15 May 2009

the hardest butter to butter

Maybe in years to come, when my blog has changed lives, and gets turned into a beautiful book, and then the movie of the book of the blog changes peoples' lives (oh wait, that's Julie and Julia that I'm thinking of, and somewhat more feasibly, I'll probably slide quietly into further obscurity), and a naive child asks their grandparents what the ultimate blog post that would describe Hungry and Frozen would be, what the very distilled essence of this whole strange business is, the ur-text, the definitive piece of writing, their grandparents might lean down and utter with a wise, earthy croak: The one where she made her own butter.

I call this one: Self Portrait.



Okay, whoa, things got self absorbed there for a bit, but such is the nature of blogging. I'll be straight with you: I love butter. I don't know what it is, there's definitely the soft, creamy, golden, slightly saline flavour which plays a part. But then there's also the texture, something that can't be imitated. It's a texture echoed in other good things - dark chocolate, pistachios, avocados... I just love it. Somewhat aggressively. I love what it does for cakes, I love butter icing on top of cakes, I love butter smeared thickly across freshly made scones which also have butter in them...I'm not the only person like this, right? Not to mention my strident rejection of margarine. I don't mind cakes with oil in them, some are just supposed to be that way, but don't get me started on margarine - I'll go all twitchy. Anyway, some other lovely bloggers (like Culinary Travels and Tea and Wheaten Bread) have made their own butter recently, which inspired me to do it myself - it seemed so right somehow. Making butter. By hand. Being at one with it. Well, more so than I normally am...

It's simple enough, but there are some rules to be observed. Rather like the movie Fight Club, which, by the way, I'm secure with never having seen because I know it will be light years too violent for me to deal with. Thanks to its Wikipedia page though, I'm still able to discuss it critically with people who actually have watched it.

The first rule of making butter is: You need far more cream than your ability to gauge will let you think you will need, and then some.



I used a litre, which in America you could also see as four measuring cups full, of cream. To add further confusion, you'd want to make this double, or heavy cream, if you were in Britain or America respectively, since our cream in NZ is just called 'cream' and we don't tend to have divergence into 'single' or 'double'.

Why can't we all just get along?

Appalling lack of culinary unity aside, 1 litre/four cups cream will yield around 400-500 grams of butter. You'll also get about 250mls/1 cup of gorgeous buttermilk. Where the rest goes, I don't know. I can't pretend I know much about science, which I suspect could go some way to explaining this conundrum.

The second rule of making butter is: Keep going. Don't stop when it looks like this picture below.



Why yes, when I make stuff by hand I mean by hand. A somewhat deranged venture, I grant you, whisking a litre of cream into stiff peaks. But my justification was, if I was going to make butter I might as well really do it, not remove myself from any of the process. Just as I love kneading bread by hand, not in a machine, so it follows that whisking cream doesn't really bother me.

I do use the electric beaters, it's just when all's said and done, and you've finally found the machine in the bottom draw with the potatoes and onions, located the beater that fell behind the oven and the other one which was behind the pots and pans, sitting quietly in a plastic chinese take-out container, it's probably quicker and easier just to grab a whisk.

The third rule of making butter is: It involves a degree of messiness.



At some point it will separate - often quite suddenly - into tight, nubbly little curds, and thin, whitish buttermilk. At this stage you want to drain off the liquid - don't throw it away though, it can be used in baking, or soup, or you could actually drink it - and I found it pays to squeeze out the curds themselves into the receptacle for the buttermilk as they hold a lot of liquid.

At this stage, you cover the butter-to-be in water and knead it - that's right - then discard the water, repeating this until the water stays clear while you're kneading it. I understand this step helps to make it last longer.

From here you can keep the butter as is, or knead in some salt. In New Zealand 99% of our butter comes salted, it doesn't taste salty in the slightest, just a little...fuller. Nevertheless it's what I'm used to so it's what I did. Like all the hip young things these days, I too have some pink Himalayan salt (gifted to me by one discerning Santa Claus) which I carefully kneaded into the primrose yellow lump of dairy - about 1 1/2 teaspoons. Go easy at this stage because you can always add more salt later.

