I will never forget the first time I made butter, it was in my early days as a pastry cook. I worked at a fancy hotel in Downtown D.C., close to the White House. The hotel was host to lots of events and my job was to help make the pastries for them, anything from cookies and tarts for catered lunch meetings to plated desserts for hundreds of people at fancy galas or weddings or rich kid’s proms.
One fateful day, I was tasked to, amongst a gaggle of other things, whip enough cream to garnish the top of a few hundred personal-sized mousse cakes. I pulled out the 20-quart mixer and emptied a dozen quarts of heavy cream in. I wrapped the mixer in plastic wrap to keep the splatter in and turned the mixer on. After a couple minutes mixing, the cream was barely frothy. “This is going to take forever,” I thought to myself. I continued on to my next task, checking back periodically. Every time I checked back the cream was a little closer, but progress was slow. I decided to make a quick run to dry storage to grab another bag of sugar, thinking by the time I returned the cream would finally be at perfect piping consistency . I will never forget the sound as I walked back into the pastry kitchen. Squish, splash, squish, splash,squish, splash. The cream had over whipped and become a big blob of butter stuck to the whisk, squishing and splashing buttermilk against the plastic wrap wrapping my mixer. I was sure I was going to be fired right then and there.
Luckily, I didn’t get fired. But I did learn two valuable lessons. First, that whipping cream quickly goes from whipped to broken so always keep one eye on the mixer, and secondly that butter is simply over-whipped cream. I had never really thought about where butter came from before and the experience was eye opening.
But all butter is not created equal. Of course cream that comes from healthy cows who are able to roam pastures and eat a variety of grasses makes for superior butter. But cream from those cows that is then allowed to ferment with lactic bacteria (don’t get creeped out-it’s the same process as is used to make yogurt and creme fraiche) before being whipped into butter make for a much more deep, rich, butter with layers of flavor. The kind of butter that makes bread secondary. It also has a slightly higher fat content than regular, sweet cream butter which makes for more tender cookies and pie crusts. You can find this butter in fancy grocery stores labeled as cultured or European style butter, where it will cost you an arm and a leg or you can follow the directions below and make it yourself. The best part about making your own butter is that you are also inadvertently making your own buttermilk. Two DIYs in one!
How to Make Your Own Cultured Butter (and Buttermilk too!)
2 pints heavy whipping cream, NOT ultra high pasteurized
1/4 cup yogurt with active cultures
salt (if desired)
In a large, clean bowl or jar, mix together cream and yogurt. Whisk or shake to combine. Cover bowl or closed jar with a kitchen towel and put in a warm spot (aiming for around 72 degrees) to culture for 12 to 18 hours. The longer it sits the more tangy the butter will be. The cream will look thicker and have small bubbles on the surface. Chill cream for at least 1 hour before whipping. (If you are not going to whip the cream the same day, store in the refrigerator until you are ready.) In the mean time, line a mesh strained with cheesecloth and set over a clean bowl and ice down 3 or 4 cups of cold water.
Empty chilled, cultured cream into bowl of stand mixer. Wrap your mixer in plastic wrap. On medium low, whip cream until cream breaks and separates into butter and buttermilk.
Strain buttermilk and mass of butter through prepared strainer.
Save the buttermilk for a later use.
In order to make sure we got all the buttermilk out of our butter (it will make the butter spoil faster) we must knead the butter to push out the remaining liquid from the butter. Pouring ice water on the butter, solidifies the butter and makes this process easier.
Repeat the process until the liquid around the butter is clear. Pour off the liquid. At this point if you would like to make salted butter, knead in salt to taste. If you will use the butter for baking keep it unsalted. Form the butter into a log and wrap in plastic wrap. Wrap waxed paper around the plastic wrap for an extra layer of protection (butter wants to absorb flavors and smells). Store in the fridge for a few weeks or in the freezer for s few months.