How to make butter

A while back our Best Home Chef blog, “How to make buttermilk” mentioned that a pleasant side-effect of making buttermilk is, in fact, making butter.

Today, we’ll be approaching this topic from a different angle, concentrating on the process of making butter (in both traditional and vegan varieties), and what extra ingredients can be added to give your butter great new flavours.

What you’ll need:

Cream

Butter, being the yellow stuff that goes on toast and is used in many different recipes, is made out of cream, which itself is the fatty by-product of milk preparation.

For the purposes of this blog, we’ll be assuming that you don’t have access to a herd of milking cattle (though if you do, good for you!), and instead will start by purchasing cream from the supermarket or other local retailer.

There are a few different varieties of cream on the market, and different countries have different regulations and naming conventions.

In Australia, your best bet for butter-making is probably pure cream – use a generous amount of it, as only about half of it will end up as butter at the end of the process (the other half will end up as buttermilk). 

Double cream is also a good choice, as it contains additional fats that should help produce a greater percentage of butter.

Thickened cream may not work as well for making butter, as its gelatin content could potentially affect your end results.

Cold water

This will be used later on to wash and rinse the buttermilk out of the butter.

The water must be cold to prevent the butter from melting.

Cheesecloth

As its name indicates, this fabric is usually used in the production of cheese (which could be a good topic for another future blog), specifically to separate the cheese curds from the whey (unless your name is Little Miss Muffet).

In making butter, you can use cheesecloth or a similar material (a tea towel will do in a pinch) to strain the buttermilk out of butter to prevent it from spoiling – more on this later.

Butter bats or wooden spoons

Butter bats are old-fashioned wooden paddles used for shaping butter into tidy rectangles.

Since they tend to be hard to find outside of antique shops these days, a couple of wooden spoons can form a tidy substitute.

It can be handy to keep these utensils soaked in cold water to prevent the butter from sticking.

Food mixer, blender or jar.

Just like the herd of milking cattle, I’ll assume that the majority of readers don’t have easy access to a dedicated butter churn or similar apparatus (more power to you if you do!).

A hand or mounted mixer or blender can do the hard work of churning the butter out of your cream, though the results could be a bit messy if you’re not careful.

One alternative is to grab a jar or other container to hold the cream instead, and to give it an intense shaking a la Tom Cruise in Cocktail rather than a mixing.  Good for if you need a bit of a cardio workout!

How to make butter:

Using your food mixer or blender, start mixing your cream on a medium speed – too slow and it’ll take forever, but two fast and you’ll annihilate the mixture and make a huge mess.

After few minutes of mixing, the cream should start to froth, then form the “stiff peaks” used to describe whipped cream, due to the air bubbles and fat particles spreading through the mixture.

After some more mixing, the cream’s butterfat molecules and proteins will start collapsing and clumping together, separating the cream into a solid mass of butter and liquid mass of buttermilk.

Drain the buttermilk from the butter, using a strainer if required.

Next, you’ll need to get any remaining buttermilk out of the butter mixture, as this can cause it to go sour and rancid faster.

Wrap the mass of butter in some cheesecloth and squeeze out as much buttermilk as you can by twisting the end as if you were wringing out a towel.

Next, place the butter in a bowl of cold water (the water must be cold to prevent the butter from melting) and give it a good knead (either with your hands or your butter bats) to squeeze out any remaining buttermilk, which should make the water go cloudy.  Drain and replace the water a few times until the water stays clear.

Alternatively, you can place the butter and cold water in a blender and give it a few pulses on a low speed, changing the water as necessary until the water drains clear, meaning that the butter should now be free from buttermilk.

Using butter bats if you have them (otherwise just use some spoons), shape the butter mass into the shape you want (usually a cube or rectangle, but cylinders are popular too), and wrap it in greaseproof paper or stick it into a container.

And voila – home made butter, ready to eat!

