There may be a butter shortage coming, right around the time many of us need to stock up on sticks for holiday baking. Rather than foregoing cakes, cookies and other high-fat treats this year, TikTok has the baking world covered with tutorials on making homemade butter using everything from specialty hand-churners to the ubiquitous stand mixer.
I don't want to live in a world without butter, so I tried two ways of making my own. It wasn't as hard I thought it would be and the taste can't be beat. Even if the feared butter shortage does not materialize, I love knowing I can whip up homemade butter for special occasions.
While I probably won't be a permanent convert because it's hard to beat the convenience of store-bought butter, I do sleep easier at night knowing I have an easy and economical solution in my back pocket if the butter shelves are ever bare.
What do you need to make your own butter?
Homemade butter is incredibly simple to make. It only requires one ingredient: heavy cream. You also need something to churn your butter. The good news is you probably already have a kitchen gadget that will work, like a stand mixer or electric hand-held mixer. Some TikTokers like using the manual Kilner Butter Churner to churn their own butter. It's old-timey, but I like it best.
How to churn butter
Sara Marie Massee, the interim manager of historic trades at George Washington's Mount Vernon plantation, has been churning butter for 13 years. She oversees butter churning demonstrations using traditional 18th Century methods at Mount Vernon and makes butter at home for special occasions using an electric mixer.
Massee emphasizes the process of churning butter hasn't changed much since the 18th Century. "In terms of at-home production, you just need agitation," she says. Making butter may be gaining in popularity in part because it's almost impossible to mess up: "The biggest risk is spillage," says Massee.
Historical interpreters at Mount Vernon use a ceramic vessel with a type of wooden stick, called a dasher, to churn butter. Modern methods are easier on the arms, but both old and new methods of churning involve moving cream around enough that it turns into whipped cream, then forms into butter as buttermilk separates from the fatty cream.
Once your butter is ready, it's time to wash it to get rid of as much buttermilk as possible. Because the buttermilk is the part of butter that spoils, the more you get out the longer your butter will last. There are different ways to do this: Some butter churners just pick up their newly formed chunk of butter and rinse it under tap water while squeezing. Others, like Massee, place their butter in a bowl with ice water, use spatulas to move it around, dump out the water and repeat until the water comes out clear. Other methods include placing butter in a fine sieve over a bowl and using a spatula to press out as much buttermilk as possible and using a cheesecloth or two layers of paper towels and squeezing to remove buttermilk.
For me, this was the most intensive part of the process. The good news is, Massee says you can skip this step if you plan on using your butter within 12 hours, since you won't need to worry about your butter spoiling in that short amount of time.
This step is completely optional but it's a fun way to elevate your homemade butter and give it a unique twist. Many add salt but if you don't like salted butter, you can skip this altogether since it's not necessary for preservation — if you make your butter with pasteurized milk and refrigerate the final product.
Fresh herbs are a fantastic addition to homemade butter. Simply stir them in after washing the butter. Massee likes using rosemary. Home butter churner Alicia Sanchez, who is Dominican, likes to infuse her butters with Spanish flavors. She uses chopped garlic, cilantro, cayenne pepper or Sazon (a mix of spices). Sanchez also makes breakfast butters with honey, nutmeg and canella (chopped cinnamon). Chef Michael Sanguinetti makes gourmet butters like escargot and thyme compound butter. Although Sanguinetti has a precise recipe, many home churners don't use a precise amount of flavoring. Sanchez says it's best to "taste as [you] go."
How you store your butter depends on how you plan on using it.
If you're planning on eating your butter the same day you make it, you can leave it on the counter. Sanchez freezes some butter in molds and keeps some in the refrigerator in jelly jars. At Mount Vernon, Massee uses butter churned at the plantation for cooking. She hand-forms pats, wraps them in parchment paper, places them in a plastic bag and freezes them until she's ready to use the butter.
The biggest mistake Massee sees new butter churners make is stopping the churning process too soon. "First time churners don't wait long enough," Masse says. Some new churners get excited that they've made something and stop when the cream still resembles whipped cream, just before it turns into butter. Finished butter will be yellow and leave quite a bit of buttermilk behind. I can attest to the joy that comes along with turning a liquid into a solid and it's worth the wait.
