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Cooking from the World Pantry: D.I.Y. Butter

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Why spend the time making butter at home when you can easily buy it? Perhaps you purchased some cream for a chicken tikka masala recipe you found online and you aren’t sure what you’ll do with the remaining three-quarters of the carton. Or, maybe you are getting ready to leave town for a vacation and there’s a pint of cream in your fridge for coffee that will remain unused and sadly spoil in your absence. That’s when you make butter.

Making butter is no more complicated than whipping cream. In fact, the only real difference is you just keep whipping. The quickest and easiest route to homemade butter involves the use of a food processor. A stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment will also work, as will electric beaters. You could even pour cream into a jar and vigorously shake it until cream becomes butter.

Over-whipped cream looks like islands of curds floating in a sea of milky water. It’s beautiful but it isn’t yet butter. The liquid, which must be drained off, is true buttermilk, and I like to think of it as a bonus one receives for all the hard work that went into beating the cream. You can save it to make biscuits or, if you’re curious about the rich, tangy flavor of fresh buttermilk, you can drink it.

As a final step, pour ice water over the curds, beat for another moment in order to wash the curds, then drain off the water, and voilà—butter.

You could stop here. Fresh butter needs nothing more than a crusty loaf of bread and perhaps a sprinkle of flaky salt. But you could also jump at the opportunity to mix seasonings into the butter, which will be malleable and accepting of finely chopped herbs, pinches of ground chile pepper, or almost any other ingredient you choose to add. I’ve offered a few suggestions in the recipe below, but feel free, as always, to make it your own.

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Photograph by Maria Zizka

DIY Butter

Makes 3 small logs

2 cups heavy cream

Ice water, as needed

Fine sea salt

Optional seasonings

Pour the cream into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Blend continuously until the cream turns into whipped cream and then becomes a clump of milky butter, about 5 minutes. (Alternatively, use electric beaters. Or, if you are looking for a serious arm workout, pour the cream into a large jar and shake until butter curds form.)

Pour off the buttermilk (and save it for biscuits!). Pour about ½ cup of ice water over the butter. Blend to incorporate, then drain off and discard the water. Repeat once or twice more, until the water runs nearly clear.
Transfer to a very clean cutting board. Using your hands, knead a few pinches of salt into the butter. At this point, you can work in any additional seasonings.

  • For garlic parsley butter: Using a mortar and pestle, pound 3 cloves garlic and a pinch of salt to a smooth paste. Add 3/4 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves to the mortar and pound to a rough paste. (You can chop the parsley, but pounding will keep it bright green.) Mix into the butter.
  • For lemony harissa butter: mix in 1 tablespoon harissa and 1 tablespoon finely chopped preserved lemon peel.
  • For cinnamon sugar butter: mix in 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar.

Shape the butter into narrow logs, wrap tightly in parchment, and store in the fridge or freezer.

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