Beurre au Piment d’Espelette – Homemade Butter

[Homemade buttermilk and butter flavored with piment d’esplette]

After learning about buttermilk substitutes, I actually realized that I didn’t know a whole lot anything about buttermilk in the first place (for my French readers, buttermilk is called babeurre, lait battu, petit lait or lait de beurre). So what exactly is buttermilk? Traditional buttermilk refers to the slightly sour left-over liquid from the butter churning process. Hence the name, butter-milk. Contrary to popular belief, buttermilk does not contain butter and is in fact low in fat.

Nowadays, you’ll be hard-pressed to find traditional buttermilk in your regular supermarket. Most often, you’ll see cultured buttermilk, made from adding lactic acid bacteria to pasteurized milk (whole, skim or non-fat) and left to ferment for 12 to 14 hours. The fat content of the buttermilk will usually depend on the fat content of the milk from which it was made.

The good news is, making your own buttermilk the old-fashioned way, and by extension making your own butter, is a breeze. Well, almost. Bear with me. The recipe involves heavy cream, a jar, and a lot of shaking. You put the heavy cream in a jar, close the lid tightly, then shake until the cream turns into whipped cream, then shake some more until the whipped cream separates into a solid, butter, and a liquid, buttermilk. Tada, that is all.

It turned out to be quite a work-out. I shook and shook and thought that nothing was happening until finally, the heavy cream started to thicken and then continued shaking and all of a sudden the cream turned into butter and buttermilk. It felt like magic. And I felt like a child marveling at this transformation. The buttermilk tasted slightly sweet rather than sour (it was also thinner than commercial buttermilk), and the butter had a nice subtle buttery flavor. I chose to flavor my butter with some fleur de sel and piment d’espelette (espelette chili pepper), trying to replicate the famous Bordier butterbeurre au piment d’espelette (although his uses fine sea salt I believe).

Bordier butter, a favorite of French chefs, is a butter from French Brittany, churned using traditional techniques and mixed by hand. Piment d’espelette comes from the town of Espelette in the Basque region and is certified AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), a French certification granted to certain products from specific geographic locations. It is actually not spicy per se but has a subtle smoky peppery taste.

Homemade Butter (Metric and US measurements given)

  • 470 ml | 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 jar with tight fitting lid, big enough to contain your cream and then some
  • Good arms

Fill the jar with the heavy cream. Close lid tightly. Shake for 15-20 min, until the heavy cream first turns into whipped cream before separating into butter and buttermilk. Pour buttermilk into bowl. Wash the butter under cold water to get rid of any remaining buttermilk (if you don’t do this your butter will spoil more quickly). Drain the buttermilk in a colander, sieve or cheese cloth (the butter will be quite soft). The buttermilk and butter will last for about one week in the fridge, in an airtight container or tightly wrapped with plastic.

Yields about:
  • 200 g | 14 tbsp | 1.8 sticks of butter
  • 200 ml | 0.85 cup of buttermilk
The pictures below show what the heavy cream looks like at different stages in the shaking process. Top left: thicker cream, almost like whipped cream. Top right: whipped cream. Bottom left: cream has separated. Bottom right: final products, buttermilk and beurre au piment d’espelette.

To make the flavored butter, I added:

  • 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel
  • 1.5 tablespoon piment d’espelette
Just mix it all together while the butter is still soft. The butter will harden once you refrigerate it.
Yvonne’s corner
  • If at first it doesn’t look like the heavy cream is doing anything, keep shaking. I found that the first stage to get to whipped cream took the longest. Once you get to the whipped cream stage, it will be more difficult to shake but do not lose faith. Keep shaking. It took me a good 20 minutes but I guess I might not be a very good shaker. I’m telling you, my arms were sore afterwards.
  • I think the flavor variations are pretty much endless. Bordier for instance also makes a butter with seaweed and one with vanilla.
  • You can also do this in a stand mixer in which case you should make sure to wrap your mixer with plastic to avoid splashes.
  • The amount of butter you get at the end will depend on how much fat your heavy cream contains. The higher the fat content, the more the butter.
  • This was really fun to make and would be a great project to do with kids.
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