“It’s a miracle of fat and flavor!” That’s the passion with which Chef Cara Tannenbaum welcomed our class to the wondrous world of butter. As the night went on, we tackled recipes of varying complexity and international flavor, but here are some core tips about this key ingredient for both chefs and bakers:
- How to make your own butter: Many people make butter accidentally. All it takes is heavy cream with at least 36% fat content and a mixer. Whip it continuously until the butter and buttermilk separate. The higher the fat content, the faster it will turn to butter, and cream that’s not ultra-pasteurized provides a finer texture.
- Skip the salt: Not only is it prudent to use unsalted butter so you can control your sodium intake, but many pre-salted butters are also made with inferior cream, which is easier to mask by pre-salting.
- Terminology: Professionals call the one-pound blocks we buy in grocery stores a “print” of butter.
- It’s not vegan: Butter is a dairy product that contains milk solids, and those solids help distinguish the product’s many uses. For example, clarified butter—known as “ghee” in Indian cuisine—is butter with the milk solids removed. On the other hand, browned butter requires milk solids to produce the nutty flavor it’s known for.
- Compound it!: Combine butter with other ingredients (as in beurre maitre d’hotel, traditionally served with steak), and you can freeze it for up to three months and just cut slices as you need it.
While a seemingly simple ingredient, butter is a major player in cuisines and desserts around the world, and has been for centuries. So next time you over-whip you cream, just toast a slice of bread and enjoy the “miracle.”