Massee cautions against thinking you must churn quickly to get butter. "Slow and steady" is better, she says. That's because if your arms get tired and you take too many breaks your progress will be undone as the partially churned butter sits.
Another common mistake Massee warns against is not getting as much buttermilk out of the butter as possible before storing. The less buttermilk in the butter, the longer it will last, so this is a key step unless you are using your butter right away.
Massee also thinks it's important to get cream with the highest fat content available. While she doesn't think anyone needs to hunt down special cream, this easy step is often overlooked at the supermarket. I bought the least expensive cream available, since I wasn't sure how my first try at butter-making would go, but on my next try, I plan on doing some comparison shopping in the dairy aisle.
I tried it
I tried making butter with a manual churner and a stand mixer. Making butter with the manual mixer took about 30 minutes. I stopped a couple of times to take very short breaks and it didn’t seem to impact the butter at all. Clean up was easy since I threw the glass jar that holds the cream into the dishwasher and only had to hand-wash the plastic paddles that do the churning. Next, I tried making butter in a stand mixer. This was easier on my arm and the cream turned into butter faster. However, the overall process took longer because even though I used the splash shield that came with the mixer, buttermilk splattered everywhere, leaving more to clean up. However, if I want to make a double (or larger) batch I will give the stand mixer another try, being sure to cover openings in the splash guard with plastic wrap. I didn't notice a difference in the final product between the two methods.
Personally, I like the lazy approach to washing butter and prefer just squeezing buttermilk out into the sink. Even though this method might not remove as much buttermilk, it's the easiest. And, my family eats a lot of butter, so I don't need to worry about it staying good for more than a few days. Using a fine sieve and spatula removes more buttermilk, but after experiencing how hard it was to clean the sieve afterwards, I decided I would never do that again. However, if I ever make a big batch to store, I will use the sieve method since that removed the most buttermilk out of all the methods I tried.
I love salted butter so I added a type of very coarse salt, called Zalt, to my butter and thought it was perfection, but another type of coarse salt, like Kosher salt, could work.
I put my butter in Tupperware containers and stored it in the refrigerator for the few days it took my family to eat it. I took the butter out of the refrigerator to warm up to room temperature an hour or two before eating and it was easy to spread.
Not for you?
What if all of this sounds like too much work but you can't find any butter? Chef Sanguinetti has some solutions. "In baking, the best alternative is coconut oil or olive oil for melted butter," he says, adding, "When served with bread, extra virgin olive oil is the best substitute."
If you're ready to try churning butter, however, Sanguinetti shares his recipe, which uses the stand mixer method.
Courtesy of Chef Michael Sanguinetti
Prep time 45 min
1 pint heavy cream
1 bowl ice water
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1. Remove heavy cream from fridge and let stand at room temperature for 30-60 minutes to encourage separation.
2. Pour heavy cream into stand mixer bowl, fitted with whisk attachment. Place bowl guard/pouring shield on bowl to prevent splashing.
3. Gradually increase mixer from lowest to highest setting. This should take 20-30 seconds. After about a minute or so it will look like whipped cream. Keep going at full speed — after about 3 minutes it will separate. The butter will collect inside the whisk and the buttermilk splash around in the bottom of the bowl.
4. Spoon any lumps of butter out of the buttermilk and smush them onto the butter in the whisk.
5. Pour the buttermilk into a separate container and set aside. You can use it for baking, drink it or freeze it for later.
6. Fill a bowl with 3 cups of water and a few ice cubes. Use a spatula to knock the butter off the whisk into the water. Swirl the butter around, then start gathering the pieces together on a paper towel. Change the ice water a few times as needed until it runs clear. Then smush and fold the butter firmly against the walls of the bowl to press out any additional buttermilk.
7. Wrap the butter in several layers of cheesecloth or two layers of paper towels and squeeze to remove any additional moisture. Flatten the butter into a disc between two paper towels, then fold back into a ball and repeat, until the paper towels aren't picking up any moisture.
8. Place the butter back in the mixer bowl and beat on medium with the paddle attachment. Add salt or any desired herbs to taste and beat again to combine.
9. Wrap butter well in an airtight container and chill.
If you don't have a bowl guard or shield for your mixer, you can stretch plastic wrap over the bowl and cut a hole in the middle for the whisk attachment to fit through.
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