Sunday, January 19, 2014

Better Butter! How to make butter in a mason jar....

So, I've recently gotten into making my own bread. I've tried a few different techniques, and they've all come out pretty good.  I consider myself a reasonably accomplished cook so I don't know why I was so intimidated by yeast!  If you want to try your hand at bread-making, I'd suggest starting with a straight-forward recipe using a no-knead technique.  It needs to sit for a while, but I tried a few simple recipes I found on the internet and all seemed pretty forgiving and great foray into bread-making for the uninitiated.

Now that I have a bit more confidence in the baking department, I really wanted some high quality butter to accompany the warm-from-the-oven manna. I had a lot of heavy cream leftover from the holidays and did a little web research, only to find that if I was willing to either haul out my food processor, or use a little elbow grease, I could make butter using just the cream I already had and some salt.  Wow, right?

I decided to go old school and pass on the food processor....what fun was that?  Anyway, I had 4 kids over for a playdate who were all happy assistants in the shaking department.  This whole project was a blast, and way easier than I had thought!  I don't buy heavy cream every day, but I do get it during the holidays and for recipes and always seem to have some leftover which goes bad in my fridge.  This butter is a wonderful way to use that up, because once made, it freezes really well!

I also think this would be great with some chopped herbs or garlic incorporated, or even some citrus zest and honey or maple syrup.  Go crazy!

The amounts here really depend on how much cream you have on hand, and/or how much butter you want. As a guide, about a 1/2 pint of heavy cream will make about 1/2 stick of butter.  Also, you get some bonus buttermilk as a by-product of this little you probably have some delicious pancakes or biscuits in your not-too-distant future too! 

Here are a few tips I learned both from making this three times, and from viewing different videos and blogs over coffee.

  • Bring your cream to room temperature first - it will speed up the processing time and help the butter to set up better.
  • If possible, don't use heavy cream that says "ultra-pasteurized".  Regular, pasteurized cream, the kind that typically expires in a week or so, is better if it is available.
  • You must use heavy cream, or heavy whipping cream.  Half and Half, milk, light cream etc...will not work.
  • You can make unsalted butter.  The salt is just to enhance the taste - it does not promote a chemical reaction and is not required.  You can either add your salt to the cream at the beginning or knead it into the finished product as per your preference.  The amount is really up to you, but start with less because, you cannot take it out!
  • If you want to add herbs or flavorings, do it in the beginning and make sure they are cut very small and evenly.
  • However much you choose to make, use a jar with a TIGHT lid and make sure you don't fill it more than about halfway with liquid. You really need the empty space to increase the agitation.  If you're unsure of your lid integrity, a Ziploc bag and a rubberband are a good hedge.
  • When shaking, it is best to shake hard, but not too fast.  Imagine you are shaking a heavy maraca to a beat at about one shake per second.
  • Shake until you can both see and hear a solid mass of butter, surrounded by what looks like a milky-water-y substance.  That's the buttermilk.  Then shake a little more.  Anticipate 10-12 minutes but the actual time will vary based on cream pasteurization level, temperature, amount in the jar, and shaking force.
Once you have what looks like soft butter in your jar, use a cheesecloth or fine strainer to pour out the liquid into another container.  This is buttermilk and will stay good in your fridge for 2-3 days.  It makes the best biscuits, cakes, pancakes, and it is also a wonderful marinade for chicken.  It's liquid gold, so don't let it go to waste. 

After you've removed all the liquid, add a little bit of cold water (couple of tablespoons) to the jar with the butter, and shake it again, just for a few seconds.  Drain this one more time to get any excess whey off the butter.  You can just discard this liquid as it is not as useful for cooking.

Now, dump your butter, which will be soft, onto a paper towel or cheese cloth and pat or gently squeeze it to extract excess water.  Then, you can mold it or press it into a ramekin.  Store in the refrigerator if you are not going to use it right away.  It will only keep for a few days, but it freezes really well for up to a year, if wrapped and stored airtight. 

My kids thought this was a great project and since there is no cooking involved, it is a great rainy day activity to toddlers through tweens.  Have fun and enjoy savoring your real, sweet creamy butter, the way your great grandparents probably did!