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How to make butter

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Butter has been a part of the human pantry for about a week short of the time we have been keeping cows. When cow's milk (straight out of the udder, homogenization and pasteurization are still centuries in the future) is left still, the cream floats to the top. Cream consists principally of the components of whole milk that have a lower specific gravity--mostly, the fat. Milkfat in its natural state is contained in "fat globules," which, exactly as they sound, are microscopic lumps of fat suspended in a liquid composed mostly of water, with a little protein mixed in.

The upshot of all this dry chemistry is that if you take cream and agitate (or "whip") it for a little while, you can break up some of these globules and introduce air into the mixture. If you whip it more, you'll break up more and make the cream stiffer. If you whip it even more, you'll reach the point where the globules collect into masses so heavy that they displace the air, collecting into a solid mass. This solid mass is what we call "butter."

The word "butter" derives from the Greek "boutyron," in turn derived from "bous" (meaning "cow" or "ox") and "tyros" (meaning "cheese"). Of course, many kinds of cheeses are made from cow's milk, but most cheese in ancient Greek times were made from the milk of sheep, and while butter is a high-fat solid dairy product, that is as close as a resemblance to cheese as it gets. Nonetheless, we needn't count the ancient Greeks at fault for having nomenclature that differs from ours.

What should we do? Why, we should make butter! Read on for further details.
 
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Step 1: Start with cream

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The only physical ingredient involved in the making of butter is cream. Indeed, the process of butter-making doesn't involve adding things to cream as much as it does taking them out--to wit, buttermilk. We got our cream at Costco. and I think the price was something on the order of $6 for a half-gallon. Figure on getting about half the cream back as butter.

Also: try to buy a cream that is as unadulterated as possible. Some commercial creams contain carrageenan (a natural thickener derived from a type of seaweed native to the Irish coast) or other thickening agents, and while I don't think it'd be impossible to make butter in the presence of such, the end product wouldn't be as good. You don't need to go down to Farmer X's stand and buy the cream he got from yesterday's milking (although butter made from such cream would probably be excellent); you just need to get something that has in it more natural product than plastic.

Step 2: Churn the cream

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Now it's time for a step that was traditionally related with backbreaking physical labor--churning the butter. Fortunately, you live in the era of electricity, and more importantly, the electric motor. So take your electric mixer and go to town on your bowl of cream.

Naturally, the first step in your process will be whipped cream. Have patience, As the fat globules continue to break apart, you'll get stiffer whipped cream, and even stiffer, until suddenly, the little lumps of butter start to slosh around in the buttermilk. Again, this happens quite suddenly, but you'll know it when you see it, even if you haven't done this before--it's a quick, qualitative change, not like that between whipped cream and slightly stiffer whipped cream. You'll go from having very stiff and slightly sloshy whipped cream to having very broken-up butter and very sloshy buttermilk in a matter of seconds.

Also: recall that whipped cream has a significantly greater volume than that of plain cream. Whip your cream in a vessel that has enough spare volume to allow for this expansion.

Step 3: Wash the butter

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Now it's time for a step that isn't often mentioned in chronicles of butter-making--washing the butter. There are still milk solids left behind in the butter that didn't make it into the buttermilk, and so it's vitally important to wash the butter if you want to keep it for more than a day, even in the refrigerator. To do so, knead the butter until all the liquid comes out, and then run it under a faucet while kneading it, and continue until all the liquid runs clear.

Step 4: Enjoy!

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Now you can use the butter! While I most frequently enjoy butter on toast, you can use it in any way you enjoy it--sauteeing onions, making ghee, on mashed potatoes, or whatever. Butter is most versatile, and as you went to the trouble of making your own, you deserve to enjoy it any way you like.
Ninzerbean4 years ago
We always refer to butter as "the cow's revenge".
Doctor What6 years ago
Butter!
tellumo (author)  Doctor What6 years ago
Mmm, butter. Mmm.
leona.hosford9 months ago

I found out from you pictures i was not mixing long enough and ended up with crumbly butter. I will have to try your way next time.

patmac6 years ago
I made a soup that used heavy cream and it was cheaper for me to buy a larger amount than I needed at a grocery warehouse rather than the amount I needed from a regular grocery store. I didn't want to waste the cream so I used your method of making butter. I make the soup more often now just so I can make butter, it tastes great! Thanks for your instructable.
tellumo (author)  patmac3 years ago
Yay! *waves butter flag*
SinAmos4 years ago
I like getting my hands in the muck, so thanks. How long does the butter rinsing take?
tellumo (author)  SinAmos3 years ago
I'm not sure--I think it took us about 10-15 minutes. The key thing is that the rinse water has to run clear.
revjmartin4 years ago
You can also make great honey butter by adding honey and vanilla to the cream before churning. A little pinch or two of salt will help amplify the taste and help act as a preservative (not that diy butter lasts long enough in our house to need tb be perserved). Next we have to make homemade sourdough rolls to go with it. Honey butter and fresh sourdough rolls is appetizer, meal compliment and desert all in one. Sometimes it's the whole meal. You can even add other things to make other great flavors like cinnamon butter, garlic butter, chives or onion butter etc.... It's not even dinner time and I'm gettign hungry thinking about this.
tellumo (author)  revjmartin3 years ago
Oooh. That sounds tasty as all get-out.
sassy8girl4 years ago
i never knew how easy butter is to make i might go and try this we have a pot of cream in the fridge
tellumo (author)  sassy8girl3 years ago
Do it!
yaya19664 years ago
i have no cream is there and instructable to make cream?
Awesome! Since you mention ghee, how about a recipe for ghee next?
An Villain5 years ago
what is fun is take a tough plastic jar (mayo) fill with buttermilk and a marble, then play football (please no kicking.)
Living in Colorado as I do, I was thinking why not put the jar in the back of a four wheel drive car, and take it out in the back country?
Yes.
yazatas6 years ago
While doing this I found the butter started melting all over my hands. At that point I had to stop kneading. Do you have a tip to help with this trouble?
andwmi yazatas5 years ago
When I make butter, I put about a gallon of water in the fridge to get nice and chilly.  I then use this water for washing the butter in a large bowl.  It keeps the butter from being melty and I can use a large flat spoon to smash the butter against the sides of the bowl and really press out the buttermilk.  If the butter gets too hard for you then you can just add some more tap water to warm it up a bit.
An Villain5 years ago
Mcdonald's made a vegetarian burger out of carrageenan, as was expected it flopped.
Bartboy6 years ago
Or just over whip cream........
AidanG6 years ago
Excellent - some one did a butter 'ible the way I do it. I really need to get around to making an ible already...