Sometimes, buying cream in bulk is too good of a deal to pass up. For about the price of two cups (470 mL) of heavy cream at the supermarket, you can pick up a half gallon (8 cups) at the local wholesaler. But, unless you're cooking for a party, that's a lot of cream to use up before you hit the expiration date. After you've made a couple cream pies, clam chowder, and topped your angel food cake, you realize that you've only used four cups of cream! What do you do with the rest? Well. . . I make butter.
I suppose I'm obliged to talk briefly about how butter isn't actually bad for you and how natural saturated fats can actually be beneficial to your body and, maybe, even necessary for good health. I'll try to keep it short: In an earlier article on the topic of Saturated Fats, Cholesterol, and Heart Disease, I wrote about the misinformation concerning saturated fats (the family of fats that butter belongs to) and questioned the link between cholesterol and heart disease. Scientific studies that make a distinction between natural fats and processed fats show that previous evidence that linked fat consuming with obesity and heart disease may not be as straightforward as the commonly believed notion that fat consumption increases weight gain and the risk of heart disease. More and more often, as studies are being conducted more accurately (by not lumping processed fats with natural fats in the same category of study), it is being shown that there is either no correlation between natural fat consumption and obesity and in some cases an argument can be made that the consumption of natural fats can actually promote weight loss! Cholesterol has been "feared" in the last thirty years because it is suspected to be an indicator of heart disease. However, as study after study shows that blood serum levels of cholesterol are less accurate at indicating risk than a meteorologist is at predicting weather two weeks in advance. In fact, cholesterol is a fundamental building block of the human body necessary for proper operation of our brains, maintains a healthy digestive system, is a fundamental building block for many hormones, and serves as the body's main healing agent. It is in this capacity (as a healing agent) that has perhaps caused the most confusion in the understanding of how cholesterol works in the human body. When large amounts of cholesterol are found in the brain of someone afflicted with Alzheimer's disease or who has suffered a stroke, is the cholesterol the cause of the problem or is it there because the body is trying to fix a problem? Many researchers are beginning to believe that what is readily accepted in the medical community (that cholesterol contributes to heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer's, etc.) may in fact be a misinterpretation of the facts. Cholesterol is often found in the plaque that forms on the interior lining of arteries, but more and more researchers believe that the cholesterol is being used by the body to fix damage caused by other substances (such as polyunsaturated fats that have broken down releasing free radicals). Additional research has recently shown that the consumption of cholesterol helps to regulate blood serum cholesterol levels as well. Not only does feeding dietary cholesterol to individuals with low serum level increase their cholesterol, but feeding dietary cholesterol to those who have high cholesterol levels actually brings the level down. High serum level of cholesterol are typically caused by the body's overproduction of cholesterol and the dietary intake of cholesterol provides triggers to the body to reduce the excess production. It should also be noted that dietary cholesterol accounts for less than 1% of the cholesterol circulating in the blood and is less than 0.2% of the total body pool of cholesterol in the average person.
It turns out that butter is excellent source of vitamins, anti-tumerogenic fatty acids, anti-microbial fatty acids, and dietary cholesterol. Cream has the same properties as butter, but butter is like concentrated cream - with all the health benefits, plus it cooks up real nice and lends wonderful flavors that can't be duplicated no matter how much companies try to mimic the flavor with margarine.
Making butter is simple and easy (with modern appliances). You can churn the butter from cream in a blender, food processor, mixer, or even some bread machines. All you need is a machine or device that will agitate the cream so that the fat globules in the cream are destabilized. This causes the fat globules to start to clump. This clumping first enables tiny air bubbles to be trapped in the cream forming a relatively stable foam that we know of as whipped cream. When the agitation continues, the fat globules begin to clump so much that the air and fluid being help in place cannot be contained any longer. The foam seizes and the fat network begins to break down into large fat clusters that we call butter. In this example, I'll use a standing mixer to produce almost a pound of butter.