Extra ingredient options:

Salt

The basic recipe as given above will give you a simple butter with a fairly short shelf life – it really should be eaten straight away before it has the chance to spoil.

However, if you want to ensure that your butter lasts for longer, add some salt to the mixture once the buttermilk has been fully separated from the butter.  This will not only help to keep the butter fresh for longer, it should give its taste a bit of an edge that it might have previously lacked.

Yoghurt

If you want your butter to keep fresh for longer, but would prefer to keep your creation free from salt, natural yoghurt can be added to the mixture as an alternative, due to the bacterial cultures it contains.

It is also possible to purchase bacterial cultures to preserve your butter from retailers catering to cheesemakers and other dairy specialists, but yoghurt is probably a bit easier to source.  And unless you have a microbiology degree, you probably shouldn’t try to grow the cultures yourself.

Herbs

All manner of herbs can be added to butter to give it extra flavour to go with whatever you’re preparing.

Garlic, Herb and Cheese Bread by Emma Cooke

The classic example is adding is a bit of minced garlic and some parsley for making garlic butter, which is ideal for making garlic bread from a freshly-baked loaf.

Other herbs that go great with butter include mint, rosemary, dill or fennel – experiment and see what else works and what you prefer!

Mustard

Mixing some mustard (plus a bit more garlic and maybe even some lemon juice) in with your butter can produce mustard butter, which goes great with steak, lamb, salmon, roast veggies, and similar dishes.

Olive oil

Want your butter to spread straight out of the fridge, without having to wait for it to warm up?

Adding a touch of olive oil should see to that, giving your butter a consistency that’s a bit more like spreadable margarine.

Brandy or rum and sugar

Want to make your buttery desserts even more decadent?  Add sugar and booze!

Mixing your butter in with some brandy or rum and some sugar (icing sugar, brown sugar, anything will do – they deliver results of different consistencies) will give you brandy or rum butter, which is as amazingly rich as it sounds.

Vegan butter

Yes, you read that right – there are ways to get that butter consistency and taste without any dairy products (for the lactose-intolerant) or indeed any animal-based products at all (for vegans).

There are a few different recipes for vegan butter available online, but many of these use this recipe by Mattie of VeganBaking.net as their starting point, substituting different ingredients or preparation techniques to develop different flavours and textures.

To start using Mattie’s recipe, you’ll need the following:

  • soy milk
  • apple cider vinegar
  • salt
  • refined coconut oil, melted
  • canola oil, safflower oil or sunflower oil
  • liquid soy lecithin, liquid sunflower lecithin or soy lecithin granules
  • xanthan gum

Mattie explains the exact food science behind the recipe in great detail on Veganbaking.net, so you can be confident that by following this recipe you’ll be left with a dairy and animal-free butter substitute.

Happy cooking, everyone – let us know how your butter-making goes!

Mark Bristow
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Mark Bristow

Mark is the proud owner of an impractically large paella pan, and enjoys putting strange new twists on classic recipes. Google+

Leave a Comment

  • Mark I remember when i was little girl and I was at my gradmother place and she make butter from just milk from their cows,because they keep some of them .I don’t remember how many they have,but definitely the butter come from milk.Sometime I did it.They have special tool for that.The butter was divine.And they did not add nothing in,because not much money.But anyway I like it your article.PS.The milk was fuulyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy creamy from the cow.

    Reply

    by ANNA LINHART on 30/05/2013, 15:24
    ANNA LINHART
    • Snjezana I agree with you.

      Reply

      by ANNA LINHART on 31/05/2013, 08:49
      ANNA LINHART
  • herb butters are wonderful! We made uni butter and simply melt over pasta. Lovely article. We have made our own butter on occasions we ave raw milk and looking forward to being abel to indulge again soon.

    I am going to point a few vegan friends to the alternatives you mention .. nicely done

    Reply

    by Helen Minns on 31/05/2013, 10:25
    Helen Minns