And then...



Cue the Halleluja chorus. Using only two ingredients - fresh New Zealand cream and Himalayan salt, I made actual butter. It's really that colour too - I don't know where all the yellow hides when it's in cream form, but you whip it up and suddenly it changes colour. That night I made scones using the buttermilk, and the taste of the butter melting slowly onto the tender scones was spectacular. Please note the adorable pink silicone container, which is actually a mini loaf dish, a birthday present from my aunty Lynn, as was the pink silicone mini heart which I used to make my couer-a-la-beurre at the start of this post.

So as you can see making your own butter is easy, so easy that you can make some and suddenly get an inflated ego and entertain fanciful notions of your blog being turned into a movie starring Hollywood heavyweights and indie flick darlings.

Speaking of things that are wildly important to me: If you happen to be in the vicinity of the good village of Otaua tomorrow, please visit the Mighty Otaua Village Garage Sale at the Otaua Village Hall (established in 1985!). This is by no means limited to people of Otaua, if you are from Waiuku, Tuakau, Pukekohe, any nook or cranny in the wider Franklin region, heck, if you're anywhere in the Waikato why not make a scenic trip down to Otaua. You can (a) scout out some ridiculously cool bargains in a recession-tastic manner, and (b) support a tiny village who are trying their best to fight against the ugliness of WPC Ltd who want, of all ill-conceived ideas, to relocate their waste oil treatment plant to Otaua Village.

If you can't make it to Otaua then why not shake your fist at WPC Ltd and the potentially devastating effects of their aims in a virtual way by watching the song on youtube that my father wrote (and videoed!) to protest their actions. For those of you that have been reading this blog for a while, this venomous typing will probably come as no surprise, but for those of you who are newcomers to this strange land, check out the Otaua Blog for the full rundown on the ignorance of WPC Ltd. Ugh, it's totally ruined my butter high just thinking about them - I'm typing all angrily, hitting the keys hard - I feel like I've just seen some margarine or something - so let's try to keep it positive: get yourselves down to Otaua Village for the sure-to-be-awesome Garage Sale.

It has been a busy week - on Monday Tim and I saw Dylan Moran (of Black Books fame) who was, despite being visibly weary as so many stars are by the time they get to New Zealand on their tours, deliriously funny. We were fortunate enough to meet him at the stage door afterwards, he said no photos but signed our ticket happily enough. On Wednesday we were at Bodega for Okkervil River, who were delightful, friendly, generous of encore. The venue, however, was troublingly warm. So warm that I could barely concentrate, let alone applaud. On top of that, work has been pretty manic and suddenly it's Friday already. Which is why I was glad to get home early and bunker down with some chicken noodle soup away from the cold tonight.
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On Shuffle while I wrote this:

Blank Generation, by Richard Hell and the Voidoids, from the album Blank Generation
Santa Fe, from the Rent Original Broadway Cast Recording
Central Park by Mark Kudisch from the See What I Wanna See Original Cast Recording (Kudisch can currently be seen on Broadway's 9 to 5, rocking a moustache like he was born wearing it.)

Next time: Well, Tim and I are both graduating on Tuesday, which is very exciting, so I may be relatively quiet until then. What happens after that is anyone's guess. Peace.

20 comments:

  1. I'm with you, both on the fondness for butter and on the deep, deep mistrust of margarine (which has turned out to be justified, btw.) I don't use it very often, because my husband does not share our fondness, but it offers a texture and taste that absolutely, positively cannot be substituted for.

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  2. Hi there, thanks for the "plug". This is being posted from deep within the verdant green-paddocked cream-producing enclave of Otaua Village. (Also misty and damp this morning but it adds to our bucolic charm). It was my original typo error but can you change the date of the Otaua Hall founding to 1898).

    Love the buttery blog. I know from which side of the family you inherited the butter gene.

    You would weep at some of the home baking and preserves that are on sale at the garage sale- carrot cake, home made spaghetti in home made tomato sauce, home made chocolate chippy biscuits,homemade pineapple and cauliflower pickle.... Cheers.

