Making butter at home is surprisingly easy to do. All you need is fresh heavy cream—and maybe a little salt, if you want salted butter. That’s it. (No, really: That’s it.)
No, you don’t need a butter churn
Unless, of course, you have one.
When I told one of my best friends that I made butter, he exclaimed something like, “Wait, you don’t have a butter churn…do you?”
(If you know me—and you know how much cooking equipment is socked away in our kitchen and basement—it’s always good to doublecheck these details.)
No, I don’t have a butter churn.
I have something better: An electric mixer.
As good as it would be for my arms, I’m not sure I could hack churning butter the old-fashioned way.
I should note that this isn’t a cheaper way of stocking up on butter. Chances are good that this amount of heavy cream will always cost more than a pound of butter.
But you don’t make butter this way because you want to save money. You do it because it’s really cool—and, of course, it gives you the opportunity to triumphantly bellow, “Holy %$&#, I just made butter!!”
Which everyone should do at least once in their life.
What is butter made of, anyway?
Butter is made of a few things: Butterfat, water, and milk proteins.
Butter made from fermented cream is known as cultured butter, which is more full flavored. You can make it by adding yogurt to the cream and aging it a little before you beat it to bits. (That’s next. Stay tuned.)
Start with high-quality heavy cream. If you can get it from a farm, that’s a big bonus. Basically, the better your cream tastes, the higher quality your butter will be.
How to make your own butter
Butter is basically cream that’s been beaten until it separates.
Most cooks have done this before by accident—by overbeating whipped cream.
You know what I mean: Your whipped cream is perfect one minute, then you blink twice and it starts to break down and get grainy.
When you make whipped cream, most of the time, you’re aiming for stiff peaks (when the whipped cream will stand up on the beater in straight little points).
When you make butter, you whip your cream to stiff peaks. And then you keep going.
For folks outside the U.S., heavy cream is cream that has 36 – 40% butterfat.
What can you do with homemade butter?
You mean, aside from gobble it up on fresh bread with reckless abandon? Use homemade butter in any way that you’d use regular butter. In baking and cooking, etc.
Since you’ve gone through the trouble of making it with good cream, I’d be more inclined to keep it pure, and use it on toast and pancakes—or anything where the butter flavor will really shine through.
You could also use it to make compound butter. Here are a few ideas:
- Fresh Herb Compound Butter
- Drunken Cranberry Orange Compound Butter
- Pecan Scotch Compound Butter
- Roasted Garlic Compound Butter
Here’s the whole process, from start to finish.
6 cups heavy cream
salt to taste
Yields about 1 lb of butter
Beat the cream until it separates
Grab your cream.
Put it in the bowl of your stand mixer—or in a large mixing bowl, if you’re using a handheld mixer.
If you have a splash guard for your mixer, you might want to use it. You’re beating on fairly high speed, which means your cream can spit a little.
Note: I stopped the mixer a bunch of times to take pictures of the different stages. You don’t have to do that. Just the mixer on and let it run. The whole process should take just under 10 minutes.
Turn the mixer on on medium-high speed.
As you beat the cream, it will begin to thicken.
And get thicker…
Until eventually you have a bowl of traditional whipped cream.
(There’s your stiff peak.)
Keep beating! The whipped cream will start to get a little grainy looking.
And as you beat, it will lose all that lovely volume.
(That’s just fine. That means it’s starting to break down.)
It will also turn a pale yellow…
…and get really curdle-y and a little gross looking.
Keep beating. You’re almost there.
When the contents of your bowl starts to splatter a little, it’s a good sign that you’re done. This means that the buttermilk has separated out from the solids.
Here’s what the butter solids look like:
Strain the buttermilk
Set a mesh strainer over a bowl.
Pour the butter and buttermilk through the strainer.
Be sure to use a deep bowl. You don’t want the strainer sitting in the buttermilk, like this.
(I had to swap my bowls out.)
Knead the butter to squeeze out any excess liquid
Next, gather the butter into a ball and knead it.
You’re doing this to smoosh any remaining buttermilk out of it.
When all the liquid is out of the butter, you’ll wind up with a ball like this.
(This is where you hold your butter ball up triumphantly and bellow, “Holy &%@#, I just made butter!”)
Set it aside for a minute while you figure out what to do with the buttermilk. If you want to save it, cover it and keep it in the fridge. You can use it in bread, scones, muffins, etc.
(Keep in mind that this liquid isn’t the same thing as the cultured buttermilk that you buy in the store, which has been fermented.)
All told, I wound up with 18.85 ounces of butter, which is just over 1 pound.
Add salt, if you like
If you prefer salted to unsalted butter, knead in a little bit of kosher salt. I didn’t do this, but I’d use 1/2 tsp. – 1 tsp. Definitely start with less and taste as you go.
When you’re happy with how it tastes, pack it into a bowl or a few ramekins.
Refrigerate and use within 2 weeks
Wrap it tightly (butter absorbs odors) and keep it in the fridge. It should keep for about 2 weeks.
That is, of course, if it lasts that long.