Yes, I know you can buy perfectly delicious butter in the grocery store. But really, making your own isn’t all that complicated, and it’s really fun to do. Making butter is a great project for kids, too – it’s an exercise in showing them where even our most elemental cooking products (e.g., butter) come from. All you really need is a stand mixer – I haven’t tried making butter with an electric hand mixer, although I’m sure it’s very possible to do – and really high-quality heavy cream (I use local grass-fed heavy cream). I used my homemade butter and the “traditional” buttermilk produced from the butter-making process to make the most delicious cheddar-sage biscuits. Have a dinner party and pull out this homemade butter with a loaf of great bread and watch your guests freak out.
A quick note about buttermilk – so called “traditional” buttermilk is the liquid that is extruded during the butter-making process (you can see it pretty clearly in the photos below). Modern buttermilk is simply cow’s milk to which various bacterial cultures have been added (like yogurt) that produce the characteristic tang and thickness of commercial buttermilk.
One pint high-quality heavy cream
A stand mixer
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt (optional)
1. Pour the heavy cream into the bowl of the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
2. Start the mixer out on low (position 2 on a KitchenAid Mixer) so you don’t spray heavy cream all over yourself.
3. Increase the mixer speed gradually to medium-high (position 6). After 2-3 minutes, the cream will start to thicken to the consistency of sour cream.
4. Keep going, and watch as the cream begins to turn into whipped cream. First, soft peaks (still sort of runny).
5. Then, hard peaks. It will take between 3-5 minutes for the cream to reach this stage.
6. At this point, if you were making whipped cream you’d probably shed a little tear, because the cream is starting to curdle. For our purposes – have no fear – keep going.
7. After another minute or two, you’ll see the cream really start to clump up. Another magical thing you’ll start to notice: the cream will start to get more yellow in color. Things happen really fast after this.
8. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. You’ll probably have scrape more than once.
9. You’ll start seeing the cream clump even more. Buttermilk will begin to extrude from the mixture and it will become even more butter-yellow. At first, a tiny bit of buttermilk will come out:
10. Then, a huge amount! From one pint of heavy cream, I collected about a cup of buttermilk. Turn the mixer back down to low so you don’t spray buttermilk all over yourself.
11. Keep going on low – more and more buttermilk will be extracted. Stop when you see about a cup of buttermilk in your mixer bowl (you don’t have to measure – just estimate).
12. It’s a little strange – but now you have to wash the butter. This prolongs the butter’s life and actually extracts even more buttermilk. Pour off the buttermilk (you can use it in cooking just like you’d use regular buttermilk) and gather the butter bits together. Under cold running water, squish the butter between your fingers, taking care not to drop any in the sink (you should see additional buttermilk come out).
13. You can put your new butterball back into the mixer and beat in a bit of salt, if you like (this will preserve the butter even longer).
14. Roll up into a tube using a piece of wax paper, parchment, or plastic wrap and refrigerate or use immediately.
15. You have butter! The entire operation took maybe 20-25 minutes.