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  3. Your butter looks just wonderful. A little ray of New Zealand sunshine. :)
    You have such a way with words. I enjoyed the butter tale immensely. Lucky you meeting Dylan Moran. He is brilliant yes?

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  4. You are sooooo evil, now I'm off to get more thicker from homemade butter...spectacular looking

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  5. Great post!! I'm totally with you on making things by hand and on the topic of how extraordinarily wonderful butter is.

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  6. Oh Laura what a great job you did! I love your writing style too, it makes me feel like I'm in the kitchen alongside you :)

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  7. Great story o' butter! I posted a link on my edible crafts column (ediblecrafts.craftgossip.com). thanks for sharing!

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  8. Fearless Kitchen: I agree entirely!

    Otaua Village: :)

    Granny: Thankyou, and yes he is - a credit to Ireland ;)

    Slow-1: I think I've said those same words to myself before

    Fuji Mama: Thanks! And welcome to the blog!

    George: Thank you! :)

    Chic Cookies: Edible crafts? Now we're talking!

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  9. I bow down before your culinary dedication! The one time I made butter (at school, under duress) we were armed only with film canisters, milk and small glass beads; needless to say the results weren't quite as appetising as yours...

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  10. Oh you are so good with words Laura. I loved the imagery.
    Hunkered down at home today, might even have to bake a few scones.
    Have a great day on Tuesday - our thoughts and best wishes are with you

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  11. Have a great time at your graduation and I love the butter!!

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  12. Wow, you actually made your own butter! By hand! With a whisk!! I am suitably impressed! I actually had to laugh out loud at your comment: "I feel like I've just seen some margarine or something". Haha, I didn't know there was such a thing as a "butter high". While I don't have anything against margarine (quite happily will have it on my toast, but that's about it, I rarely eat it), I will never use it in my baking. There are some things that butter was just made for.

    I am also one of those people that eats things and puts on weight instantly. Which is why it's so evil that I can't stop eating the cookies I just made (white choc-chip cheesecake cookies in case you're wondering - and I'll be blogging about them soon!).

    We saw Dylan Moran on Friday night. He was brilliant and hilarious! I like how he's able to customise his shows to his audience (he made jokes about Australian politics and the Aussie accent).

    PS. Also just commented on your last blogpost, as I had to exclaim about all the nice-ness that you blogged about (even if I did do it a bit late).

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  13. Agreed--that butter looks very good!

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  14. Haven't they given up on that waste treatment plant yet? Don't they get that the grassroots have spoken? From little things, big things grow etc.

    I'm only 90% overwhelmed by your butter making. You would have had to add some starter culture to it first to bring it over the line.

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  15. <3
    Real butter all the way!
    You are truly legendary by the way...making butter with a WHISK?!
    *hugs onto food processor for dear life*

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  16. Boffcat: I imagine glass beads aren't that nice?

    Viv: Thankyou, I'm pretty excited!

    JillyB: Thankyou!

    HayleyB: Your cookies sound amazing :) Dylan Moran made jokes about NZ politics (not as many as I'd have liked though lol) I like it when people do their research.

    Sadako: Thankyou :)

    Foodycat: Starter culture? I'm intrigued, tell me more!

    Twospoons: I love my food processor too *hugs own processor*

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  17. you are too funny. Congrats on gradutating.

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  18. The butter looks fantastic!!! Especially with sea salt in it. There's just something special about the flovor and taste of it.

    By the way, I got mine @ http://www.sustainablesourcing.com/

    They also carry a great selection of peppercorns, as well as a Zen Cube which is AWESOME grated over edamame!

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  19. Wow! I'm impressed - I'm pretty sure you just inspired me to make butter. But homemade butter totally seems like something to do once, at the very least, in one's life. Plus, I never realized how feasible (read: no fancy equipment) it would to be make. I always imagined those old wooden butter churns...

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  20. Have been back reading all y our posts... and just made butter using your directions. Perfect!
    Now, part of it is sitting in the fridge as part of a bowl of Madeleine mixture.
    Can't wait to taste the final product.

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