Has your child ever asked you a question that you weren’t quite sure how to answer? This happens quite frequently in our home, so I wasn’t surprised when Colin said me last week, “Mommy, I know that butter is dairy and dairy comes from cows. But how does the milk become butter?” I replied, “I’m not quite sure how to answer that question, but I think that we could do some kitchen science to find out how.”
I took Colin to the store and we purchased 1 quart of heavy cream. I explained to him that when a cow is freshly milked, the fat in the milk, or cream floats to the top of the milk after it has been left to rest for several days. The cream is then skimmed off of the top of the milk so that people can use it to make other things, like butter.
When we returned home, Colin poured some of the cream into a mason jar. I told him, “Start shaking your cream! Let’s see what happens.”
As he was shaking his jar, I explained that what he was doing was called churning. When cream is churned, the fat in the cream begins to stick together. After a few minutes, tiny air bubbles become trapped in the cream, which makes it feel soft and light. We opened the jar and scooped out some of the whipped cream for him to taste.
As Colin continued to shake his jar, he began to notice some interesting things. “It’s turning yellow!” he exclaimed, “And getting really thick.” I told him that now the fat in the cream was sticking together so strongly, that the cream couldn’t hold the air anymore. He watched as buttermilk began sloshing around in his jar and the yellow butter clumped together. The whole process took about 15 minutes.
“So that’s how butter is made. I made butter!” he cheered. “Let’s make more.”
So we did. But this time, we used the mixer instead.
The process was the same, but since the quantity was larger, we strained the buttermilk/butter mixture through cheesecloth and squeezed out the excess buttermilk before rinsing the butter in the sink.
I wish I could say that making homemade butter was less expensive than buying butter at the store, but for me, it wasn’t.
I paid $3.78 for 1 quart of generic cream. From that quart we produced 1 pound of butter (“4 sticks”) and 2 cups of buttermilk. At the same store that I purchased the cream, I priced out generic buttermilk ($1.29 for 2 cups) and generic butter ($2.48 for 1 pound). Simple math – it actually cost me 1 cent more to make homemade butter than to buy separate items – but, where is the fun in that!?
We used our homemade butter in our favorite oatmeal cookie recipe. It was creamy and delicious, and made beautiful cookies. Colin feels very proud and wants to give everyone homemade butter (with sprinkles on top) for Christmas this year. I’m not too sure about the sprinkles, but I do agree that homemade butter could be a lovely gift for a baking enthusiast!