When I was a child, I got into such a bad pinching war with my older sister Zoe at a pilgrim-themed summer camp during the butter churning demonstration that we were both removed from the activity. As a result, I never learned how to make homemade butter. That changed last week. Read on for the results of Absolute Best Tests: Homemade Butter, in which I dragged out more than half of the heavy appliances in my home to answer the question of how best to top toast.
For each method, I used 2 cups of heavy cream, and, at the end, a scant ½ teaspoon of Diamond Crystal kosher salt. I reserved all of the drained liquid in the following methods—the fresh, salted buttermilk—and used it in my coffee. (Note: you could mix in the salt with a flexible spatula or butter paddles after you drain the buttermilk, if you prefer to keep the run-off unsalted.)
By Hand (Jar):
Pour cream into a large jar with a tight-fitting lid; don’t fill more than half-way full. Add the salt. Screw on the lid. Shake vigorously, beyond the whipped cream stage, until lumpy solids separate from the liquid. Drain the liquid. Press butter into a cheesecloth-lined sieve to remove any excess liquid.
Findings: The jar-shaking method was much, much more efficient than expected, producing dense butter within 10 minutes. I’d expected all that convulsing to prove exhausting, but it was much less tedious than, say, whipping cream with a whisk in a large bowl.
Add heavy cream to a blender. Process until a thick, viscous butter separates from the liquid, about 5 to 10 minutes depending on your machine. Stop and use a spatula to scrape down the sides intermittently, as needed. Drain the liquid. Pulse in salt. Press butter into a cheesecloth-lined sieve to remove any excess liquid.
Findings: I do hate to disparage my blender; he’s like family. And he’s really great at certain tasks, like whipping soaked cashews into a heavy cream–rivaling paste. But he should keep his day job! I had to conduct two trials before I could even get butter to form; the first time, the blender got too hot, and the cream turned to hot lumpy soup. The second time, I achieved a dense whipped cream, and then the blades stalled, on both the low and high settings. With some side-scraping and tamping, I was able to create a very soft butter, but the blender began to overheat again before it thickened.
Add heavy cream to a food processor. Process until a thick, viscous butter separates from the liquid, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the liquid. Pulse in salt. Press butter into a cheesecloth-lined sieve to remove any excess liquid.
Findings: The food processor butter was ideal on every front: no splatters, no elbow grease required, and no wasted moment (it took less than 3 minutes all-in). If you’re going to pull out the heavy machinery to make butter, pull out the food processor.
Add heavy cream to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until a thick, viscous butter separates from the liquid, about 8 to 11 minutes, depending on size and power of your mixer. Drain the liquid. Pulse in salt. Press butter into a cheesecloth-lined sieve to remove any excess liquid.
Findings: This method was straightforward and, of course, required less physical labor than the jar shaking, and less heavy lifting than the food processor (since my stand mixer lives on my countertop). But it was supremely splattery. If I made butter again in the stand mixer, I would drape a damp dish towel around the inner rim of the bowl to avoid losing several tablespoons of cream to my shirt. The stand mixer butter was also a bit uneven at first, with the butter in the bottom of the bowl dense and thick, and the butter around the edges softer, so I had to scrape down the sides and remix a few times before I drained.
Add heavy cream to a large bowl. Beat with hand mixers on medium speed until a thick, viscous butter separates from the liquid, about 10 to 12 minutes depending on type of mixer. Drain the liquid. Pulse in salt. Press butter into a cheesecloth-lined sieve to remove any excess liquid.
Findings: This butter was almost identical to the stand mixer, and a fine method if you only have the hand version, though it of course required more hands-on attention, and was even more splattery. Use a big bowl with high sides to minimize mess if you make butter with a hand mixer.
Best for making big batches: The stand mixer (use a towel draped over the bowl to avoid splatter). Make the machine work for you.
Best for tiny batches: A jar. Ergonomical, practical.
Most efficient and least splattery: Food processor. Tidy, efficient, and the clear plastic gives a front-row seat to the dairy show.
If you have no special heavy-duty kitchen equipment: A jar. Technically this is equipment, but doesn’t every millennial own at least one mason jar?
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