Start by pouring heavy cream into the bowl of a standing mixer. In this example, I started with a quart of heavy whipping cream. Traditionally, butter is made from soured cream. The milk is allowed to sit for a long time (perhaps a week) and the cream is skimmed off regularly to build up enough cream for churning. During this process, acids are formed as the cream sours. These acids help to break down the fat globules during churning so that they can stick to each other - thus aiding the creation of butter. The acids also provide a flavor to the butter that we no longer enjoy with manufactured butter. Since we are using an electric appliance to churn the butter for us, it's not necessary to sour the cream prior to butter making. However, for stronger flavor, you can add a tablespoon (15 mL) of store bought cultured buttermilk to each cup (235 mL) of cream used. Let sit for about 12 hours at room temperature before beginning the butter making process.
Start the mixer with the whisk attachment on low speed (to avoid splatter) and progress to medium speed as the liquid begins to thicken. At this stage, the cream drips in long thick strings.
Increase the speed to medium-high or high (if the cream allows that without splattering). Just a short while longer will bring the whipped cream to what is known as soft peaks. At this point, dipping and withdrawing a whisk or other implement (such as your finger) from the cream will form a sharp rise in the cream that has a drooping tip. This is referred to as forming soft peaks. Whipped cream in this stage is often used for baked goods and usually involves folding the cream into another mixture.
The next stage that the cream enters happens very quickly. The cream begins to form stiff peaks (when an implement is dipped and withdrawn, the peaks that are forms stand up straight without drooping). This is typically the target stage for whipping whipped cream. Whipped cream that forms stiff peaks is often used as a topping for fruit, pies, beverages, and anything else you can think of. (Try adding a little horseradish and serving with prime rib). This picture shows the cream just past when stiff peaks begin to form. To avoid overwhisking, it's often a good idea to whip the cream to soft peaks and then take it to stiff peaks with a hand whisk.
Next up, is a stage for which I do not know the name (or even if there is one). It's just past stiff peaks where the cream just begins to crinkle up. This is when the cream is about to seize and become butter. The color of the cream also takes on a very pale yellow color. This stage is a favorite of mine for topping cakes and cupcakes. I like how it's not as airy as regular whipped cream and has a rich, full flavor. You can "save" the cream from entering the butter stage by adding more cream and whisking it back into stiff peaks. It won't be quite the same as if you stopped at stiff peaks, but it should suffice.
A few seconds later, the mixer should churn the cream into butter. This happens quickly and rapidly - the cream suddenly seizes and buttermilk floods out while pellets of yellow butter form. You'll want to slow down your mixer at this point to prevent slashing the buttermilk all over your kitchen.
The amount of liquid that is expelled as the butter begins to mash together into a larger lump is considerable. At this point, it's best to remove the buttermilk (you can reserve it for use in baking recipes - use as if it was whole milk, not buttermilk) and keep mixing a bit longer. The buttermilk is only about as acidic as regular milk because we did not sour the cream before churning. You can approximate store bought buttermilk (which is actually cultured buttermilk) by adding a little lemon juice, but it won't be quite the same. Also, our butter milk has a bit more fat than the 1% fat cultured buttermilk sold in the supermarket.
The butter should be washed to remove as much of the butter milk as possible. This can be done by placing the butter in a bowl with cold water and kneading the butter. When the water discolors, pour it out and more cold water. Not washing the butter will result in butter that my go rancid because of the buttermilk.
At this point, the butter can be wrapped and frozen or refrigerated for storage. But why not keep working it a little? Continuing to whisk the butter at high speed will start to beat in some air making the butter a little lighter and smoother.
Additional ingredients can be added to make new kinds of butter. Salted butter can be made by whipping 1/4 teaspoon table salt to every 4 ounces (115 g) of butter. Other popular additions are herbs and garlic. Use about 1 clove of garlic, finely minced, for every 4 ounces of butter (or more if you like garlic). For herbed butter, I use about 2 Tbs. of dried herbs for every 4 ounces of butter. In this example, I used an even mixture of dried basil, parsley, tarragon, and crushed rosemary.
