Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Breakfast of Champions

Who doesn't love a snow day? Well, the snowplow operator might not be so thrilled when he looks out his window onto a downy dusting of snow, but this morning brought great rejoicing among the students and faculty of the charter school where I have been subbing. Substitute teacher that I am, I did not get the memo that school was off until I had driven 25 minutes and pulled into a ghost-town parking lot. But after my 15 seconds of compulsory griping, I happily sped home to a celebratory breakfast of buttermilk banana pancakes, mutton sausage, and a fried egg. The "blizzard" which had canceled school never really materialized, but I enjoyed a semi-productive morning of scatterbrained farm research: bouncing from strawberry plant research to tractor implement classifieds to sprout recipes.

I mention my breakfast not to inspire envy in the stomachs of the less snow-bound, but to share my excitement over my creation of real buttermilk. Buttermilk from the store is something of a misnomer--it is actually a cultured milk product, a thinner version of yogurt. Traditional buttermilk, on the other hand, was the byproduct of buttermaking. Once the fat globules in cream had been churned into a golden hunk of butter, the remaining liquid could be set aside as buttermilk for use in cooking. Without refrigeration, cream soured and thickened under the action of benign lactic-acid bacteria. When that soured cream was churned, the resultant butter and buttermilk took on a deeper, fermented flavor which many cooks came to love (along with the leavening action caused by the interaction of acidic buttermilk and basic baking soda).

Somehow, despite the fact that I milked a cow last season and had ample opportunity to make my own butter, I never actually did. Whether this has anything to do with my overfondness for ice cream, I cannot say. Six months later, having acquired fresh cream and a proper spirit of inquiry, I finally got the job done. Along the way, I used a photo series I found here to guage the transformation of my cream into butter--I had been warned that if you churn it too long, the butter will separate back into cream, never to become butter again. Ten minutes in the Cuisinart was all I needed to produce a ball of buttery bliss the size of a clementine (it took me a bit longer than it should have, as I in my paranoia kept stopping the machine to peer inside and check for doneness). I squeezed out any residual buttermilk, rinsed the butter under ice water until my fingers went numb, and packed my little treasure away in the fridge. The whole thing was uncommonly simple, though butter-making limitations in my kiddie-sized food processor have me now jonesing for one of the huge 10-cup models.

I chose to make sweet cream butter from unsoured cream, so my buttermilk was correspondingly thin and fresh. Had I known that I would get the next day off, I might have left it out overnight in hopes of it thickening and souring for breakfast.

Milk and milk products are especially on my mind as of late thanks to the addition to our library of Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages by Anne Mendelson. Exalting in the compendious collection of milk lore, science, and recipes (!!!), I briefly considered making it my mission to try all 120 recipes in the coming season. Sanity, thankfully, intervened, reminding me that 1) I will almost certainly not have time for such gastronomic revels 2) my readership might grow just a wee bit bored with 120 dairy recipes, varied as they may be, and 3) that blogging your way through a cookbook is so 2002. Thus while exotic dairy products will undoubtedly creep back into the pages of this blog, I will continue to offer a wide variety of recipes for the vegetarian, vegan, lactose-intolerant, and full-blooded carnivores among you.


LP said...

Did you never make butter in elementary school? We just took heavy cream and shook it in tupperware containers (with salt and yellow food coloring to create imitation industrial butter) until it reached the right consistency. I don't remember it well, but I know that it more or less worked.

Anonymous said...

Those old fashioned little butter churns you find in antique stores work excellent. They're a a one gallon glass jar fitted with a metal lid and crank that attaches to wood beaters. Mom has one on her shelf as a decoration but we take it down and use it every once in a blue moon. Very satisfying, cranking wooden beaters. I have a cuisinart and I would definately use the butter churn instead.