Butter made with heavy cream and plain yogurt is savory, complex and delicious.
ABOUT A YEAR ago, I had dinner at a very fine, now-shuttered restaurant in Seattle. The slab of cultured butter served alongside the bread was a revelation. Dense and very yellow, it had a complex, almost cheesy flavor. I’ve been on a mission to make my own ever since.
Sweet cream butter is made from fresh cream and has a mild flavor. If you add live cultures, the bacteria consume the lactose (sugar) in the cream and produce lactic acid. This results in the development of a deeper, more savory flavor; helps break the cream into butterfat and buttermilk; and creates a more acid environment that has the added benefit of slowing the growth of pathogens. (The last bit is important because we’re going to leave our cream out at room temperature.)
For the best flavor, look for very fresh, vat-pasteurized cream, preferably from pastured Jersey cows (Jerseys produce milk with a high fat content, and it’s the beta carotene in grass that makes dairy products yellow). My best results (in order) came from Pure Eire Dairy, Twin Brook Creamery, Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy and Smith Brothers Farms.
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2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons plain yogurt with live cultures (I like Ellenos)
1. Before you begin, wash, rinse and sanitize your bowl and utensils.
2. Pour the heavy cream into the bowl. Add the yogurt, and whisk well to blend. Cover with plastic wrap, and put the bowl in a spot where it can sit undisturbed at room temperature for 18 to 48 hours. It will thicken slightly and develop a creamy skin on top. The longer you leave it, the more flavor it will develop. At least an hour before you are ready to make butter, put the bowl in the refrigerator.
3. When the cream is cold, put it into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (you could also use a blender or food processor). Start the mixer on low to blend the cream until smooth, then increase the speed to medium and whisk until it thickens. Increase the speed again. The whipped cream will stiffen, become grainy and then start to clump. Keep whisking until the buttermilk separates from the butterfat. Once the butter is clumping around the whisk, pour off some of the buttermilk (reserve it for baking) and then continue whisking (otherwise it splashes and makes a mess). Continue whisking and pouring off the buttermilk until it stops producing buttermilk.
4. Pour about ¼ cup of ice water (but no ice) into the mixing bowl with the butter, and whisk to “wash” the butter. Discard the milky water. Repeat this process three or four times.
5. Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth. Put the butter in the middle. Gather the ends up and around the butterball, and twist to tighten. Squeeze to remove as much liquid as you can.
6. Fill a bowl with ice water. Remove the butterball from the cheesecloth, and dunk it into the water, using both hands. Use your fingertips to squeeze it flat, and then lift it out of the water. Fold the flattened butter over itself, and squeeze it together to expel any water. Repeat the dunking, flattening and expelling process a few times to wash out any remaining buttermilk and lactose. When the water gets cloudy, replace it with fresh ice water. The more you work it, the cleaner your butter and the longer it will stay fresh.
7. Pat your finished butter with paper towels to dry it. If you want to make salted butter, flatten it with your fingertips, sprinkle with about ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt and knead to incorporate. Roll the finished butter into a cylinder in parchment paper or plastic wrap. Store, airtight, in the refrigerator, and use it within two weeks or freeze.
8. Serve at cool room temperature, with good bread and a nice flaked salt (I like Maldon).