Wednesday, 1 January 2014

How to make butter at home ... Dr Cupcake explains the tricks, joys and perils of domestic buttermaking

Why would I make my own butter when I can buy it?

What an amazing feeling of satisfaction is engendered by making, spreading and eating your very own home made butter! There is a homely goodness to it. It reminds you of being snugly tucked up in a warm house with pouring rain outside. It tastes like the butter from your childhood, the kind you used to spread thickly on your white sliced bread. In a word, it's delicious.

 It's also very simple to make. I didn't know this until a few months ago, when I read a newspaper article about the resurgence of domestic butter-making. It quoted a creamery owner saying that people could achieve an excellent result in their own kitchens as long as they didn't mind the mess of  buttermilk splashing everywhere. That was enough for me. I had to try it.

After using the resources of the googlewebs, I came across a few different and sometimes contradictory formulas and comments. My method is a combination. It's what works best for me. You may find opposing views elsewhere. Butter-making is such an ancient art, and widespread through so many countries, that there are probably many different ways to achieve a good result.



What ingredients do I need to make great butter at home?

You need pure cream - that is, cream that has no additives. You will need to look at the ingredients panel on the container. It should read "100% cream" or "pure cream". If you see any mention of thickeners, gelatine, non-fat milk solids, vegetable gum or anything else, don't make butter with it because it won't work. You may read elsewhere that the butterfat content of the cream needs to be at least 45% but this is not true. I make butter from thin (pouring) cream with an average 35% butterfat content. This works beautifully and it's also cheaper.

 You also need a small amount of salt if using (you don't have to salt your butter but it will keep longer if you do).

You can make butter from any quantity of cream. For domestic purposes, 600ml (a bit more than a pint) of thin cream will yield 260 grams of butter, which is about the unit size of a log of butter bought at the shop. This will fit into a normal mixing bowl and be manageable to work with. It will also yield 270ml of buttermilk - enough to make a decent cake, scones or pancakes (see below for details).

These measurements are approximate - you may find that this amount of cream yields a bit more or less butter, depending on your process, wastage and the exact proportion of butterfat in the cream. This can vary from week to week even in the same brand - it depends on lots of natural factors like the quality of the grass that the cows are eating, and the amount of recent rain. It's great to know that the natural world can't be precisely measured!

What kitchen equipment do I need?

You need two medium sized mixing bowls, an electric beater (I use a hand held beater with two paddles), some ice cubes and water. It is also really helpful to have either some thin muslin to strain the butter, or a couple of old fashioned butter paddles (pictured). A wooden chopping board and some paper towelling will also be useful.

How do I begin?

Pour the cream into the first mixing bowl and start beating it with your electric beater on the lowest speed. I place the mixing bowl in the empty sink as pictured - you'll understand why in a little while.

Beat for about 6 minutes and 30 seconds to get to the first stage of 'softly whipped cream'. This may take more or less time depending on the speed of your beater and the fat content of your cream. These timings refer to thin pouring cream. If you use a thick dessert cream you will reach all of the stages much quicker - so don't go by the timings, they are just a basic indication. Just keep a close eye on the cream.





Stage 1: Softly whipped 


  If you are using thin cream, when you have been beating at a low speed for about 6 minutes and 30 seconds, the cream should be 'softly whipped'.
This means it is light and fluffy. If you stop the beaters and draw a ribbon of cream across the surface, the ribbon will 'hold' its shape and position rather than dissolving back into the body of the cream. (This texture is called 'holding the ribbon' and it's also used to describe textures when you are beating eggs or cake mixture.)

Keep beating.


Stage 2: Stiffly whipped


When you have been beating the cream for about 7 minutes and 30 seconds, the cream will firm up quite suddenly and become 'stiffly whipped'.
In this form, if you draw one of the beaters out of the cream, the cream will follow the beater and stand up in in stiff 'point', similar to stiffly-beaten egg whites. (A brief note: if you actually want whipped cream and NOT butter, be very careful - the next stage (granular) follows very quickly, and there's no going back from that - your cream won't be cream anymore!)

