Not only is homemade butter so much yummier than the store-bought kind, it’s also easy to make. This can be done several different ways. You can use a mixer, a food processor, or a container of some sort. I prefer the container method because it allows for a slow churn, rather than an unbridled whip that risks incorporating buttermilk back into the butter, so that’s what I will explain here.
All you’ll need is:
- 1 pint of heavy cream
- a 2-pint* or larger container (I used a 1-liter bottle)
- cheesecloth (I use a gold filter)
*You will need to use a container that is at least twice the volume of the cream.
First, you’re going to want to bring the heavy cream to room temperature. Why is that, you ask? Okay, science time! Milk and cream contain oodles of tiny fat molecules called globules (I still can’t decide how I feel about that word, but I think I like it). These globules are surrounded by membranes that prevent them from sticking to each other, keeping your milk and cream un-chunky (gross, I know). You make butter by agitating these membranes until they begin to break down, allowing the fat molecules to stick together (a process more commonly known as churning), and eventually resulting in the separation of butter and buttermilk. These membranes break down quickest at room temperature or slightly below. You can churn chilled cream and it will eventually yield butter as well, it will just take a lot longer. If you’re impatient like me, pour the cream into a wider container and set in a warm area for an hour or two, stirring occasionally. (I also use this time to try to finish a liter of seltzer.)
Once the cream has warmed, pour it into the empty container and seal with a secure lid. Shake the container steadily but not too rapidly (I am really trying to avoid the term “medium pace” here, despite how fitting it would be—thanks a lot, Adam Sandler). If you shake too violently, you risk reincorporating the buttermilk and over-churning the butter, which cannot be undone. As you shake, you’ll feel the cream begin to thicken, like whipped cream. Next, it’s going to start to feel like a big dairy rock. It will seem like your shaking isn’t doing anything at all (and you may need to put a little more “umph” into it). And then, like magic, things will start to separate! I switch to a slower and more emphatic shake at this point in time—forcefully inverting the bottle one way, then the other. Continue shaking for a few more minutes, or until a good amount of buttermilk has separated from the butter (around ¾–1 cup).
Remove the top from the container. Place the cheesecloth or gold filter over the opening and strain out the buttermilk. (Reserve the buttermilk for delicious pancake- or biscuit-related uses.) Now, you need to rinse the butter to remove any lingering buttermilk, which can cause your butter to spoil quickly. (Confession: I actually forgot to do this and didn’t remember I was supposed to until I started writing this post. My butter has survived so far [it has been about a week], but it’s still an important part of the process that should not be bypassed.) Fill your container with very cold water until it just covers the butter, then drain out through the cheesecloth. Repeat this process a number of times (around 7), until the drained water is clear. Remove the butter from the container (if you’re using a bottle, just cut the top off) and transfer it to a large wooden cutting board. I actually used a plastic cutting board, which was a mistake. (Is it obvious that it’s been a while since I’ve done this?) You want to use something semi-porous that’s capable of absorbing a little liquid.
Using a wooden spoon, press your butter down into a large, flattened pancake. As you do this, you’ll notice liquid oozing out from the butter. Your cutting board should absorb some of that, but you can also use a paper towel to lightly dab away any excess. Gather butter back into a ball and press flat again. Continue to do this until you have removed most of the liquid. Before you gather up your last butter pancake, add some salt to it (about ¼ teaspoon). This will also ward off spoilage.
And now, grab the nearest piece of bread and slather it with fresh butter! It’s good, isn’t it? It isn’t exactly practical to make for use in cooking or baking, but it’s definitely worth the time and effort as a table-bound, buttering butter. (*Ahem*, a Thanksgiving table, perhaps?) There’s no reason this shouldn’t make an appearance at Thanksgiving, or any holiday, for that matter. It can be made days in advance, it’s easily transportable, and it’s delicious. Done and done.