Yes, you read correctly. Homemade butter. And no, I haven’t taken up with a roving band of Amish Mennonites, despite the considerable appeal of horse-drawn buggies and straw hats. (Among other concerns, I imagine tending to a blog would be a whole lot harder without electricity.) I’m not sure the Amish would approve of how I made it, anyhow: two cups of cream whirled around in a new-fangled stand mixer for a devilishly quick 10 minutes. (All those idle hours left over!) Why would I even want to make fresh butter at home? Well, I’d never done it, so there was that. And I had a pint of fancy, happy-cow heavy cream in my fridge, clean and creamy and vaguely grassy, and reasoned it would yield a delicious butter. It did.
Now that I think of it, I’d really been primed for this event a few years ago. I can’t recall what I had for an entrée during a spectacular meal at Eleven Madison Park in New York City, but I remember vividly the crazy-delicious butters they served alongside their breads: a revelatory goat butter from California’s Meyenberg dairy and a rich, sunshine-yellow butter from Vermont. Cottage industries and international reputations are built around superior versions of the stuff (most notably in Ireland and the French regions of Normandy and Brittany), and anyone who’s ever had a proper Parisian croissant or a flaky, all-butter pie crust may understand. Good butter is good.
Semantics, shall we? When pasteurized cream is churned into butter without any additions, it’s referred to as sweet cream butter, with a mild, fresh flavor. Introducing helpful bacteria to cream (a process called “ripening”) sets the stage for cultured butter; the bacteria convert milk solids into lactic acid, adding a deeper dimension of flavor. Salted butters have 1-2% salt added, which inhibits bacterial growth and rancidity and heightens flavor. European-style butters have a higher percentage of fat (82-85%, compared to the FDA’s 80% minimum, the rest water and milk solids), making them preferable for baking applications. And contributing to the flavor and overall quality of the butter are factors such as the season, the cow’s breed, diet and habitat, how aggressively the dairy rears their animals and the creamery’s pasteurization and shipping practices.
And though I doubt you’ll need many suggestions on how to use your homemade butter, you might try the très français method of spreading it on peppery, crisp radishes and sprinkling on a bit of fleur de sel for an earthy, unexpected companion for cocktails. At the market, look for firm, smooth radishes with bright green tops. Rinse very well to remove any sandy grit and slice away the taproot, if desired. And say it with me, friends: butter makes it better.
adapted from Jennifer McLagan’s Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient
- 2 C heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt (optional)
In the bowl of a stand mixer pour in the cream and let warm up to about 60 degrees, or cool room temperature. With the whisk attachment, turn on medium. At the four minute mark, the cream will start to thicken. At six minutes or so, it will be tightly whipped, quickly starting to go grainy and then curdled-looking. At the seven minute mark, the mixture will whip into a pale yellow color and start to break down. At about 8 minutes, it will start to separate; at 10 minutes, you should have tight curds of butter and a distinctly separate, watery buttermilk. (Depending on temperature, the butterfat content of your cream and other factors, this process might take upwards of 15 minutes.)
Remove and strain through a sieve, pressing out the liquid buttermilk with a spatula. Rinse the butter with cold water until it runs clear. With the spatula or your hands, squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Add the salt, if using. Transfer to ramekins or a small bowl; makes about 3/4 C (6 oz) or so. Butter keeps, tightly covered, about one week.