There are staples in food preparation – things you can't cook without – like eggs, a good mirepoix, and butter. You can substitute a million things for each, but nothing bakes a perfect quiche like eggs, nothing starts a French stew like mirepoix, and nothing tops a piece of toast or poached lobster tail like fresh, simple butter.
The first source I consulted when I decided to make my own butter was The White House Cookbook, a gem of a book that happy homemakers have referenced for recipes and laws of etiquette since 1887.
The first line of The White House Cookbook's butter recipe:
“Immediately after the cow is milked, strain milk into clean pans and set over moderate fire until scalding hot.”
Due to lack of cow in my condo building and nearby shopping center (which includes a McDonalds, a men's shoe store and several trendy boutiques- yay corner of 14th and U!) I decided to consult my second source of all things relevant, my mom.
“You made butter in kindergarten. You put milk in a jar and you shook it. You were very cute about it.”
The conversation confirmed my cuteness and yearning to create at a young age.
(Side note: when in doubt, call your mom. You'll feel good about yourself and learn something in the process.)
So it was that simple. A cup of whipping cream, an old mason jar, and a bit of elbow grease.
But what about a blender? Not exactly a kindergartener's kitchen tool but something I could certainly manage now. Would it work better than shaking it by hand?
I put it to the test. Consulting the Joy of Cooking, I first chilled my blender. Then, removing it from the freezer, I added 1 cup of whipping cream and mixed it at the blender's fastest speed for about 20 seconds. When the cream started to stick to the blender's teeth, I added ½ cup of ice-cold water to the mix, and then blended until the cream was thickened.
The thickening took a few minutes, and the cream never got quite as solid as I wanted. When I realized the cream wasn't getting any thicker, I removed it from the blender, spooned it into a cup and let it chill.
For the next attempt, I added 1 cup of whipping cream to a container (I reused a glass salad dressing jar), closed it, and shook it as hard as I could for about 3 minutes. I opened it up and checked out the contents – not there yet. So I smiled at my husband and asked if he wanted to be in my column this week. He said yes and politely held out his hand, where I promptly placed the jar and watched him shake.
After 5 minutes, we opened the jar and found thick, whipped butter. The consistency was much thicker than the butter made in the blender, not to mention there was a lot more of it (the butter made in the blender produced less, and there was liquid and loose cream left at the bottom, see the picture to the left). I spooned a little into a cup, closed up the jar, shook it for another few minutes, and added the rest of the butter to the cup to let it chill.
After they'd been in the refrigerator for half an hour, I tasted both butters. They had a similar flavor, but the consistency of the jar-made butter added something to the experience and got bonus points because it didn't break down when I stirred in a tablespoon of agave nectar (A nice alternative to honey, the agave nectar and butter added the perfect sweetness to a banana nut muffin).
Other things you may want to add to your butter:
- Add dried herbs (such as basil, marjoram and thyme) to a batch for cooking seafood
- Add chopped nuts to a batch for spreading on whole wheat bagels
- Add parmesan cheese and chopped onion to a batch for topping Italian bread
If you're up for homemade butter, take my advice – skip the cow, skip the blender and make butter the easiest way -- whipping cream in a jar. And, call your mother.