Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Making Better Butter

When we went over to the home of Ms. Five-and-a-Half and Mr Thirteen (along with Ms. Izzy-Inch) we brought along a bit of our homemade butter, and Mr. Thirteen admitted they'd noticed on the blog. I could just hear the shout going out, "Hey -- they're making homemade butter, those crazy cooks!!"

I mentioned in an earlier post that we were inspired by the post at Traveler's Lunchbox, and also a New York Times article about making butter. Herewith is the rundown on our little experiments thus far...

We wanted that great flavor, much of which, I think is probably attributable to the fact that some people can make butter from raw milk straight out of the cow. But is there any other way to make butter with better flavor?

We started to read around about how butter has been made in the past, and they all had a common theme: natural souring seems to be the key.

Most recipes call for letting the cream stand around til it sours, but that could take forever and seems iffy--I still have my doubts about which microbial organisms I can catch in our dusty air and which I can't. Traveler's Lunchbox suggested using an already active culture in yogurt, buttermilk or creme fraiche to get things going. We combined this idea with Alton Brown's heating pad method, which I use regularly to make yogurt, and it sours and thickens the cream beautifully.

For a batch of butter to last us a week (about a pound), I start with a quart of heavy cream.

[Funny Little Side Note: My Omnivore, on reading this, says with a scandalized moan, "No, don't say that! We do NOT go through a pound a week! People are gonna think we're just sucking the stuff down around here!"

"Well, but we do go through a pound a week, sweetie," I say very reasonably. That seems normal, doesn't it? After all, there's toast and biscuits and cooking, and ...

"No, we don't," he objects, "Maybe, MAYBE in two weeks..."

"No way," I say firmly. It's a pound. In one week. END Funny Little Side Note.]

Let your cream sour using the heating pad method -- I usually let it go overnight covered with a clean cloth and in the morning it's nice and tangy. Then chill it in the refrigerator for several hours.

When the cream is sufficiently cooled, you must whip it. And whip it. Whip it good.

For this part of the operation, it's best to either cover the bowl with a cloth as you whip, or cover every surface in the kitchen. It can get splashy and messy.

The idea here is to overwhip the cream, way past regular "dessert" stage, until it's all grainy and then some.

You'll know you can stop when you see pools of buttermilk forming and the rest is very sandy and grainy.

At this point, I usually stop the beaters and scrape and pour the whole shebang into a bowl lined with cheesecloth... or um... in our kitchen, the same clean dishcloth that I use for draining and straining all our dairy products.

(A cheap souvenir from Rhode Island.)

Then begins the long process of squeezing out the buttermilk and cleaning the butter. I should say here that I'm not the most patient person--I'd never have made it on the frontier, churning butter all day. I don't mind the process of squeezing, and then rinsing the butter in clean cold water to get the buttermilk out, but when I turn the lump of butter out of the towel, I know I'm going to spend about ten minutes kneading and rinsing the butter. Kneading and rinsing, kneading and rinsing. There always seems to be more buttermilk in there. Eventually, I get tired of it, and call it done. (It is in fact, however, advisable to get all the buttermilk out of the butter, because it will make the butter go rancid faster if you don't.)

I suppose that all that butter on my hands has to be good for my skin...

At this point, I've often had it, and my Omnivore steps in to help divvy up the lumps into our precious cazuelas and add in the all important sprinkle of sea salt.


Now, is there anyone out there with a cow they'd be willing to share with us?

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