Homemade Cultured Compound Butter is a Festive Addition to the Thanksgiving Table

Three variations of compound butter that will make great additions to the Thanksgiving table. Photos: Kate Williams
Three variations of compound butter that will make great additions to the Thanksgiving table. Photos: Kate Williams

Homemade butter is shockingly easy to make, but the uncultured spread is only as good as the cream you're using. By culturing the cream before churning, you can add enormous depth of flavor to even the least fancy bottles of cream. It adds only a couple of extra days to the planning time and absolutely no extra work.

What is a little extra work is to take your butter up another notch by adding in chopped herbs and spices — even homemade pumpkin pie spice — for a festive addition to the Thanksgiving table. But this final step takes only a few minutes, and it is easy to add just about anything you’d like to the freshly churned butter.

Now I know I just said that you can use un-fancy cream to make homemade butter, but I still like to start with a good, robust cream. The only caveat to keep in mind when choosing the cream is that you want to pick a product that has been “pasteurized,” not “ultra-pasteurized.” Pasteurized dairy has only been heated up to 161 degrees, whereas ultra-pasteurized dairy gets blasted with 280 degrees of heat. Those extra degrees can make a huge difference when trying to culture the cream, so it’s worth it to look for the pasteurized label.

All you need to make cultured butter is cream, yogurt, and a bit of time. Photo: Kate Williams
All you need to make cultured butter is cream, yogurt, and a bit of time. Photo: Kate Williams

Combine one quart of cream with about 1/3 cup of plain yogurt. Make sure you’re buying yogurt with live cultures (and nothing else) added. It’s these cultures that will give your butter its pleasant tang. Put the cream-yogurt mixture in a large glass canning jar and cover the top with a clean dish towel. Secure with a rubber band and place the jar in a warm-ish place for 1 to 2 days. Since the temperatures are (finally) dropping, you may need to let the cream sit for an extra 12 hours or so.

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You’ll know the cream is ready to churn once it has thickened and takes on a tangy flavor. Depending on the cream and the yogurt you’ve used, the cream may be as thick as sour cream, or it may be runnier, like European-style yogurt. Either way, you’re looking for a subtle cultured tang. At that point, cover the jar with a lid and transfer it to the fridge for a few hours to chill. You can leave it in the fridge overnight if you’d like.

Once the cream is cold, transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. (It is possible to make butter with a whisk or a hand mixer, but it will be far more work and you will likely splatter buttermilk all over your counter.) Drape a kitchen towel over the mixer to cover the space above the mixer bowl. Turn the mixer on high and let it run.

The mixer will take the cream through soft peaks:

Cultured cream whipped to soft peaks. Photo: Kate Williams
Cultured cream whipped to soft peaks. Photo: Kate Williams

And stiff peaks:

Cultured cream whipped to stiff peaks. Photo: Kate Williams
Cultured cream whipped to stiff peaks. Photo: Kate Williams

Before the butterfat separates from the buttermilk. You’ll know the cream has separated when you hear the buttermilk splatter against the bowl and the towel starts to get wet. Turn the mixer off and take a look at the contents of the bowl. You should clearly see yellow butter clumped on the whisk and white buttermilk in the bowl, like this:

Cultured cream fully separated into butter and buttermilk. Photo: Kate Williams
Cultured cream fully separated into butter and buttermilk. Photo: Kate Williams

If the cream isn’t fully separated, let it run (re-cover the mixer with the towel) for another 30 seconds or so. Next, strain out the butter by pouring the butter and buttermilk through a fine mesh strainer lined with a clean kitchen towel or triple layer of cheesecloth. Place the strainer over a bowl to collect the buttermilk. It is delicious, and you should keep it for baking or drinking straight up. Once most of the visible buttermilk has drained off, gather the edges of the kitchen towel together and squeeze the butter to drain off more buttermilk.

