Homemade Butter

Right after college, I waited tables briefly at a little French bistro in Providence, RI. Each day the pastry cook would whip cream and store it in a plastic tub for use during service. Sometimes it would be inadvertently left overnight or for a couple of days and start to taste like butter. The cream was no longer light and fluffy and you could see the liquid beginning to separate.

Making homemade butter is that easy – you don’t even need a recipe, just a method of over-whipping heavy cream until the fat and milk solids form granules and release enough buttermilk. It can be as simple as shaking it in a jar, or whipping it in a food processor or stand mixer. There are a couple steps that follow, but if you use a mixer or food processor, the whole process takes less than a half hour and the results are worth it. You don’t get fresher than homemade butter, and you’ll taste the difference. Because it’s fresh, your butter won’t keep as long as commercial butter, so make it in small batches and keep it in the fridge for a few weeks or freeze it for up to 9 months.

Also, as a by product of making your own butter, you will have real buttermilk, which you can save for using in baked goods. This is not the same as cultured buttermilk which is sold commercially. That stuff is actually made from milk to which a culture is added to thicken it, and does not have the same flavor as true buttermilk.

This method, using a food processor, is adapted from Kathy Farrell-Kingsley’s The Home Creamery. I use a Kitchen Aid 14-cup food processor. Results and processing times might vary with different machines:

Ingredients & Equipment:

1 pint of heavy cream (yield: approximately 1 cup (1/2 lb.) of butter)

salt (optional)

food processor

a wooden spoon or potato masher

large bowl and/or colander

Basic Procedure:

1. Pour the heavy cream into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and let ‘er rip. After about 2 minutes, the cream will start to look like Cool Whip. This is the soft peak stage.

Soft peak cream

2. After another 2 minutes, the cream will already be over-whipped and start to look a little grainy.

Cream is slightly overwhipped

3. After another two minutes, butter solids have formed and released a lot of buttermilk. You will end up with about equal parts solids and buttermilk. Total time only 6 minutes!

Butter solids and buttermilk

4. Drain off the buttermilk and save it for baking. At this stage, The Home Creamery recommends transferring the mass into a colander and kneading out any remaining liquid with a wooden spoon or potato masher, but I found when I did that lots of butter was being lost through the holes too. So I would recommend using a bowl instead and just pouring off the liquid as it’s released by kneading.

kneading the remaining liquid and blending the granules

4. The book doesn’t mention it for this method, but after the butter has become uniform and released most of it’s buttermilk, you may want to wash it. Simply rinse it under cold water, kneading gently and taking care not to handle it too much as it will melt. This will extend the life of the butter. One antique cookbook even recommends washing as a way of restoring rancid butter.

Uniformly kneaded butter

4. Now your butter is ready. If you like, knead in some salt. This will also extend its shelf life. I like to use fine sea salt. If you are serving it as a condiment, you could try a salt with larger crystals such as Maldon, or Fleur de Sel instead to add a little texture. Pack it into a crock, or wrap it in wax paper or parchment. It will keep in the fridge for several weeks, and in the freezer for up to 9 months.

finished butter packed into a ramekin for serving

Other methods and ideas:

Just for fun, I tried just taking a cup of cream and shaking it in a pint container too – a second method given in the book. Of course it took longer, but the granules eventually formed. In this case I rinsed the granules by shaking water in the jar and changing it a couple of times before kneading it and forming it. This is a great activity to keep restless kids occupied for a while because the granules will take about a half hour instead of 6 minutes to form.

My friend Megan at Brooklyn Farmhouse uses a stand mixer, which will not only whip the cream, but knead it for you too. She also uses local grass fed cream, which if you can get it will of course produce a superior butter.

Farrell-Kingsley also recommends using ripened cream to add complexity to your butter. To ripen cream, just set it out at room temperature for 12-24 hours. She notes that it should be “shiny and taste acidic” but not sour. The result will taste similar to European butter which is often described as more “cheesy” tasting.

Try using the buttermilk for baking. I used it to make delicious Buttermilk Banana Muffins.

4 thoughts on “Homemade Butter

  1. Butter is good for us IF we make it ourselves at home. The manufacturers of butter use a bad process just to be able to extend shelf life.
    Many years ago butter used to go rancid and yellow in a few days…those where the good days where food was organic and well prepared…today we have to educate ourselves to eat healthily.
    Make sure your fresh cream comes from organic milk of cows without antibiotics etc.

  2. Tried making butter similar way as described but butter got “mouldy” (green-coloured stuff) after only overnight in the fridge. I have not used any salt (was hoping to get nice tasting butter without added salt). The home-made butter was very nice but it is a pity that it got “mouldy” so quickly. Any advice?

    • What a shame! Fresh homemade butter may keep for only a few days without the addition of salt. To get the most shelf life, make sure you use the freshest cream you can find, make sure all your equipment is super clean, and get as much moisture out of the butter as you can. Any retained liquid will cause the butter to get rancid more quickly. Store unsalted butter up to 3 days, tightly wrapped in wax paper or parchment in the coldest part of your refrigerator. The book said it can keep for a few weeks in the fridge, but to be sure, you might want to store it in the freezer instead. Just place the wrapped butter in an airtight bag so it doesn’t absorb any off flavors. Hope this helps!

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