Butter-making traditionally represented hours of drudgery for farm girls, from carefully skimming the cream to the endless labor of churning. That's no longer the case in the modern era, with cream available at the supermarket and powerful appliances standing ready to do the actual work. It takes only minutes to make butter at home in a blender, an easy activity for anyone who appreciates the pleasure of making foods from scratch.
What Cream to Use
Butter is made from whipping cream, with its high levels of milk fat. You can use ultra-pasteurized cream if that's what's available in your area, though ordinary pasteurized cream will have a better, fresher flavor. If your area boasts one or more small-scale artisanal dairies, their cream should be your first choice. For mild-flavored butter, use the cream as soon as possible while it's freshest. If you like the tang of European-style cultured butter, you can culture the cream by adding 2 to 3 tablespoons of buttermilk for every pint of cream. Cover the cream with plastic wrap, and let it sit out at room temperature overnight or until slightly thickened.
Churn Churn, Cnurn
It's easiest to make butter when your cream is between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so take it out of the fridge -- or put it in your fridge, if it's been culturing at room temperature -- 20 to 30 minutes before you begin. You'll need at least a pint of cream for it to churn properly, or you can fill your blender jar nearly halfway. Choose a medium speed on your blender and let it run for 10 to 20 minutes. The cream will whip, first, as it does for desserts, then begin to get grainy. At a certain point it will separate into fat and fluid, and you'll notice a distinct change in the sound from your blender. That's when you know you have butter.
It's Nice to Be Kneaded
Scrape down the sides of your blender and pulse it a few times. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl, to catch the liquid -- natural buttermilk -- and empty your blender jar into the strainer. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can, then rinse the loose clumps of butter under cold water. Transfer the butter to a bowl of icy-cold water and knead it, until the water is milky and cloudy. Drain the bowl and refill it with fresh water, and continue kneading. Repeat this process until the water remains clear. This is important, because if you leave any milk in your butter it will quickly become rancid. Once it's rinsed, you can knead in 1/4 to 1/8 teaspoon of salt, if you wish, for each pint of cream you used.
Wrapping Things Up
Once the butter is finished, place it on a sheet of parchment or wax paper, and shape it into a block or rectangle. Each pint of cream produces approximately a half-pound of butter, or the equivalent of two sticks. If you plan to use homemade butter in baking, it's a good idea to weigh your homemade "sticks" to be sure they check in at the standard 4 ounces. Wrap the finished butter tightly in wax paper or parchment, and refrigerate any portion that won't be used immediately. If you want to store the butter for more than a few days, over-wrap it in plastic wrap or place it in a heavy freezer bag, and freeze it for up to two or three months.
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