In this amazing age of supermarkets and convenience stores, why would anybody want to make their own butter? For the food nerd in me, the answer is simple: to see if I can. But I came to home butter-making for a practical reason, too — I had a couple of baked potatoes almost done in the oven and not a stick of butter to be found. Now yes, there are several places to buy butter nearby, but those taters were ready to GO, and I was hungry for the New York strips I had coated with pepper and ready for the skillet. So I had resigned myself to butter-less potatoes when it hit me: I had a half-pint of heavy cream in the fridge leftover from another recipe I had made a few days before. And what is butter made from? Cream. Lacking a proper butter churn, I took down the Kitchen-Aid, slapped on the whisk attachment, turned it on and within a few minutes I had a ball of pale golden butter, perfect for my potatoes. It’s a fun process, so if you want to play Little House on the Prairie (with a Kitchen-Aid Mixer), keep reading.
First off, you’ll need that cream and your stand-mixer. Dump it right in, and put on the whisk attachment. You can make this stuff in bulk, but we like to just make small batches of table butter — there’s only two of us, and we like the stuff too much to make a lot. Turn your mixer on high-speed, around an 8. Let it whirl.
Soon enough, the cream will thicken and you’ll have one of the most wonderful things on earth: whipped cream. You may be tempted to add a touch of simple syrup and vanilla to the pot now, mix, and eat with a spoon — but stay with us, we’ve still a ways to go.
Keep beating, and soon enough the cream will get kind of gnarly looking. We call this the “steakhouse butter” stage because it looks a lot like the whipped margarine you get at cheap steakhouses (but it tastes a lot better). Whipping the cream has forced the fat in the cream to cling to itself, which first allowed air to be trapped (whipped cream) and now the fat globules are getting so big that they are losing their fluffiness and beginning to turn into real butter. There’s still a lot of moisture here, though, and we want to get it all out so that we only have the pure butter-fat. Keep beating.
There will, at last, come a magical moment where the fat finally turns loose from the water. This happens rather suddenly, and if you’re not careful, the liquid — buttermilk — will splash everywhere. Turn the mixer down until it looks like no more fat will separate. Strain the butter from the buttermilk — and take a taste of that buttermilk. You’ll find it’s nothing like the cultured product sold in the supermarket (it’s quite yummy). You can return your butter to the dry bowl and beat it some more; more moisture will come out. Finally gather your butter together and rinse it with ice water, changing the water until it stays clear. This gets the last of the water out of the butter and keeps it from going rancid. Add a touch of sea salt if you like, or add herbs, or leave it unsalted for baking. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and in this case, the need for butter on my spuds made for a fun discovery. Happy cooking!