Online instructions for making homemade butter are often amusing to real butter makers. That’s because directions like, “pour cream into a jar and shake until it turns into butter,” may be fun for a 5th grade history lesson, but it isn’t a very efficient way to make butter.
Butter is made by agitating cream—usually with a device like an electric mixer, until clumps of butter separate from the watery buttermilk. Once separated, you pour off the liquid, squeeze out any excess and you have butter.
Some people may make butter because they own a cow, but you can make it with heavy cream from the grocery store.
Step 1: Start to Beat or "churn" Your Cream
To start, you pour heavy cream into a mixing bowl--you can use any amount you want, but I recommend at least a cup. Then, using the whisk attachment on your mixer (like for making whipped cream), begin beating on high speed. If you don't own a mixer, a blender or food processor may work.
Tip: The temperature of the cream will affect the processing. If the cream is too cold, the butter takes longer to separate. If too warm, the butter can soften and separate poorly (think of soft butter sitting out on a warm day). The research I consulted indicated that a temperature around 50 degrees is ideal though you have some leeway. I don’t typically measure the temperature, but just make sure the cream isn’t freshly thawed or too warm.
Step 2: Take a Whipped Cream Break (if You Want) & Continue Beating
When the beating or “churning”is about halfway done, the cream will turn into whipped cream. If you want a treat, you can turn off the mixer, scoop a little out, and add vanilla and sugar! I think this is the best part of making butter!
Keep churning past the whipped cream stage, and the butter will begin to separate. When you have clumps of lumpy butter swimming in liquid, your churning is done.
Step 3: Pour Off the Buttermilk
After churning, you can pour off the buttermilk and keep it refrigerated for a day or two, freeze or discard it. Just be aware that it isn’t like store buttermilk since commercial buttermilk is cultured, like yogurt.
Step 4: Rinse Your Butter Carefully
At this point, you need to rinse your butter thoroughly because any remaining buttermilk will quickly turn your butter rancid. I like to place it in a fine-meshed strainer and run under very cold tap water, stirring occasionally.
Step 5: Knead the Butter to Remove Remaining Liquid & Add Salt
When the rinse water starts to look clear (versus looking a bit milky), I put it on a plate and knead it to push out any remaining buttermilk. As I mentioned pockets of leftover liquid can cause the butter to become rancid, so knead well!
Finally, when the buttermilk seems to be mostly removed, you can add in some sea salt--or not if you prefer.
Step 6: Enjoy!
Store homemade butter in the refrigerator and use it up quickly or freeze it to keep it fresh.
It’s especially good on warm honey whole wheat bread.