Friday, May 9, 2014

what we blog about when we blog about butter

I keep saying "I need to blog about this, I need to blog about that," and never getting around to it, so here are some half-formed thoughts on butter that I haven't had a chance to follow through on yet:

THOUGHT 1: A couple weeks, maybe a couple months ago, I read about a chef who had made butter by combining cream with a soft ripened cheese (Camembert maybe?) in a 9:1 ratio, let the cream culture, and then churned it. I don't know exactly how Camemberty (maybe?) the butter came out, or if the cheese is just used as the source of the culture to culture the cream, BUT. It got me thinking about ways to manipulate cream before you churn it.

I've made butter before. I first started buying good dairy when I moved to Indiana and the farmers' markets (and many local stores) carried it, about 11 years ago now (geez). Good pasteurized cream makes decent butter and is a good exercise; cultured cream (adding a little buttermilk and letting it sit at room temp overnight) makes even better butter, though pasteurization does make it a little resistant to culturing. Anyway, if you have an immersion blender, making butter is as simple as whipping cream and continuing to whip it until it breaks into solid butter and liquid whey. If you don't have an immersion blender, well, it's still that simple, your arm will just be more tired.

So when thinking about ways to manipulate cream pre-butter, there are two limits you have to impose:

1a: The cream still has to be able to be turned into butter. That means you can't do anything that'll curdle it, like adding lemon juice, and you can't dilute the fat content (you can whip milk all day and you won't get butter, just warm milk). Does it mean you can add a liquid as long as you keep the fat percentage the same, such as by adding bacon fat? I don't THINK so, but I don't know for sure. If you add another fat, will it end up as part of the butter or leak out with the whey? I don't know that either.

1b: There is no point in manipulating the cream towards a different butter if you can get the same results by manipulating the butter. For instance: you can add cinnamon to cream and whip it into butter, but it won't be different from, or better than, adding cinnamon directly to butter. This is particularly key when you're forced to use pasteurized cream, because it means the best storebought butter is better than your homemade butter, so the best manipulated butter will only result from manipulated cream when manipulating the cream is the only way to reach the final product in question.

I think there are three basic forms of cream manipulation to be considered and explored: adding an ingredient (cheese, for instance), infusing the cream with an ingredient that is steeped and then removed (bay leaves, for instance), and changing the cream by other means (such as by smoking it or culturing it).

I thought about ramp butter made from ramp-infused cream, which invokes the 1b issue: will this be different from ramp butter made with ramps added directly to butter? Yes. Will it be significantly different? I don't know. Will it be better? I don't know. Even moreso that garlic, ramp mellows out when it cooks. We could be talking about something surprisingly subtle here.


This led to a consideration of fat manipulation and the manipulation of fats used in cooking.

I've made root beer flavored butter before, using Root from Art in the Age. It was made via fat-washing, wherein you add a fat to an alcohol, give it some time, and they trade flavors, because everything alcohol-soluble is also fat-soluble and vice versa. So, if you want butter-flavored Scotch, you end up with both that and Scotch-flavored butter. This naturally invites questions about what to do with the yin once you've created the yang you were looking for.

Thinking about ramp butter got me thinking about using fat washing to flavor butters rather than liquors, such as butter that's been fat-washed in Angostura bitters to make bitters butter to put on, for instance, cinnamon toast (or hamburgers or corn on the cob or who knows!) How bitter would the butter be? Would it take up all the flavors of the Ango equally, or would they wind up in a slightly different mix? This needs to be played with.

That led to thinking about other fats that could be flavored with liquor, and other ways of using them. The flavored butters are condiments, but what if we flavored a fat that we cook with? If we made bourbon-flavored lard, could we fry chicken in it, or would the heat (which is half again as hot as your hot toddy) destroy the bourbon flavors? If it didn't destroy the bourbon flavors, how much would those flavors flavor the chicken, and how would the final product differ from chicken marinated in bourbon?

Bourbon fried chicken is the obvious killer app here, but that's just my brick road, that's where my feet go, there are other places to check out too.

What about vermouth-infused olive oil?

What about making biscuits, pie crust, or pastry dough with an alcohol-flavored fat?

And so on.

Much to do, clearly.