Do You Need a Butter Churn for Homemade Butter?

Posted on 15 Jul 2016 17:03

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Interest in all things DIY is rising. With this, comes a great deal of advice about old-world foods you can make at home like people used to. Baking bread at home is certainly nothing unusual, but what about yogurt or butter? Well, unless you have a lot of time on your hands, yogurt may not be your, well, cup of yogurt. Butter, however, is surprisingly simple to make and takes up much less time. The question, then, for those who want to make butter at home is, should you buy a butter churn or not?

There are a lot of searches going on right now for antique butter churns, and new versions of the old classics are also available, whether they be up-and-down plunge churners or hand-cranked paddle churners.

Products like this PL8 fresh butter maker with an up-and-down churning paddle or the Kilner Vintage Glass Butter Churn, a hand-cranked butter churner, are quite inexpensive and effective. The problem is inexpensive means cheap. The parts used will almost certainly not stand up to continued use. Users complain of messiness in the former, and inadequate gearing in the latter.

There are electric models that can cost up to $300, and old-fashioned looking wooden hand models, and many other choices]. To get something that will hold up expect to pay more.

But how much should you pay to be able to make your own butter at home? Chances are, the answer is nothing!

antique butter churner, hand-cranked paddle type

Newer version of this antique hand-cranked paddle type butter churner
are available, but they are not as well made as this original.

Image by Joe.kacmarynski via wikimedia commonsImage Credit

You probably already have what you need. As a matter of fact, a small batch of butter can be made with two basic items: A large mason jar and some heavy cream (3 to 4 items if you count a fine sieve strainer and perhaps some cheesecloth). If you look at the hand-cranked paddle churner I linked above, you'll see it looks like a jar with a mixing paddle inside it. Well, there is nothing that a mixing paddle can do that simple agitation won't do. That's right, all you have to do is put heavy cream into a jar and shake it. You can make butter this way in about the same time as with the paddle turner, about 10 minutes. Sure, it's harder work to shake a jar for ten minutes than to turn a crank, but if you aren't planning on making a lot of butter, it's a whole lot more cost effective.

If you want to take all the elbow grease out of it, you still probably have what you need: A food processor. Yes, all you do is process heavy cream in a food processor and you can make butter in around 8 minutes.

As you can see, butter making is a whole lot simpler than you thought. It is simply agitating heavy cream in order to separate the solid fat from the 'buttermilk.' I'll give you instructions for both methods here, but consider these the basic idea. For more information, trouble-shooting tips, and ideas, try The Complete Guide to Making Cheese, Butter, and Yogurt At Home: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply, by Rick Helweg.

Before we get started on the butter recipes, a note on heavy cream. Many grocery store brands contain added ingredients such as carrageenan. You don't need anything but the cream, so look for a brand, probably organic, that lists nothing but milk on the ingredients list. Organic Valley and Horizon heavy cream are two examples.

The first method below, shaken butter, is the most low-tech way possible to make butter. It's a bit more tiring, but it can be a fun activity for the kids. Have them take turns shaking the jar!

crock of homemade butter

Homemade Butter!
Image via Open Source FoodImage Credit

Butter Churning Method One: Shaken


  • Heavy cream, not ultra-pasteurized, about 60 F
  • Salt (if you want it)


  • Jar with tight-fitting lid
  • Fine mesh strainer
  • cheesecloth
  • 2 bowls


1. Pour the cream into a jar with a good screw-on lid. Pour some cream into the jar, allowing some room for the cream to move around when you shake it. If the jar is too full, the cream won't be able to move around, which is crucial. The more cream you use, the more butter you will get, but this method will not make a large amount of butter, unless you can handle a very large jar. Seal the jar tightly with the lid.

2. Shake the jar for ten or more minutes. The cream will begin to foam and then it will begin to resemble whipped cream (because it will be whipped cream). Keep shaking and small solid bits will begin to appear and then larger, pale-yellow solids will start to form. This is butter.

3. When the pale-yellow solid butter appears, stop shaking. There will be two separate parts in the jar, the solids, and a cloudy looking liquid called buttermilk (but not the cultured buttermilk you buy in the store).

4. Let the jar sit about five minutes to let the solids continue to separate.

5. Put a fine-mesh sieve strainer over a bowl and pour the mixture from the jar into it. The buttermilk will strain into the bowl and the solids will stay in the strainer. To make sure you get all the solids, you can pour the buttermilk again through a layer of cheesecloth. Keep the buttermilk to use later for cooking, or to drink.

6. At this point the solids will be soft still have some liquid in them. For the butter to last as long as possible, you want to get out as much of this liquid as possible. Put the solids into a bowl and knead them together. You can knead them with a wet wooden spoon or a silicone spatula (recommended). Smush the butter around and knead it to force out the extra liquid. As the liquid comes out and accumulates, pour it out and then continue kneading to get out more. Repeat until you have most of the water out. At this point, you can continue on with the steps below to force out even more water, or you can form the butter into a shape, press it into molds, ramekins, or clean plastic containers. If you want to make shapes, they can be wrapped in wax paper. Store you butter in the refrigerator!

8. The more liquid you get your of the butter, the long it will last. Unless you are making a very large amount of butter which will take an extended period of time to use, you probably do not need to do this. As well, you could always freeze any surplus butter. However, to get your butter as liquid-free as possible, after the kneading process above, put some ice water in the bowl to cover the solids. Then, continue kneading the butter in the water (don't worry, the butter will stay separate from the water). The water should turn cloudy as more milk comes out of the butter. Pour the water off and refill. Repeat until the water is clear. The more liquid you get out of you butter, the longer it will last.

Method Two: Stand Mixer or Food Processor

Your butter can be churned in a mixing bowl or in a food processor. A stand mixer will probably work best, although a hand mixer may also suffice. One cup of heavy cream will make around 1/4 pound of butter.

Simply mix or process the cream until the solids separate. Then follow the steps above. If you use a food processor, the solids will be fine grains, but you should be able to see that the mixture will change to a pale-yellow color.

Once you have solids, let the mixture sit for five minutes, as above, and then follow the same steps.

You can add salt to your butter at the end of the process, although it is optional. Use around 1/8 teaspoon of salt per cup of cream used, or to taste.

As you can see, butter is simple to make but it does take some work.

See also How to Make Your Own Clarified Butter.

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