Monday, June 27, 2011

The Basics: Whipped Cream and Butter

Milk is amazing. It's just as simple as that.

From it we can obtain all sorts of different products: creams, cheeses, butters, ice creams. It's some impressive stuff. We tend to use milk in the manner in which we buy it: When we want cheese, we buy cheese. When we want ice cream, we buy ice cream. Sure, there are those of us out there who like to start from the simplest of ingredients to make the more complex products, but that's not all that common. If you're of the former of that group, I'd like to challenge you to change that and join the ranks of the latter.

It's nearly impossible to obtain milk right from a cow, unless you are good friends with a farmer or have a cow in your yard. (Although we have quite a bit of livestock in the yard these days, a cow is not among them.) It's often referred to as "raw milk" or "non-homogenized milk". In order to obtain cream from its simplest ingredients we would need to start with milk from a cow, and skim off the heaviest layer from the top, leaving behind the low-fat milk layer. Food Renegade has a post on separating the cream from milk, but it is worth knowing that most commercial producers do this using centrifuges.

Whole milk is made by homogenizing the raw milk, mixing until the cream is distributed throughout. Reduced fat and skim milks have little to no cream in them. If you remember back when we were discussing agar agar, we talked a little bit about hydrocolloids and how the agar agar (namely its gelling properties) was dispersed in water. Somewhat related to that, milk (with any butterfat content) is considered a emulsified colloid since the butterfat molecules are dispersed throughout the milk. Keep this in mind.

Today's post is specifically about working with cream. By cream I'm referring to what the store sells as "heavy whipping cream". Wikipedia defines this as cream containing 36% butterfat. We'll be doing two things here which require nothing more than a whisk, but can be greatly helped by using a hand mixer or stand mixer: whipped cream and butter. Both processes are related, and one eventually leads to the other during the processing.

Whipped Cream

It's pretty simple: mix the heck out of some cream and you get whipped cream. The process of mixing it incorporates air into the cream, forming a colloid of air and cream. It is important that the cream have more than 30% butterfat, otherwise you won't get the stable structure required to form the whipped cream. I once tried to make whipped cream using skim milk before I understood what was going on with it. Let's just say I wasted a lot of time. Since the accepted minimum is 30%, you can also make do with light whipping cream.

I like to use my stand mixer, mostly because I spent the money on it and it makes my life easier. If you want to be hardcore, grab a whisk and go to town: it's a great arm workout. A hand mixer will also work wonderfully well.

  • 1 cup cream
  • 2 Tbs confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

At the bare minimum you need the cream. Although it's sometimes referred to as "sweet cream", it won't contain enough sugars to make it taste like anything other than thick, airy milk. Adding some sugar and vanilla will do the trick, although I don't feel the vanilla is absolutely necessary for making a basic whipped cream.

Also recommended, but not necessary, is to make sure everything is cold. If you can put your beaters and bowls in the freezer for a bit you'll find that the process goes quicker than with hot or room temperature bowls.

Begin by whipping the cream. I like to start at a middle setting on the mixer and work my way up gradually. You'll find little instruction here as most recipes just call for you to "whip the cream". For whipped cream? Really? Thanks for the detail!

You are looking for "peaks". This means almost exactly what it sounds like. Turn off the mixer and pull the beaters out of the whipped cream. If it pulls up and forms a peak (like a mountain) and does not immediately collapse down then you have sufficiently whipped the cream. Whatever you do, don't overdo it. However, if you do overdo it just skip on to the next section of this post ...

At this point you can add the sugar and vanilla.

But why stop there? Grocery stores are selling high priced "spiked whipped cream". Why not make your own? Here are some alternatives, based on using 1 cup of heavy cream:

Spiked Whipped Cream
  • 1 Tbs alcohol
  • 2 Tbs confectioners sugar (if using a sweet liqueur, reduce this amount)

Rum works great, but don't stop there. How about a nice cognac? You won't be getting drunk off of this, but if you don't feel like spiking the baklava then you can make some of this with some Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced rum on the side and allow your guests to top their dessert.

Chocolate Whipped Cream
  • 1 Tbs cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbs confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Whip the cream with the vanilla, then add the cocoa and confectioners sugar towards the end. I made mine with 2 Tbs cocoa powder and it was much too strong. I think just 1 Tbs would give a nice chocolate flavor without being completely offensive.