Once you're done whipping your butter, measure out reasonable portions (I like going with the U.S. standard of 4 ounces per stick) onto separate pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap. Roll the butter into cylinders and twist and close the ends. Slip them into the freezer or refrigerator for future use.
Of the 32 ounces of heavy cream I started with, I ended up with 14 ounces of buttermilk and 14 ounces of butter. I assume the other four ounces were buttermilk rinsed away during the washing phase.
Last edited by Cooking For Engineers on Tue Jun 21, 2005 2:32 pm; edited 1 time in total
Joined: 10 May 2005 Posts: 1635 Location: Austin, TX (USA)
Posted: Fri Jun 03, 2005 9:54 pm Post subject:
Going by memory, I think the minimum fat content for creams is as follows:
Whole milk - 3.6% (depending on breed and diet)
Half-and-half - 10-15%
Single cream - 18%
Light whipping cream - 30%
Heavy whipping cream - 36%
Double cream - 42% (some countries as high as 50%)
In any case, double cream has a lot more fat, and so will be easier to churn into butter (and really easy to overwhip when making whipped cream).
Joined: 10 May 2005 Posts: 1635 Location: Austin, TX (USA)
Posted: Sun Jun 05, 2005 7:55 am Post subject:
I would love to see an article on oils. stuff like smoking temperatures, nutrition, flavour and so forth.
Fats is a pretty complicated topic, but I think that's a great idea. I have a table of smoke points already, but I think I can focus on a variety of popular cooking fats and their nutrition, affect on the body, etc. It has now been added to my to-do list.
Posted: Mon Jun 06, 2005 3:06 pm Post subject: different types of olive oil
Its about time engineers get our own cooking site <grin>!
In regard to the "heavy cream" I can only find half and half, coffee, and whipping cream designations in the stores? Is heavy cream whipping cream? (30%MF) ?
Also for a future article....
I often wondered the differences between olive oil, light, extra light, virgin, extra virgin designations.... could you please shed some light on when to use which kinds, or if there is "quality" differences between them? Someone told me use only extra virgin as a salad dressing but cook (heat) only regular or light? Any background, scientific or otherwise would be appreciated!
Joined: 06 Jun 2005 Posts: 1 Location: Richmond, VA
Posted: Mon Jun 06, 2005 4:17 pm Post subject: brother from another mother
I am taking pictures of food processes just like this...at my job! I have to provide step by step visual instructions (standard work documents - for those of you in the Lean or IE fields) for all of our chilled prepared food items.
Great shots of the mixer!
No sarcasm, really...what digital camera do you use to get such great exposure and resolution?
I don't think we'll be making butter soon, but we have recently started making a mayo for potato salad. It's a big hit, except with the Hobart mixer operators.
Thanks for a serious yet fun website on cooking -- the scientific way.
Posted: Tue Jun 07, 2005 1:12 am Post subject: Dairy Wholesalers?
As a lover of all things fatty and delicious, I was excited at the mention that the price of a half gallon of cream is the same price as 2 pints from the grocery store, should you be able to find a wholesaler.
Except.. How do I find a cream wholesaler?
Like, what would I look up in the yellow pages to find something like this? I'm just drooling over the idea of buying a half gallon of cream, but no idea where to look. On that note. Anyone know of a good place to get ridiculously large containers of cream or mascarpone in the Berkeley, CA area? Thanks!
Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2005 7:17 am Post subject: another idea
I've made butter with heavy cream by putting some into a clean mason jar, the quart sized ones, and shaking it until the butter lumps together. This way, you don't have to worry about the buttermilk sloshing all over the room.
I think the stage after stiff peaks is when the mixture starts to curdle (like when you overbeat eggs).
I learnt to make butter from my grandmother and mom. We would skim the cream off of milk and from the yoghurt we made. I guess the little bit of yoghurt that creeps in to the cream helped give the butter some flavor (like the soured cream you mention).