Friday, November 25, 2011

Homemade Butter

I guess it's kind of funny that after attending a Thanksgiving dinner with 11 new friends, the thing that I left most excited about was trying to make homemade butter.  My wife and I had the pleasure of going to Thanksgiving in Providence, where we met a lot of great new people.  There was a ton of food - too much to fit on the dinner table alone - so it spilled over to side tables.  Dotted among the dinner plates and platters on the table were small ramekins filled with butter, which I found out was homemade butter from our new friend Cobi - a pastry chef who works in Cambridge.  I was immediately intrigued and had to know more about homemade butter.  I've heard of people making butter before but I was never quite sure how difficult it was or anything.  Cobi's succinct answer convinced me that I needed to try it asap:  "you take a bunch of cream and you shake it."  It couldn't actually be that easy could it?  She gave me a few more instructional points, mostly related to when to salt and how to rinse it, but aside from that, it really is that easy.  I hurried to the store today to pick up some heavy cream and see what I could come up with.  I didn't even bother to look up a recipe - let's do it live.  The resulting butter was really smooth and tasted incredibly rich with a texture better than store bought butter.  It was also a relatively quick process, 30 minutes start to finish, including breaks for photos.  

Butter is a natural product of milk and has been a core component of cooking in cultures centered around herding for centuries.  Milk is comprised mostly of water, as well as proteins, fat globules, sugar in the form of lactose, and vitamins.  The fat globules are contained by a membrane that keeps them separate from the proteins, and when we make butter, we are basically just agitating the fat globules so much that the membranes rupture and the fats can stick to each other, resulting in 2 end products:  butter and buttermilk.  We use a high fat concentration of milk (cream) to make butter, which has its own interesting production process.  Fresh milk  (unpasteurized / non-homogenized) separates naturally when sitting at room temperature.  Fat rises to the top and can be skimmed off to create higher fat concentrations of milk, like half & half and cream.  

Homemade butter:
Yields ~6.5 oz butter

16 oz cold heavy cream
1/8 tsp salt (optional)

Pour your cream into a large container with a tight fitting lid (I used a quart mason jar).  Shake the shit out of it.

That's really it.  I'll spend the rest of this post talking about the breakdown of the "shaking the shit out of" process.

Before you really get going, chill a large amount of water - maybe a couple quarts worth.  You will use it to rinse your butter, and it has to be cold to keep the butter from melting.  Put it in the freezer to get it nice and cold while you shake and get your cardio in.

Total time to end up with butter:  30 minutes

At 17 minutes of shaking, I took a quick peek.  I found a very thick cream, it looked like overwhipped whipped cream.  You can start to see the  cream looking kind of granular - I think that is the separation of the fat from the proteins and water.

It got to the point where I was shaking but felt like nothing was happening - I could no longer hear sloshing or anything inside of the jar but I just kept going.  At 22 minutes, the globules broke and the separation began in full force.

Four minutes later at minute mark 26, I could clearly see butter formed surrounded by the buttermilk.  I continued shaking this for a few minutes.

I poured off the buttermilk through a fine mesh sieve into a separate jar.  I did this a few times to make sure that the cream had fully separated and I was no longer getting buttermilk.

At this point, I added some table salt and continued shaking for a minute or two to make sure that the salt was evenly distributed.  If you don't want salted butter you can just leave it out.  Pour in enough cold water to cover the butter and shake more.  Pour off the water and continue rinsing until the water runs clear.  We are removing all of the buttermilk still clinging to the butter.  After the water runs clear, go ahead and package your butter.  It will keep for a week in the fridge but you are better off freezing unused portions.

My final yields were 8½ oz buttermilk and 6.4 oz butter.

Coincidentally (or not), 6.4 (oz butter) /16 (starting oz of cream) = .4 and the concentration of heavy cream is defined as 36-44% fat.  So the logical side of me says that if you are targeting a specific yield of butter, multiplying the number of ounces that you are buying by .4 will give you a nice average estimate of how much butter you will end up with.  Part of me was hoping that I would find that homemade butter was somehow way cheaper than store-bought mass produced butter.  Trying to recall from my last visit to the store, I think that the average organic butter goes for about $4.50 lb.  6.4 oz of organic butter cost me about $3.50, so it is more expensive to make homemade butter, but you do get a better product and a bunch of buttermilk.  I'm not one to argue with more reasons to make homemade pancakes or waffles or even buttermilk fried chicken... so I'll take it.