Like most little girls I was a fan of dressing up – putting on outfits of questionable taste and highly flammable fabric, waddling around in my mother’s heels and pretending to be some sort of ingénue heiress from the past. Or Nancy from Oliver. Or Liesel Von Trapp.
I have to confess that the urge to ponce about in big dresses has never really left me (hence the amateur dramatics), although these days it’s sadly less socially acceptable to get done up like a dog’s dinner and mince up and down the stairs all day. There are other ways however, to fulfil my love of the past and its traditions. A lot of them involve the novels of Daphne du Maurier and watching costume dramas, but now and then I also like to bring it back to life through food.
There’s been a resurrection in the last couple of years of going back to basics in cookery – a much-needed revolt against the horror of mass food production. Being swept away by this myself, I recently made butter by hand for the first time and got completely hooked. It’s so easy and so completely satisfying, I’m trying to make it a regular thing. It does leave the kitchen looking like a fetishist society has held an evening do there, but no matter.
It goes without saying you need to use the best cream you can – my most successful batch to date has been using untreated Jersey milk cream from Neal’s Yard – but the rest is up to you. You can add salt if you like, or if you’re making it for a particular occasion, garlic, herbs or chilli will all work well too. The second time I made it I followed Darina Allen’s advice and left the cream to ‘ripen’ for 24 hours on the balcony. Either Ms Allen’s method is different to mine or she likes her butter tasting a bit rank, because I found it had a very sour flavour which to be honest tasted off, so I recommend you use cream straight from the fridge. Don’t expect it to taste like proper French butter either, I’m not sure how they achieve that flavour but I haven’t managed it. What you do get is butter that tastes like the best fresh cream – it’s delicious and incredibly moreish. The recipe below is for a basic salted butter, but if you like it unsalted (though God knows why you would) just leave the salt out. And if you’re adding flavourings, put them in with the salt.
What you need:
- 600ml excellent quality double cream
- 1-11/2tsp flaked sea salt (optional, but highly recommended)
- some sort of electric beating device
- a pair of butter bats (these aren’t completely necessary and you can just use spatulas or similar, but if you can find them in antique or second hand shops get a pair), soaked for 30 minutes in iced water
1. You can use a stand mixer, food processor or just an electric whisk to do this, although I don’t recommend one of those singular whisks that attach to a stick blender, they will give up the ghost too quickly. Put the cream into a sterilised large mixing bowl, the bowl of a stand mixer or a food processor, and beat it (with sterilised beaters) until the cream has completely overwhipped. Keep going and the butterfat will start to separate from the buttermilk. If your cream has come straight from the fridge this might take a while but it will get there in the end.
2. Once the butter starts to come together, pour everything into a sieve set over a bowl to collect the buttermilk, (in true Victorian dairy maid fashion you can keep this to make bread). Put the butter back in the bowl and beat it briefly again to release any leftover buttermilk, then sieve once more.
3. Fill a large clean bowl with cold water, drop some ice cubes in it and put the butter in. Knead it with your hands to squeeze out any remaining buttermilk. Change the water 3-4 times during the kneading, until the water stays clean when the butter is kneaded. Put the butter onto a spotlessly clean surface and scatter over the salt. Bash it around with the butter bats (or spatulas) to distribute the salt through the butter, then shape it into a block and wrap in clingfilm or baking paper. If you’re not going to eat it all right away shape into two blocks and freeze one – keep the other half of the butter in the iced water while you’re shaping the first. It will keep in the fridge for around 5-6 days depending on how fastidious you’ve been with getting rid of the buttermilk. Spread it liberally on good bread, or if you’re feeling flush, try baking with it.