2017: it is here, we are entering into a brave and terrifying new year. And I'd like to really dig into that, to spend more time here talking about the serious stuff. But first, we need to talk about something wonderful. I.e., butter.
Have you ever made your own butter? It happened, around here, on a lark. We've been getting cream from a local farm—a thick, gloppy, luscious quart of it each week, because that's the only size the farm sells—and using it for coffee and whipping and pouring over thawed, sweet strawberries. But a quart is so much! And since it's not homogenized or pasteurized, it doesn't keep past a week. It doesn't rot, either, but it does slowly sour until it's not what you want for coffee or sweets. (Anyone experienced in sour cream making? Please share!)
So a few weeks ago we decided to try to preserve it. The most obvious way, of course, is butter—you can't freeze cream and keep it in good shape, but you can quite nicely freeze butter. And it turns out all you need to make it is very cold water, a food processor or electric mixer (or brute strength), some salt, a sieve, and a bowl. In short, things you already have on hand.
After dinner one night I found a tutorial in Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking. Alex and I poured the cream into our food processor and let it spin until we got first whipped cream, and then butter globules and buttermilk. This took about 3 minutes. Then we strained out the buttermilk, put the butter globules back in the food processor with some salt, pulsed a few times, and strained it again. Finally we "washed" the butter: put some ice and water in a metal mixing bowl, kneaded the butter globules together in the water like you would bread, dumped the cloudy water, and repeated this process two more times until the water was clear. I'd say from start to finish turning the cream into butter took 10 minutes. We packed the butter into a glass crock, made sure to squeeze out all the water, and put it in the freezer. Then we drove to Maine for a week.
When we got home, we took the butter out of the freezer. I am happy to report that it has done its job well—the cream is preserved—and better still, in butter form, it is stunningly delicious. It is excellent on toast, and better still on homemade biscuits.
When we went to told Sally what we'd done, how we made it—look! we made our own butter! so, cool, right?!—she shrugged. "I've done that at school before," she said. "It's easy."
Always putting things in perspective, kids.
TO MAKE BUTTER
1 quart heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon "pickling" (kosher) salt
Pour the cream into a the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor. (A food processor is more powerful and will make the process faster, but both will work.) Beat until it thickens first into whipped cream, then separates into fat globules and buttermilk. Beat in the salt. Place a bowl beneath a sieve and strain the fat from the buttermilk. Return the fat globules to the food processor. Beat for another minute or so, then strain again. Save the buttermilk for baking or another purpose.
Now fill a large metal bowl with cold water and a handful of ice cubes. Use your hands to knead the butter to force out as much buttermilk as possible. (Darina says this is important, as any buttermilk left in the butter will sour and the butter will spoil quickly.) But be careful not to handle the butter for too long with warm hands, or it will liquefy.
Drain the water, refill the bowl with ice and water, and repeat this process 1-2 times more until the water is not cloudy but instead remains clear. Shape the butter into pats, use a mold, or pack it into a crock. It will keep for at least a week in the fridge, and indefinitely in the freezer. The more careful you are with the washing, the longer it will keep.