One of the best, and I mean THE best, flavors in the world is fresh, raw butter on bread straight from the oven. Happily that artisan flavor can be yours for tonight’s dinner because butter is so easy to make! So, here it is, How to Make Butter….
Butter – Historic Healthy Food
Being LDS, I grew up on a smattering of Pioneer stories, not the least of which were those having to do with the ingenuity of people who survived life on the trail.
After milking a cow*, the cream very politely rises to the surface within a few hours (cream separation is a gradual process that is better left to complete itself overnight in your fridge but our forebears didn’t have the luxury of time sitting still or electricity). Those awesome pioneer moms would skim the cream off the top, toss it in a covered jar and suspend it from the wagon while it jerked along the trails.
The agitation (think the then wide open spaces of Utah on a wooden wagon with no shock absorbers) caused those fat globules in the cream to separate from the other components and bind together forming a bright, golden smooth substance called raw cream butter (the modern pasteurized version is called sweet cream butter).
Butter and Cheese – Old School Preservation
There were more in depth scientific processes going on, of course, but my pioneer great-great-great grandmothers were more focused on providing this rich, nutritive substance to their kiddos on skillet cornbread. The making of butter and cheese has always provided a way to preserve the health benefits of dairy in substances that don’t spoil as readily as milk.
As big a big fan of cheese and butter, may I just shout a thank you to mankind in general, and Providence specifically, for preserving the awesomeness of dairy recipes throughout the ages.
I’ll briefly outline the steps to making butter (briefly only because it’s so quick to make) but I encourage you to browse your provident living books and the internet and read as many people’s advice as you can after Googling “How to make butter” – that’s how we learned to do it!
Steps – How to Make Butter
Step One – The Cream is Key
The first thing you’re going to need is cream. Fresh, organic if you can, raw or pasteurized cream (try to avoid ULTRA pasteurized cream), in whatever amount you wish. We have neighbors with a cow and we get 2 half gallon orders per week. From this cow, this month, we’re getting 2 cups of butter from 1/2 gallon of cream with a quart-ish (usually more depending on how good I am about collecting it) of buttermilk left over.
Dairy animals eat different things during the year and the nutrient content of their food, along with health of the animal, time of year, where they are in their lactation cycle and, possibly, which way the wind is blowing, all contribute to the cream content of the milk. Don’t worry too much about the hows and whys as you begin working with dairy products, just know that you’re not crazy or doing something wrong if your results aren’t consistent – do double check your recipes and routines but know that things change when you’re talking about live animals.
Step Two – The Container
If you’re using cream fresh from an animal, let your cream mellow in the fridge for a day or so. someday I need to look up why exactly this makes the butter making process go quicker but for right now, just trust me. Either way, make sure that your cream has come to room temperature – you do NOT want to try and make butter from cold cream.
Now you have a decision: do you want to put your cream into some kind of jar (like a Mason jar) and shake it out by hand, or do you want to put your cream into the bowl of your mixer? (I really don’t suggest you try doing this with a hand mixer unless you have a very little cream and a very tall bowl because you’ll just end up wearing most of it.) Both options have their pros and cons so let’s chat.
In a Stand Mixer
First, if you have the mixing collar for your KitchenAid (or whatever) AND you know where it is in your cabinets, this is probably the fastest option.
You simply put the cream in the bowl, affix the bowl and paddle attachment. Then, put your mixing collar on WITH a kitchen towel over any open spaces that are left (or your eyebrows and backsplash will be creamy) and turn your mixer to high.
Watch carefully as your cream goes from liquid to whipped cream to a cottage cheese looking substance to where it thunks against the side of your bowl, spewing white liquid and, if you’re using cow cream, turning an impossibly gorgeous color of yellow.
Turn off you mixer, give thanks to God and marvel at what you’ve just done (you did just make BUTTER, after all).
The reason I rarely use my mixer is because I can hardly ever find my mixing collar. I usually do so much cream at once that I really need the collar because of how badly the cream splashes at that high speed.
Plus, there’s something very organic about personally shaking cream into butter. Anyway, you’re ready to proceed to step three at this point so you can skip ahead, if you’d like.
Mix by Hand
Our Second option is the Mason jar method.
Well, ok, there’s actually a third option and that’s a butter churn. There are some really cool mason jar churns, old wooden options and beautiful crock churns but companies seem to only want to sell them to people with money. Someday I’ll buy one and let you know how it goes but until then, I’m cranking it out with elbow grease.
So, you want some clearance between the cream and the top of the jar (several inches) so that you can really build up some air pressure and wallop that cream. Do several batches, if you have to, in order to make room in your jar. Make sure your lid is screwed on tightly as you don’t want to end up with cream down your front. Did that once. Only once.
