by Jeanne Kay Guelke
Local food enthusiasts in the Creston Valley are so lucky, now that the Harris dairy (of Kootenay Alpine cheese fame) is producing organic bottled milk and cream under their Kootenay Meadows label. From these products it is only a short step away to make your own local organic yogurt, ice cream, buttermilk, and butter, right at home.
Butter-making became one of the lost kitchen arts in the early 20th century, as home cooks moved off the farm and found that store-bought butter was much easier than milking cows, separating the cream, and standing over a butter churn. If you have an electric mixer, however, butter is very easy to make.
This recipe makes one scant measuring cup of butter, and about 1 ¼ cups of buttermilk. The entire time is probably about 25 minutes, including hunting for all your utensils.
You will need:
• A large bowl of very cold water. Add ice if your tap water isn’t cold.
• A butter dish
• A rubber-tipped spatula or a large spoon.
• A small jar or mug
• A wire strainer with a fine mesh
• A counter-top electric mixer, such as a Kitchenaid, preferably with a wire whisk attachment. A hand-held mixer with rotary beaters would be fine, just more physically demanding.
• Mixing bowl
• One 500 ml bottle (or 1 pint) of cold whipping cream. (Not “table cream”, which is part milk.)
• ¼ teaspoon table salt (optional)
If you can chill your mixing bowl and beater ahead of time, so much the better. The main thing is that you want your butter to be as firm as possible, not melting. Of course, everything must be utterly clean.
Pour the cream into your mixing bowl, turn the mixer on to a medium-high speed, and let ‘er rip. Turn off the mixer occasionally so that you can scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with your spatula to ensure even beating. Soon you will have whipped cream. Continue beating with occasional pauses to scrape down the bowl, as the whipping cream begins to look chunky. It may begin to take on a pale yellow colour.
After about 10 minutes or so, you should suddenly see the buttermilk separating from actual butter. The butter itself will resemble scrambled eggs or cheese curds. At this point turn off your mixer, and drain off the buttermilk through the strainer into the jar. Beat the butter some more, once or twice, for a moment each time, to release all of the buttermilk you can. Drain it off into the jar.
Once you have drained off virtually all of the buttermilk, gather up the butter into a ball. Knead it for a moment right in the bowl of cold water. This step is to work out any air bubbles or remaining buttermilk, while preventing the heat of your hands from melting some of the butter. If you want to add salt, sprinkle it into the mass of butter now, and knead or beat it in quickly. But the butter in your butter dish in the fridge to firm up.
A good article on home butter-making by this method is here. The author, Darina Allen, specializes in traditional Irish cooking.
“Churned” buttermilk is good for drinking or baking. It will taste like fresh, sweet milk with flecks of butter in it, unlike the cultured buttermilk found in the supermarket, which has a tart taste.
If you prefer the tart type of buttermilk, you can make it easily by combing 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice or white vinegar and 2 cups of milk. Let this stand for about 15 minutes, for the milk to sour.
For cultured buttermilk, add ½ cup previously cultured buttermilk to 500 ml (1 pint) of organic fresh milk. These ingredients must be kept at 20⁰C (70⁰F) pretty much all day or overnight.
Organic milk (like Kootenay Meadows) is important for making probiotic buttermilk at home, because the lactic acid bacteria critters needed for the culturing process don’t seem to function well in ultra-pasteurized milk. This buttermilk is ready when it has “clabbered” or thickened slightly.
Refrigerate all buttermilk, as you would fresh milk, for food safety.
Buttermilk Biscuit Recipe
2 cups sifted whole wheat or spelt flour. (Note: sifting makes the biscuits lighter.)
¼ teaspoon salt
2½ teaspoons baking powder for sweet buttermilk, or 2 teaspoons baking powder plus ½ teaspoon baking soda for tart buttermilk.
¼ cup cold butter
¾ cup (approximately) buttermilk
Preheat your oven to 450⁰F. Grease a small cookie sheet, or line it with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter until the flour mixture resembles coarse corn meal. A little at a time, stir in the buttermilk—just until you get a dough that isn’t too sticky to knead, but not one that is still dry or floury.
Knead the dough briefly—just to incorporate the ingredients. Then pat it out on a floured surface. The thickness depends on how high you want your biscuits to rise. They should double, but they won’t do more than that. With a floured biscuit cutter (or drinking glass rim,) cut out the biscuits, being careful not to twist the cutter.
Transfer the biscuits to the cookie sheet. Gather up the dough scraps and repeat the process. If you wish, you can brush the tops of the biscuits with a little milk or cream before baking for a slightly glazed surface. Depending on the size and thickness of your biscuits, they should take about 12-15 minutes. Serve hot out of the oven with home-made butter and local honey or jam.