Turn the speed of your beater up a notch and keep beating.


 Stage 3: Stiff and granular 


After beating for about 8 minutes, your cream will suddenly turn from being stiffly whipped to becoming very stiff and granular.
You will see the difference in the texture quite clearly.

Keep beating.

Stage 4: Grainy, beginning to break 


After about 10 minutes and 15 seconds, your butter will begin to 'break'. This means that the fats and the water-soluble components of the cream are beginning to separate. The cream looks unattractively bitty with lots of tiny lumps.

Sometimes the cream stays at this stage for quite some time before proceeding to 'break' entirely. I'm not sure why. The best solution is simply to keep beating and don't give up. If you get sick of it, put it in the fridge for a while and have another go later.

Keep beating.






Stage 5: Breaking

After about 11 minutes and 45 seconds, the butter will begin to 'break' in earnest. The first sign is the way it sounds: you will hear a sloshing sound as the watery liquids are released from the butter and begin to pool in the bottom of the bowl. Next you will begin to see the liquid buttermilk fly up in droplets around your beaters. (This is why I recommend placing your mixing bowl in the sink: if it's on the bench, the buttermilk will spatter over everything within three square feet. If it's in the sink, most of the spatters will hit the sides of the sink and are easy to wipe away.)

Stage 6: Butter


After about 12 minutes and 10 seconds the butter will be resolving itself into clumps which are very distinct. Over a minute or so these clumps will gradually come together as a single lump of butter sitting in a pool of liquid buttermilk. When this happens, you can stop beating. You have made butter!


Stage 7: Washing out the buttermilk

To stop your butter from going off too quickly, you will need to 'wash' the rest of the buttermilk out of it. You can do this by pushing cold water through the butter and gradually diluting the buttermilk into the water.

Take your other mixing bowl and put a few ice cubes in it, then fill it with cold water. Making sure your hands are clean and cold, lift the lump of butter out of the buttermilk and squeeze it into a ball with your hands. Get as much liquid out of it as possible. Then drop it into the iced water.

Using your hands, knead the butter gently in the water, spreading and gathering it.

The water will become cloudy as the buttermilk comes out.When the water is too cloudy, pour it out and put fresh water and ice in, then knead some more until the water stops becoming cloudy.


Stage 8: Pressing out the water

Now you need to get as much of the remaining water out of the butter as possible. The purer the butter is, the longer it will last and the better the texture will be.

Wet down a clean wooden chopping board and the butter paddles if you have them, or the muslin if you have that. If you have neither, don't worry, you can still do a reasonable job.


With clean, cold hands, lift the butter from the water and squeeze it into a ball as hard as you can. Place it on the board and, using the paddles or your hands, knead it until you see some beads of water appearing on the surface. Either shake the butter to get these off, or blot them off with some clean paper towel (being very careful not to leave any fibres in the butter). Repeat until most or all of the water beads are gone.

If you are using muslin, rinse the muslin in cold water, wring it out and spread it flat on a clean benchtop. Place the butter in the centre of the muslin, then wrap the muslin around it and twist very tightly to force it into a firm ball. Tie the muslin in place and sit the ball of butter on top of a small bowl - balance it on the edges of the bowl to allow space underneath it for the water to drip out. Place it in the fridge for an hour or so. Take it out and inspect the butter for water beads - if you can still see some when you slice or knead the butter, repeat the process until the butter is smooth and non-beaded.


Stage 9: Adding salt

In the days before refrigeration, people would make butter with a huge amount of salt - so much that it was unpalatable. In this salty state it could safely be cellared for a few months. When the butter was to be used, the salt was rinsed out to make the butter edible again. Amazing huh!

These days the amazing, magical refrigerator has given us a bit more latitude. You can even skip this step and have your butter unsalted if you prefer. But remember that salt is the only preservative in home-made butter. Even refrigeration can only do so much. If you don't salt your butter, use it up within a few days or it will begin to go rancid.

