Butter makes everything better

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day and everyone in the food blogging world seems to have made Irish Soda Bread. I, on the other hand, made the thing it would be a crime to eat soda bread without.

Two ingredients become two new ingredients

Yep, that’s right. Butter. Cultured salted butter to be precise. Truth be told, I don’t really like soda bread, it tastes too much like a giant drop biscuit, and I’ve already told you where I stand on the biscuit front. But butter? There’s nothing to dislike about butter. Butter makes everything better. And as a bonus? Making your own butter means you’ll also have for-real, fresh, cultured buttermilk.

Making butter is as simple as over-whipping cream, but for something slightly more interesting with a little tang to it, cultured butter is what you want. It doesn’t take any more effort, just a little more patience as you, well, “culture” cream by adding a tiny bit of yogurt and letting it set for a day or two until it thickens. (Cultured cream is essentially creme fraiche, and I suspect you can also make cultured butter by whipping store-bought creme fraiche–but if I’m going to effort to make my own butter, clearly a shortcut is not what I’m looking for.)

Once the cream is cultured, it’s simply a matter of whipping, straining, rinsing, and eating (and I promise, that takes much less effort than it sounds).

The only ingredients you need
Thick and ready to be whipped
Whipped, but not butter yet

An insanely busy weekend means I didn’t get this up before the St. Patrick’s Day parade of the soda breads, but I hope you will make this anyways because let me tell you, it is so, so worth it. This butter is perfection thickly slathered on just about any baked good (seriously, now is not the time for being skimpy), melted over vegetables or tossed with homemade fresh pasta; it’s perfect anywhere its flavor can really come through.

(By the way, as delicious as this is, I actually wouldn’t suggest using it in baking simply because the butter you get at the store has a very particular, very consistent water-to-fat ratio necessary for reliable baked goods. Plus, using homemade butter in baking means the flavor tends to get a little lost and you just went to a decent amount of effort for this–you’ll really want to taste it.)

Butter curds and buttermilk
Draining
Butter and buttermilk
Rinsing the butter

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can also fancy-up your butter with herbs or spices, nuts, or other flavorings (hello maple pecan butter). Making your own butter means you also have two of the four essentials for the best buttermilk pancakes you’ll ever have, just add pancakes and maple syrup. Or buttermilk biscuits. Or fruit smoothies (really, try a little homemade buttermilk in a smoothie, it’s like yogurt). Life is just better when there’s butter.

Salted butter ball

Cultured Butter (and Buttermilk)
This was inspired by a few different recipes/methods, but mostly America’s Test Kitchen. If you’re going to the effort to make butter, I hope you’ll buy the best, simplest ingredients you can find–there are only three of them after all. Particularly buy cream that only has one ingredient (I was surprised that cream often has stabilizers and other stuff that isn’t necessary).

4 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup whole-milk yogurt with live cultures
Flaked kosher or sea salt, to taste (I think I used 1/2 teaspoon, but could have added more)

In a large bowl or mason jar, whisk together milk and yogurt. Cover with a towel to let air circulate but keep debris out. Let set at room temperature (around 75 degrees) for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours (if it still needs additional time, put it in the fridge for up to another 48 hours.)

Give it a stir every so often; when it’s ready, the cream will be much thicker all the way through and smell and taste tangy like yogurt. (Yes, you are in fact letting dairy sit out. The bacteria in the yogurt protects against the milk going “bad” but if it really taste off, throw it out and try again.)

When the cream is cultured, chill it in the refrigerator for about an hour to make it easier to whip.  In the meantime, line a strainer with a doubled-up piece of cheesecloth and set it over another bowl. Get plastic wrap ready to cover your mixer. Get 2 cups of ice water handy.

Add the cooled, cultured cream into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk. Wrap plastic wrap over the bowl to avoid splattering when the butter and milk separate, and whip on high. After a few minutes, buttermilk will be splashing against your plastic wrap and you’ll hear a sloshing sound as the mixer runs. Turn the mixer off and you’ll see yellow curds of butter floating in white buttermilk.

Pour the butter and milk through the cheesecloth-lined strainer. Gather the butter together and press out as much buttermilk as you can into the bowl, twisting the cheesecloth to create a ball. Reserve buttermilk for another use; it will keep a few weeks.

Unwrap butter and place it in a large, clean bowl. Pour about 1/3 cup of the ice water over the butter and knead the butter like bread, folding it over on itself. You want to rinse off any remaining buttermilk to keep the butter from spoiling. When the water looks milky, pour it out and then add more fresh ice water, repeating until the water stays clear. Pour out the last of the water and dab the butter dry with a paper towel. Knead in 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Pack butter into small jars or wrap tightly in parchment paper. It will keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks or several months in the freezer.

Buttermilk pancake bonus!

Buttermilk destiny

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