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How You Can Make Your Own Butter at Home From Pasteurized Milk

Updated on May 4, 2013

What’s an easy way to wow your guests with your kitchen know-how?

Answer: Make your own butter!

At first glance, that seems like a tall order. Butter-making is a mystery to the average consumer, and butter is often cheap, making it a mystery that most people don’t have much motivation to solve.

Butter made at home with good quality cream, however, is an entirely different flavor experience from store-bought, and so easy that it’s worth doing just to be able to say that you did it.

To make your own butter at home, you will need:

Cream

Waiting for more? Don’t. That’s it.

The only caveat is that, in order to make your homemade butter really stand out, you will need good quality cream.

Some qualities to look out for:

  • Look for a heavy cream with a high percentage of fat, or at least 36% and preferably more. Since the process of making butter involves churning the cream so vigorously that the fat solids clump up and separate from the liquids, or the buttermilk, you will get more bang for your buck out of a cream with a higher fat content. (And if you’re watching your fat intake, what are you doing making butter?)
  • Avoid ultra-pasteurized cream. As anyone who has drunk UHT milk can attest, the flavor profile is significantly different, often tasting burnt or off. In fact, according to this study in the Journal of Dairy Science, the flavor compounds in ultra-pasteurized milk undergo a significant and verifiable change during the heating process, resulting in that funky flavor many of us love to hate. This flavor will carry over into anything you make with UHT cream, leaving you with burnt-tasting butter. Very yuck.
  • You can use any amount of cream that you want, but less than two cups will be hard to work with in the mixing bowl of any standard-sized mixer.
  • However much cream you use, expect to end up with about half as much in butter as you started out with in cream. Translated, that means that if you start with two cups of cream, expect to end up with roughly one cup of butter.

Oh, and you will need a stand mixer with a whisk, or a hand mixer and large, sturdy mixing bowl if you don’t have the stand mixer.

The Process

The process is very simple:

First you make whipped cream, adding a generous pinch of salt for flavor. (About 1/8 tsp per cup of cream.)

Then you keep whipping.

As you’ll know if you’ve whipped cream before, the cream will first slosh freely, then froth, then gradually thicken to a soft whipped cream, and then to a stiff whipped cream.

If you’ve ever kept going, however, you’ll notice that there’s a point at which your whipped cream will clump up and become almost grainy.

If you’re making whipped cream, that’s bad.

If you’re making butter, though, that’s good.

One you reach that point, keep going. The clumps of fat solids will gradually separate and accumulate, forming globules that will cluster around your whisk and leave behind a pale, milk-colored liquid in the bottom of the bowl.

Don't worry. This is supposed to happen.

At this point, you can stop whisking and start squeezing out the remainder of the liquid.

To do this, scoop out the semi-solid curds of butter fat and pile them into the middle of a cheesecloth or a fine kitchen towel. Bundle up the ends, twist to close, and bring the entire bundle over to your kitchen sink, where you’ll need to squeeze and rinse it under ice cold running water until the water runs clear and all of the buttermilk has been squeezed out of your newly minted butter.

Transfer the butter to a sheet of waxed paper and, by lifting the edges of the paper, form it into a rough rectangle.

Alternatively, you can use a butter mold at this point to form your brick of butter into something prettier. To make pretty, single-serving portions, try a silicone mold like this one. For something more old-fashioned and Polish country kitsch, try a wooden mold like this one from Oselka.

Refrigerate until firmed up and ready to use. To serve, I'd recommend removing it from the refrigerator for half an hour before use in order to allow it to soften to spreadability, but no more. (Since this butter contains no preservatives, it has a shorter shelf life and will need to be kept chilled as much as possible.)

Your fresh butter will keep, well-chilled, for up to a week.

Serving Suggestions

You can do many things with fresh butter other than simply slather it on a freshly toasted breakfast muffin and eat it just so – although you can do that, too!

For a touch of sparkling color and surprising flavor, omit the mixed-in salt and instead spoon the butter, while still soft, into 1-oz mini-ramekins and top with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt such as Hawaiian pink, Himalayan red, or a lightly smoked fleur de sell. Serve it at dinner with some crusty french bread or home made rolls fresh from the oven.

You might also make a compound butter by working fresh, finely chopped herbs, spices, or many other ingredients into the softened butter, then wrapping in wax paper, twisting the ends of the paper to form the butter into a log, and chilling for later use.

Compound butters are an excellent way to add an elegant finishing touch to simple dishes like grilled meats, seafood, vegetables, and even soups. Simply slice and lay it over the still-hot food and let it melt, bathing your dinner in its flavor.

Some compound butters that would be lovely to make include but aren’t limited to:

  • Finely chopped fresh chives - great for pairing with smoked salmon on toast. Add some fresh salmon roe and an ultra-thin slice of shallot on top of the salmon for a great hors d’oeuvres.
  • Minced chipotle chiles in adobo, garlic, and cumin - great way to add kick to a grilled steak.
  • Rosemary and garlic - also great for grilled steak or any kind of roasted or grilled pork.
  • Parsley, minced lemon peel, and garlic - excellent melted over grilled or steamed seafood.
  • Porcini powder, minced lemon peel, garlic, and minced thyme for a basting butter to use on roasted or grilled chicken.
  • Basil and chives – great for melting and drizzling over a gazpacho or even a warm, creamy tomato soup.
  • Tarragon and finely minced shallot will go well over a wide variety of things, from fish to chicken to vegetables and even a filet mignon, for a downgrade take on a sauce béarnaise.

Get creative! See what combinations work for you.

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