Written by The French Laundry Room Chef
Water emulsified in oil...who said that water and oil do not play well together? Yet commercial butter often lacks the depth of flavors that make great food taste amazing. Because butter is so foundational to French cuisine, this is the first of many blogs discussing the magic of that little yellow brick of deliciousness; and yes, these blogs are to convince you that making your own butter is worth the (minimal) efforts required. If there is one ingredient that you never want to be running low in your fridge, it sure is butter! Controlling when you churn your next batch of butter may be the ultimate luxury...
So what are your options? Sure, you can head out to the grocery store, but.....what are you really getting? Commercial butter often comes from highly pasteurized cream, at the cost of flavors, and often contains stabilizers and other additives for preservation and texture. To control what you put in your body, take a pint of fresh organic cream from your local farm (or heavy cream from the grocery store if you must), churn it by hand or in a food processor, reserve the buttermilk for your Sunday pancakes, and mold the butter in your favorite shape. One teaspoon of that natural deliciousness tasted blind against any commercial butter is all you will need to never buy commercial butter ever again.
Churning cream means whisking it vigorously until the solids (butter) and the liquids (buttermilk) separate. The shearing forces applied to the oil, water, and proteins present in the cream is what causes the density in the butter (by emulsification of the water in the oil). Once the butter is separated from the buttermilk in the cream, it can be further clarified; that step removes almost all milk proteins from the butter, allowing its smoke point to increase. Many recipes call for clarified butter because milk proteins affect the end-result of the preparation (Hollandaise, Bearnaise, butter used to sear meat), but clarified butter has its own distinct taste and can be enjoyed on breads and toasts on its own.
How do you clarify butter? Place your butter in a sealed Ziploc bag. Place it in a big pot filled with hot water so that the butter slowly melts (make sure water does not get in the bag, use a bag large enough so the butter is in the water but the top of the bag remains outside). Once all the butter is melted, place the Ziploc bag in your fridge until the butter is solid but still somewhat soft to the touch (avoid really hard butter, it is difficult to shape). Hold the Ziploc bag over a container, use scissors to cut off one of the bottom edge of the bag and let the white milky substance (buttermilk) escape into the container. What is left in the Ziploc bag is clarified butter. Scrape off any of the white stuff that may be stuck on your butter (these are left over milk proteins) and rinse it off under cold water. Shape the clarified butter as desired.
For those who do not have time to make their own butter, head to The French Laundry Room store and order your very own batch (1 lbs by weight). The default order is for non-clarified, unsalted butter shipped without a side order of its buttermilk. You can optionally add the buttermilk to your order (ships in a separate container), and specify whether you want your butter clarified or salted (or both).