Let the butter drain through a clean dish towel first. Photo: Kate Williams
Let the butter drain through a clean dish towel first. Photo: Kate Williams
Next, gather the edges of the towel, twist, and squeeze on the butter to release more buttermilk. Photo: Kate Williams
Next, gather the edges of the towel, twist, and squeeze on the butter to release more buttermilk. Photo: Kate Williams

The butter may now look completely dry, but there’s still another step to take to remove hidden buttermilk: washing. Transfer the butter to a large bowl and cover it with about a half a cup of super cold ice water. Reach into the bowl and gently knead and fold the butter. You’ll see the water turn cloudy — that’s the buttermilk. Pour off the cloudy water and repeat the washing process until the water stays clear. Continue to knead the butter (without water) to expel any drops of water remaining.

Knead the butter in cold water to expel even more buttermilk. Photo: Kate Williams
Knead the butter in cold water to expel even more buttermilk. Photo: Kate Williams

Now you’ve got butter! You can keep it totally plain, add a little salt, or go crazy with different flavorings. Flavored butter is also known as “compound” butter.

I’ve provided three variations on compound butter that will all make great additions to the Thanksgiving table. Each is scaled to be made with 4 tablespoons of butter, or 2 ounces if you’re using a scale to measure. You can make all three with this batch of butter, and still have some plain leftover for everyday use.

Chili-honey butter adds surprising heat to sautéed vegetables.

Homemade cultured butter with honey and chiles. Photo: Kate Williams
Homemade cultured butter with honey and chiles. Photo: Kate Williams

Maple-spice butter will satisfy all of the pumpkin pie spice lovers at the table.

Maple-spice butter. Photo: Kate Williams
Maple-spice butter. Photo: Kate Williams

Savory garlic-herb butter is as fantastic smeared on a dinner roll as it is stuffed underneath turkey skin.

Garlic-herb butter. Photo: Kate Williams
Garlic-herb butter. Photo: Kate Williams

Recipe: Cultured Compound Butter

Makes 10-12 ounces of butter and 2 cups of buttermilk

Note: Each add-in is scaled for 2 ounces (4 tablespoon) of butter. If you would like to make more of any flavor, increase the amount of butter used appropriately.

Ingredients:
Butter

  • 1 quart pasteurized heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt with active cultures
  • 3/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt, optional (if not making compound butter)

Add-ins
Chili-Honey

    (for 2 ounces of butter)
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Maple-Spice

    • (for 2 ounces of butter)
    • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice

Garlic-Herb

    (for 2 ounces of butter)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

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Instructions:

  1. Combine the cream and yogurt in large glass jar and stir to combine. Cover the jar with a clean kitchen towel and place jar in a warm area until the cream has thickened and become tangy, 24 to 48 hours.
  2. Once the cream has thickened, remove the kitchen towel, cover container with lid, and refrigerate overnight.
  3. To make the butter: Pour the chilled cultured cream into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Drape a kitchen towel over the mixer to prevent splatter. Whip the cream on high until it separates into buttermilk and clumps of small, yellow beads of butter. This will take anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes.
  4. Strain the butter through a clean kitchen towel-lined strainer. Gather the edges of the towel and twist to squeeze out more buttermilk from the butter. Transfer the butter to a clean large bowl and reserve the buttermilk for another use.
  5. Prepare about 4 cups of ice water in a large measuring cup. Pour about 1/2 cup of ice water over the butter. With the butter resting in the water, gently fold and knead butter to expel remaining buttermilk. Discard the milky liquid and repeat washing and kneading process until the water is clear. This should take 4 to 6 washes.
  6. After the final wash, discard any remaining water and continue to knead and fold the butter to squeeze out any remaining liquid. Discard any liquid remaining in the bowl.
  7. To flavor the butter, measure out 2 ounces (4 tablespoons of butter) into a medium bowl. Choose your desired add-ins, and add them to the bowl with the butter. Use a fork to thoroughly whisk add-ins into the butter. Place in a small airtight container and refrigerate.
  8. If you’d like to make plain salted butter, add flaky sea salt to washed butter. Season with additional salt to taste. Place in a small airtight container or roll into a log shape and wrap in parchment paper. Refrigerate for up to 1 month.

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