It's Actually Easy to Make Fancy, European-Style Cultured Butter at Home
Butter. For someone who enjoys eating as much as I do, there is hardly a more beautiful word in the English language. Slathered on a perfect baguette with a sprinkling of really good salt? Perfection. (You can even gild that particular lily with paper thin slices of radish and become wildly French.) Or sit some atop a great steak, and watch it slowly melt into the juices from the meat to make an instant, decadent sauce. Or swirl some in the hot pan in which you just sauteed a schnitzel, or saltimbocca, or some shrimp to create the kind of pan sauce that takes any dinner from Tuesday to Saturday Night. Pancakes. Vegetables. Mashed Potatoes. Not to mention all of your baking.
Why, you may ask, am I teasing you with all of this butter? Because I want to convince you to try something. I want you to make your own glorious, homemade, cultured butter.I know. I can hear you. “Why would I make butter?” After all, the grocery store is filled with butter of all kinds.
But you can make really fresh, delicious cultured butter at home for a fraction of the cost of the expensive European-style cultured butters you can buy. It’s tastier than the butter you can grab from the supermarket, and it’s fast and fun.
Watch: How to Soften Butter
A quick butter primer: Sweet butter refers to heavy cream churned until the butterfat and whey separate.The butter is then “washed” and salted or not. Cultured butter, on the other hand, is made from cream that has been allowed to ferment, and then churned. (The leftovers of this process are the original version of buttermilk.)
So, to begin, buy a quart of heavy cream. The better the cream the better the butter. If you have access to organic, not ultra pasteurized cream, all the better. But even regular grocery store cream will work. Pour it into a bowl. Add about half a cup of of buttermilk, stir, and let it sit, covered with just a kitchen towel, for at least 24 hours at room temperature. Yep, you heard me, room temperature. Don’t stick it in the fridge.
You get to choose how “cultured” you want your butter to taste. So, if it’s your first attempt, particularly if your kitchen runs hot, I wouldn’t go over 24 hours. It should have a pleasantly, barely sour aroma. Pour it into a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or into a food processor with the metal blade, and let ‘er rip. (A shield is a good idea if you’re using the stand mixer and don’t want cream splattered all over your counters.) Let the machines go until the whey separates. You can see this and, even more fun, you can hear it. The sound will deepen, all at once, with a thud.
Once you have a bowl of whey with a big “blob of butter, you’re almost done. Now comes the fun play with your food step. You’ll need to “wash” the butter. This simply means kneading the butter in ice water. The ice water begins to solidify the butterfat, forcing out any remaining whey, which will allow the butter to become very firm without whey weeping out.
In a large bowl of ice water, knead the butter like bread dough (or Play-Doh!). Change the water a few times, continuing to knead, until the water remains clear during kneading. Drain the water, knead a bit more so all of the water is exuded. (Now is the time to salt if you wish. I wouldn’t, but that’s just me. Just knead in a few pinches) Form and wrap your butter in any shape you wish.If you’re storing it for more than a week, I’d wrap it in parchment paper and then in foil before freezing. And don’t toss out the buttermilk (whey). It will transform any baking you do that calls for buttermilk or soured milk.