully.

  3. Did this last night with charming assistant, two empty dishwasher washed Bonne Maman jars and 200ml total ultra pasteurized heavy cream. Worked great! I forgot to have the jar half-full and only had 1/3 full. But it was done in 14 minutes! Amazing! Thanks for this, R. I'm eager to try making rum butter this way; would adding sugar at the beginning affect the chemistry, do you think?

  4. So happy things worked! For rum butter I would suggest doing the process first (getting to the point of washed, soft butter). At this point you can add sugar and rum without worrying about the cream not pulling itself together. Also, add the rum slowly, being sure that everything is holding as your homemade butter will have a bit less stabilization than commercial butter.