How to make butter, clarified butter, brown butter

I was walking through Costco earlier this week and on impulse purchased half a gallon of heavy whipping cream. Why, you ask? Well I’m always told that if you agitated the cream too much it’ll turn into butter. So I decided to do a little experiment and actually turn the cream into butter.

Immediately after getting home and unloading my Costco wares, I fitted my KitchenAid with the whisk attachment and poured in cream to fill the bowl a quarter of the way and started whipping at top speed. If I added the cream all at once, it would’ve all splashed out of the bowl and made a huge mess. But it can’t splash if it’s whipped, right? Once I got stiff peaks, I gradually added more cream to it in increments until the it was all in there. (In retrospect, a smaller experiment with  a pint-sized container quantity would be preferred. But hey, inspiration struck while at Costco).

Once I could see it starting to get grainy, I turned down the speed to save my whisk attachment and kept a close eye on it. It only took about a minute when I could see the liquid – true buttermilk – seeping out. At this point, I should’ve stopped and rinsed the whole thing out gently, keeping all the butter “curds” separate with ice water to get all the liquid out, then strained with a cheesecloth. But at the time I thought the way to do it was to keeping going at it until I had a solid lump of butter. It proved very difficult to rinse and I constantly found little pockets of water inside the butter lump when I was patting it dry.

While I was waiting for the cream to whip up, I noticed that my cream was not just straight up cream. It had these additives and gums which I assume make for a more stable whipped cream. Not knowing whether they were fat or water soluble, I opted to discard the buttermilk and pondered upon what to do with my butter that had water pockets which would undoubtedly lead to spoilage.

Cream and additives

Cream and additives

The answer – clarified butter. After melting the butter down into a tall pot and just bringing it to a boil, some water evaporates off and the milk solids and not-butter settles down to the bottom, leaving just butterfat. Make sure to use a large pot – it foams up a quite a bit. It has a much higher smoke point than regular butter on account of the removal of the milk solids which usually leads to burning. Add a bit of it when sauteing vegetables or to anything that would benefit from the flavor of butter, including searing meat with a combination of vegetable oil of some kind with a bit of clarified butter. Works well for pancakes and waffles, too.

Don’t stir, just let it do its thing on its own. I poured out about half of the butter as clarified butter and continued to let the other half go in the pot until the milk solids on the bottom turned brown. I strained this stuff off too. This lovely browned butterfat is known as beurre noisette, or browned butter. Use it the same way you’d use clarified butter, or substitute it for regular butter in baked goods to add a lovely nutty and buttery flavor. Another idea is to add a bit to add a bit to grains like rice, corn, quinoa, etc. for a nice side dish.

So let’s see – is it worth it to make your own butter from cream? The half gallon from Costco cost me $7.99, and yielded 1 lb, 13 ounces of butter (plus a quart of true buttermilk which I discarded) which comes out to $4.41/lb. I could have purchased 4 lbs of unsalted butter from Costco for $10.34 which comes down to $2.59/lb. Obviously it’s much more economical to purchase butter instead of making it from cream. However, if ever one day you accidentally whip the cream too far to be salvageable, there’s always butter.

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