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If you make butter from scratch starting with a good organic cream, you are guaranteed to get better-quality butter than grocery store brands.
In Canada, butter must contain 80 percent butterfat, compared to up to 85 percent in Europe. Is this because water is cheaper than butterfat? Not sure, but commercial butter in North America is so perfectly blended that most pastry chefs have to get special permits to bring in butter from as far away as New Zealand to get a higher butterfat and supreme product.
Is this to say that Canada does not have good butter? Not at all. Dairytown Products’ butter from Sussex, New Brunswick, was voted the World’s Best Butter in 2004. And The Stirling Creamery has ranked one of the Top 30 Butters in the world.
But, home-churned butter will get you in the range of 86 percent butterfat, and the product you will end up with will have imperfections that actually contribute to taste and improve baking and pastries.
Depending on how expensive cream is in your area, butter from scratch works out to be about the same price as store-bought butter. But, you will get a unique-tasting product, and you will also get fresh buttermilk. Store-bought buttermilk is not actually the leftover milk after churning butter. It is typically a skim milk that has been cultured to make it thicker. After having the real thing, it’s hard to go back. Use your fresh buttermilk in pie crusts, pancakes, waffles or soup.
To culture or not to culture? Two types of butter we typically see in North America are sweet or unsalted butter churned directly from fresh cream, and salted. We seldom see cultured butter like they have in Europe. Culturing butter not only develops a distinct taste, but it also dramatically decreases the amount of time it takes to churn the butter (by 75 percent). By culturing your butter, you also add beneficial microorganisms that are killed during the pasteurization process. So, yes, let’s culture.
The From Scratch Method
• Pick your ingredients. Better cream = better butter. There is nothing quite like the 35 percent organic cream that comes in the recycled bottles. You can start small with 1/2 a litre, but I usually like to use a full litre. You will be surprised how fast this butter will disappear. You can also choose from a variety of cultures. I like using crème fraiche or a good, plain yogurt.
• Gather your equipment. Everything should be clean and sanitized. Butter is expensive, and the last thing you want is any sort of contamination. You will need a heavy bottom pot, thermometer, cheesecloth, mixer, strong flat spatula or wooden spoon, large and medium sized bowls, strainer, cutting board, and dish towels.
• Culture your cream. I like to use a 1:1 ratio of cream to culture. For every cup of cream, add 1 Tbsp of crème fraiche or yogurt. Heat cream over low flame to 30°C (86°F) heat. Pour cream in a large bowl, and whisk in your culture. Cover with plastic wrap, and keep the mixture at room temperature for at least 12 hours.
• Check your cream. Is it thick and smelling tangy? Give it a taste. You should be able to taste the buttery flavour coming through. Once you are happy with the taste, you are ready to churn. If you do not have time, slow down the culturing process by putting it in the fridge until you’re ready. If it was in the fridge, remember to let the temperature of the cream rise back up to 15°C (60°F) before churning.
• Churn your butter. In an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, begin whipping your cultured cream. This will take anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes. Once you see the liquid separate from the butter particles, slow down the mixer. It will slosh and spatter, so use a kitchen towel over the top of the mixer. Stop before butter particles get too big and the butter collects in one big lump around the whish. Smaller particles suspended in the liquid buttermilk are easier to strain.
• Strain your butter. Using a cheesecloth-lined strainer, strain the butter, being sure to save the buttermilk.
• Wash your butter. Wash your butter in cold water to get rid of leftover buttermilk and increase shelf life. Knead butter in a bowl with cold water, and watch as the water turns milky. Change the water a few times and repeat. Knead by hand if you can withstand the cold, or use a spatula or wooden spoon.
• Knead your butter. On a clean cutting board, knead your rinsed butter (like you would bread) to get out any excess liquid. Keep a dishtowel around the edges of the board to help wipe excess liquid away as it runs off. I find it easier to keep butter in cheesecloth while doing this. If you would like to salt your butter, now is the time. Sprinkle some on while you knead.
• Store your butter. Wrap with plastic wrap, or store in containers or nice ramekins in the fridge.
- This butter lasts in the fridge for at least one week. Salting prolongs shelf live.
- Butter also freezes very well. If you make a big batch, freeze it in portions, and thaw in the fridge as needed.
- Today, you can find new “old fashioned” butter churners. But food processors work just as well.