The Churning Point

Yes, churning — as in butter. I know for you non-farm dwellers, butter churning might conjure images of someone’s floral-frocked Meemaw perched on the edge of her porch’s rocking chair, squinting against the effort of plunging a churn through gallons of cream. But you don’t need a fancy churn, a floral frock, or even much space to churn your own butter. In fact, it’s as simple as standing in your kitchenette with a jar or food processor full of cream — and the flavor will blow your biscuit-lovin’ mind. And of course, when you smear just-churned butter over those biscuits for Sunday dinner, you won’t be the only one who notices the difference.

One method, using a jar and a marble, will give you a workout, a conversation piece and a novel way to entertain kids. Start with a quart of heavy cream from cow’s milk — this will make a pound of butter and two cups of buttermilk. Let your cream ripen at room temperature for 12 hours. This makes the cream slightly sour, which yields richer, faster-whipping butter. Just don’t forget to drape a clean towel over the top to keep out opportunistic kitties.

Put the cream into a jar large enough to be two-thirds empty so your cream whips faster. Drop in the marble and shake. That’s it! It can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to make butter, depending on how hard you shake. The cream will go from frothy to firm and heavy, then coarse and grainy, and then voila — butter! If you’re not sure if it’s happened, it hasn’t. The cream’s final separation is a dramatic, hallelujah moment, with a butter island suddenly emerging in a sea of splashing buttermilk.

Drain the butter in a cheesecloth-lined colander, applying pressure with a wet wooden spoon to squeeze out extra milk. And for Pete’s sake, catch and save the buttermilk that runs off! After you’ve squeezed out all you can, massage the butter under icy cold water until it runs clear. Be diligent, ’cause poorly washed butter is sour and unappetizing. Put your butter into a bowl and press it to one side, squeezing out the water. Thoroughly mix in one teaspoon of fine or flaked salt, pack the butter into an airtight container or crock, and store it in the refrigerator.

For those of you who already have gym memberships, thankyouverymuch, try using a food processor. Put the bowl and blades in the freezer for 15 minutes first. Then dump in the cream, turn it on and let it go, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary. When the butter and cream separate, continue with the instructions above, picking up where you drain the butter in a colander.

If there’s one thing I don’t need to tell you, it’s how to use your butter — once you try a little off the spoon, you’ll come up with plenty of your own ideas. But I can’t resist interjecting my humble opinion that nothing beats the flavor of warm, homemade bread spread with just-churned butter. And the leftover buttermilk? Pancakes, waffles and from-scratch ranch dressing are just a few thoughts that spring to mind. But the classics are classic for a reason. Why not whip up some buttermilk biscuits ASAP, fork-split ’em while they’re hot from the oven and slather on fresh-churned butter?

No Meemaw necessary, I promise.

Buttermilk Biscuits
Makes 1 dozen

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
1 cup chilly buttermilk
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Toss dry ingredients into a bowl, stir ’em together with your fingers, and work the butter in with your fingertips until it looks like coarse crumbs. Work quickly — for the flakiest biscuits, you want the fat to stay cold and lumpy. Now make a valley in the center and pour in the chilly buttermilk. Give the dough a few tosses with your hands, until it just comes together in a sticky mass.
Flour your countertop and roll the dough just enough to get it into a rough round about an inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter or floured drinking glass, cut biscuits with a firm downward press. Lay them on the baking sheet, allowing the sides to touch slightly. At this point, either re-roll the rest of the dough briefly to cut out more biscuits, or just put up with oddly shaped scraps pushed together into makeshift biscuits. I recommend the second option. They’re not as pretty, but they’re much flakier than biscuits from dough that has been rolled twice.
Bake until the biscuits are tall and golden on top, about 15 minutes.

Copyright 2011, MaryJane Butters.
Distributed by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

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