Now, here’s the hard part…shake it. Really hard.
For 2 to 20 minutes, depending on your arm strength and the age of the cream. Watch for the same process as described for mixer butter makers – liquid, whipped, cottage cheese, butter (when it thunks against your lid and turns bright yellow).
Congratulations! Now finish the job…
Step Three – Strain out the “Buttermilk”
Get a mesh strainer and, if you want to save the buttermilk/whey, put it over a bowl so that you can dump the contents of your jar or bowl into it. The buttermilk will drain into the bowl and the butter particles will stay in your strainer.
Rinse the contents of your strainer (the bits of butter should look like fine, yellow bread crumbs) with cold water to get out the rest of this butemilk-y whey. If this whey-type liquid is left in your butter, it cause the butter to taste really ripe after a few days. If you’re making butter with raw cream, this may be desirable to you because it will help the butter culture.
If you’re making butter with pasteurized cream, it will most likely just taste rancid.
Before you put your strainer back onto your bowl to work out the rest of the buttermilk, transfer the buttermilk in your bowl to a bottle to put in the fridge. Make sure you label it with the date!
Step Four – Shape the Butter
Working in the strainer, whip the butter pieces together with a spoon. This process smashes the particles together and also pushes out more liquid. You can put your butter into a regular bowl and do this, too – either way is fine.
Press and press and reshape and press some more to work out more liquid; this stuff you don’t really need to save because it’s so watered down.
Once you’re satisfied the butter is dry enough, add 1/4 tsp salt (or to taste) per cup of butter and pack into some kind of container. I like to find containers that have capacity I can measure evenly – like a ½ cup to a cup since those are the measurements we use most often when baking.
Speaking of baking, you’re going to want to learn to make your own butter so you can use it in the homemade cake and frosting recipes found in Cake Stand. Click below for more details on this delicious book.
A Quick Note on Buttermilk
The “buttermilk” you’ll have leftover from butter making isn’t like the thicker, cultured stuff you buy in the store; it has the consistency of whey or non-fat milk and is slightly sweet. You can leave it out on the counter overnight to culture on it’s own, but don’t expect it to thicken and taste like your grandma’s buttermilk. To learn to culture buttermilk, click here.
You can use this “buttermilk” like you would whey in any recipe for pancakes and waffles, cookies, sweet breads, cinnamon rolls, sandwich bread, dips and dressings, etc. Here are 36 Ways to Use Whey, by Don’t Waste the Crumbs. You can also check out Tiffany’s healthy eating while frugally living program by clicking below.
Step Five – The Reward
Now go eat it on something hot and yummy – toast, oatmeal, popcorn. Oh, this makes the best popcorn butter!! To learn how to pop popcorn from dried ears of popcorn, just visit this post.
Or try mixing a cup of this butter with 3 TBLS (or to taste) of Grade A Maple Syrup and some raw hazelnuts in a really good blender and spoon that mixture into your oatmeal.
I love to include fresh herbs like basil and rosemary in my homemade herbal butter, of course. My husband says I should add bacon, but he says that about most things.
Just a rich spread of this butter on your homemade bread will work wonders in your mouth. Wow, am I hungry all of a sudden; I’ve got to stop writing these posts late at night!
Make it a Family Activity
There you go – that’s it. Now go read a few more people’s ideas and find yourself some cream this week. Just a little container, nothing too big. Gather your kids around and get your equipment out and go to town.
Decide first what you’re going to put make with this butter. food is a great motivator, especially with children! Your great-great-great grandmother, pioneer or not, will be proud of you!
Do you have any handy tips to share from your butter making adventures? Feel free to post a comment – you’d be doing mankind a great service by improving butter making everywhere!
A word on Goat Cream for Butter
Goat milk has a very different make up than cow milk. Goat milk is naturally homogenized because the fat globules are much smaller and, therefore, disperse themselves throughout the milk. Incidentally, this is part of what makes goat milk easier for humans to digest. Some supposedly lactose intolerant people discover its only cow milk they can’t drink.
Goat cream does rise to the top of the goat milk after a few days. But it does so slowly and not in great volume. You can use a cream separator to filter out the cream more quickly, though. Goat cream, like goat milk, is pristine white so your butter will be the same color.
Goat butter is sweet and smooth and you’ll be glad you tried it.
If you’re currently debating between getting a goat or a cow for backyard dairy, you might appreciate this post.
Or, better yet, read about it – and so many other homesteading topics – in our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead. With 400 pages of homesteading information, projects and plans presented on four different levels of experience, you’re bound to find something useful to you! Click below for more information.