I recommend that you add some salt to your butter, both for taste and for longevity. You can use any salt that you want. I like using Maldon Sea Salt flakes, which remain in small, fairly soft crystals in the butter. If you don't want this interruption to the texture of your butter, use a fine grained table salt. You could experiment with flavoured salts (I was given a Gewurzhaus White Truffle Salt for Christmas and I can't wait to make some truffle-infused butter). You can also mix fresh or dried herbs into your butter at this stage. It's totally up to you.

Spread your perfectly-textured (we hope) butter out on the wooden board and sprinkle it with a teaspoon of salt. Knead the butter, taste it, and add more salt if you want. After you have mixed the salt through well, shape the butter into a log or a roll (you may need to put it in the fridge for ten minutes first if it's too soft to hold a shape).
 When it's salted/flavoured and shaped to your satisfaction, wrap it in baking paper, aluminium foil, or both (the baking paper inside the foil), and put it in the fridge.

Use it up within a week or so - I'm not sure of the shelf life because mine has always disappeared long before any hint of rancidity! If you've salted it well, it may keep for longer. Feel free to experiement but be careful, and never eat butter that looks, smells or tastes 'wrong'.




Why won't my cream 'break' into butter?


This happened to me once. I beat my cream for ages and all I got was a grainy, slightly wet mess. I'm not sure why it happens, but my best tip is to keep beating - once your cream gets to this stage it has already started to break and it may simply take longer than usual for the break to occur fully.

If, on the other hand, your cream doesn't ever really get to this stage, check if you've actually used 'pure' cream. If your cream has been thickened artificially, it may not respond in the same way as pure cream. In this case I recommend you give it up as a bad job and stomp off to bed in a huff.







Why is my cream pocked with little dents and bubbles when I cut into it?

You might not have rinsed out the water or the butterfat properly. The more thoroughly you rinse out the butterfat and press out the water, the more even-textured your butter will be.







Why do I need butter pats?

You don't actually - but they are very useful. Before I had butter pats I could make butter that was quite good - I managed to get the water pressed out using my bare hands and dabbing the butter with kitchen towel to absorb the water. When my ever-wonderful partner gave me some vintage butter pats, however, I was amazed to see how much quicker and more effective the pats were in pressing the water from the butter. A quick flick of the pats and the droplets fly off. For an investment of $AUD 25 or so, I recommend purchasing a pair - if you can find some. Try antique or vintage stores.


What happens if I don't salt my butter?

It will be fine initially but it won't keep as long. Salt is a preservative and without it your butter won't last. Be sure to keep it in the fridge and consume it within a few days.


Do I need a churn?

No you don't. I always thought you did too. Electric beaters are fine. Some people just shake cream in a clean glass jar, with a marble to mix it well. but that sounds like hard work to me.


How long will home made butter last?

At least a week if kept in the fridge and probably longer, especially if it's well salted. If you don't salt your butter it may not last as long as this.


What happens if my butter goes rancid?

Rancidity is a chemical process whereby the fats in the butter begin to deteriorate. If you keep your butter too long without any preservatives, it will go rancid. We don't encounter rancid butter very often in these days of overused preservatives where commercial butter can last for up to a year if cold stored. In days gone by it was a common problem.  Rancid butter smells and tastes bad. Don't eat it. Throw it away and make another batch.


What can I do with the leftover buttermilk? 

Great question! If you start off with about 600ml of thin cream, you'll have about 270 ml of buttermilk left over in addition to your butter. Don't waste it - buttermilk is amazing stuff.
Firstly - taste it! Fresh home made buttermilk is not the same as the commercial stuff. It's liquid enough and sweet enough to use as a milk substitute. It's also low in fat, because all of the fat has gone into the butter. So try it on your muesli or as a drink.

Secondly - it's a fantastic milk substitute to use in cooking. Use it in cakes, muffins, scones, brownies, pancakes or anything else in the place of milk. It's great.

Thirdly - although I haven't tried this personally, I've read that it's a great addition to salad dressings. In this context, think of it like a thin cream or a yoghurt. Experiment and enjoy.


Anything else?

I've shared all that I know - if anyone has any helpful tips or tricks that might help all us amateur buttermakers out there, please feel free to leave comments and share your views.

With love from Dr Cupcake.

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