Category Archives: Lesson

Lesson No. 1: Butter

I’m planning on making these Lessons a series here on the blog, but I want you to know that this isn’t about me teaching you lessons. It’s about the skills I’m learning as I’m learning them, and documenting that process for you. I can’t guarantee that they will always be successful or correct, but they will let you learn with me.

For our first lesson, butter. Something I’ve always wanted to make, but always had some reason to put it off. Well, finally, no excuses. There’s something so appealing about taking an organic substance, adding a bit of human-generated labor, and arriving at something so totally different. Plus, it harkens to an earlier time, a reminder that our ancestors did something very similar. Shaking up a bottle of cream gave me the image in my mind of the wool-clad Staten Island dairy farmer paddling his cream to Manhattan and arriving with butter after passing through the choppy channel. Oh, and it’s dead easy. Really. Fool-proof. A good first lesson.

Step 1: Buy heavy cream. I used localfreerangeorganic, mostly because I figured if I’m using cream from factory-milked cows, I might as well buy factory-produced butter. It helped that they were the same price, though, I’m not gonna lie. Quantity doesn’t matter here–it all depends on how much butter you want. I used a pint of cream and ended up with just over a cup of butter. Fill a glass jar 2/3 full with the cream. I overfilled mine a little, but it was no big deal.

Step 2: Start shaking. You don’t have to shake hard–about a shake a second is fine. Put on music and play it like a maraca. When your arms get tired, you can roll the jar around for a while. You really can’t mess this up. All in all, you’ll be shaking for about 15-20 minutes. Enlist help if necessary.

Step 3: As you’re shaking, you’ll notice that it is getting harder and harder. You’ll wonder if your arms are just giving out. Maybe, but it’s also because the cream is turning into whipped cream. Keep shaking, even though it doesn’t feel like anything’s happening. You want to “break” the whipped cream, like can accidentally happen when you’re making dessert (now you know for next time–you didn’t break it, you just made butter!) I know there came a point about 15 minutes in where I became convinced that this method didn’t work because there was no way my shaking this solid mass of whipped cream was doing anything…

Step 4: And then, Presto! All at once, you’ll hear a slop and a buttery substance will start sloshing around in a watery substance. You have made butter and buttermilk!

Step 5: Keep shaking even after the cream separated until it seems like you have a solid mass or two of butter in the jar.

Step 6: Pour off the buttermilk into a container. I didn’t use a strainer for this, just my hands holding the butter in the jar. Note that this is not the cultured buttermilk you find in the store–you could make that, too, but you’d have to leave your cream out overnight before starting (at least that’s how I understand it) and then it would take longer to separate. So it’s not tangy–it’s sweet, actually. Use it in recipes that call for milk or water.

Step 7: Wash the butter. I had to watch several YouTube videos before this made sense to me. The idea is to get all the buttermilk out of the butter. Some people don’t do it, but if you don’t, your butter will go rancid more quickly (about a week!) First, you rinse the butter. Do this by putting it in a bowl and running water through it. Drain it until the water runs clear. Drain again.

Step 8: Then knead the butter. As you press it and smush it around, more buttermilk will come out. Keep kneading, draining, and washing until no more cloudy liquid comes out. I realized later that I could have gotten more liquid out of mine, but the butter was getting too soft to knead effectively. Next time, I’ll put it in the fridge for a few minutes and keep going.

Step 9: Add salt. I don’t have a picture of this because my hands were covered in butter. Basically, add as much salt as you like. I put in about a teaspoon of sea salt. Knead it in. Salt not only tastes good, it also acts as a preservative.

Step 10: Place butter into whatever container/mold you like. I like Pyrex.

Step 11: Run around the house squealing, I made butter! I made butter! Invite friends over for pumpkin cornbread slathered with the stuff and let the ooh‘s and aah‘s wash over you when you reveal it was all made from scratch.

And there you have it. You have acquired Frontier Skill no. 1–and you didn’t even have to buy a churn off eBay.