I know heavy cream be a little on the expensive side and doesn't necessarily lead to experimenting, so take some time and peruse the internet to see what has worked for people ... or just think outside the box and see what you can do!

I felt like going out on a limb and taking an odd chance, so I diced some homemade pancetta and rendered down the fat. I let it cool, then added the fat to the cream along with a little bit of paprika and some cayenne.

Behold, pancetta whipped cream. I'm not sure what to make of it, but I think it would pair well with some pancakes, or maybe a big dollop of this on a cauliflower soup. It's very smooth and has a subtle meat flavor, but I found it a little too salty.


Hopefully you've reached this section on purpose, and not because you left the whipped cream mixing too long. Butter is made by separating out the butterfat from the buttermilk in the cream. When you whip the cream you incorporate air into it, but at some point the butterfat molecules are no longer separated. The beating (churning) of the cream damages the protective walls of the butterfat and allows it so gather into a solid mass.

  • 1 cup cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

For a simple unsalted butter, all you need to do initially is whip it until it resembles whipped cream, then keep on going until it almost looks like it is starting to curdle. For a salted butter, add about 3/4 teaspoon or 1 teaspoon of salt.

Continue on and keep watching. What you're looking for is a thin liquid to start splattering around the bowl.

Once this happens, go a little further. Scrape down the sides, and keep going.  At this point you might want to wrap your whole mixer in a towel, especially if you're doing a full pint (2 cups).

What you have in your bowl now is butter and buttermilk. You can toss that buttermilk but you would be a very wasteful person if you do. We'll get to that in a little bit. For now, pour it off.

I like to run the mixer again on high, just to make sure as much of the buttermilk is separated from the butterfat

Using clean hands, gather up as much of the solids as you can. Form a ball and squeeze it, then smoosh it up and squeeze it some more. What you're doing is wringing out as much of the buttermilk as possible. At this point you can "rinse" the butter. Put the bowl in the sink and let the water run cold and at a trickle. Continue to knead the butter.

Pack it into a container, stick it in the fridge, and you're done! One cup of cream (8 oz) makes approximately 3 oz butter (3/4 stick of butter) and 5 oz of buttermilk (a little over half a cup). You can use this buttermilk in any recipe that calls for it. This is not the cultured buttermilk you get in the store -- the only way you can obtain this "traditional" buttermilk, as it's called, is to make the butter from scratch. It doesn't keep all that well, so make sure to use it. It's loaded with nutrients (supposedly). I think the best use for it would be to make some pancakes or biscuits to use with your new homemade product! You can read about the differences between cultured and traditional buttermilk on the Wikipedia article, but the short of it is that cultured buttermilk is milk that has been inoculated with certain bacterias, and traditional buttermilk is the liquid remaining from removing butterfat from cream.

But of course ... I couldn't just stop there. I still had some pancetta and rendered fat leftover, so I had to give this a try. Add about half a tablespoon of rendered fat to the cream before mixing, then mix in the cooked meat bits. The buttermilk also has a strong pancetta flavor. I'd recommend trying this with regular smoked bacon, since the pancetta was pretty salty. You can see it below.

From 2 quarts (half a gallon) of cream I ended up with three types of whipped cream, 3 oz of pancetta butter, 9 oz of regular butter, and 15 oz of traditional buttermilk. We ended up making a breakfast of duck eggs from the yard, homemade black bacon, warm buttermilk biscuits (made using the butter and traditional buttermilk above) with some pancetta butter and a little dollop of some homemade pear preserves we were given. I ate it too fast to take a picture of it.

Rest assured, it was quite the awesome meal.


  1. Oh my gosh, I think I just had a heart attack reading this post! Pancetta whipped cream is seriously genius, though! Love your idea to use it on cauliflower soup. Mmm... And I had no idea that you have to wring or wash butter when you make it- very cool to learn. So what did you DO with all that whipped cream and butter??

  2. The whipped cream has a really short shelf life. Within a week it was in the trashcan. (I'm not a huge dessert guy.) The buttermilk (most of it) has been used and the butter is still in the process of being used. Just last night I fried up some blood sausage in some butter! Yum!

  3. I like to use a little buttermilk in some vegetable soups, like butternut squash or pumpkin soups, but I don't like having to buy a quart at a time. I end up wasting half of it. I've made butter this way before, but was stupid and didn't save the buttermilk. Next time I want to make soup, I'm going to get a half-pint of cream, whip up some butter, and use the buttermilk for my soup. There's not a single thing that isn't just great in that plan.