Fermentation Basics – Cultured Butter and Real Buttermilk


Fresh butter is chilled and about to be molded

Making cultured butter is as easy as making crème fraîche and getting your food processor dirty.  There.  I just gave you the recipe.

If you avoid saturated fat, I suggest you avert your eyes now.  Or maybe click over here to become so much smarter.  Or here to laugh for a while.  But don’t continue reading if you don’t want to know how to make something that will inevitably increase your saturated fat consumption by about 6000%.

Okay now that you know what you’re getting into, I’ll give you the scoop. Of butter. Rimshot. Crickets.  But really, this is easy.


1/2 recipe crème fraîche

1/2 t salt

1 c ice water


1. You just throw some crème fraîche or partially cultured crème fraîche into your food processor and turn it on.*

2.  Let it process for a few minutes (I go 4-6 minutes) until you can see rough butter chunks and some whitish liquid.  That liquid is the liquid gold we call buttermilk.

3.  Set a small, fine-mesh strainer or a strainer lined with fine-mesh cheesecloth over a bowl or jar and pour the contents of your food processor in.

4.  Push down on the butter with a spatula to get all possible liquid pushed through the strainer (don’t push so hard that the butter goes through, obviously).

5.  Once you have as much liquid as possible removed, pour the liquid off into a sealable container and stick it in the fridge.  You can use buttermilk for many things!

6.  Now, put your liquid-free butter back in your food processor, throw in a couple ice cubes or a few tablespoons of ice water. Blend again for a minute or two, until you see your butter chunks start to stick together.

Clockwise: needs a few more minutes, straining out the buttermilk, about to hit the fridge

7.  Strain out the liquid and discard.  That is butterwater, which is a word I made up just now, not buttermilk.  You could probably use it to make soup or as the liquid in your bread-baking if you wanted to.

8.  Repeat the processing of butter with ice water and straining 1 or two more times until your butter seems pretty much like unshaped butter. Add salt to taste (Less is more.  You can always salt it once it’s spread.) and run the processor again for 30 seconds to incorporate it.

9.  Take your solid butter out of the processor, press it into some paper towel to remove any remaining surface water.  The better you’ve been about straining out the water, the longer your butter will last.  Form it into the shape you like, or press it into a small jar.  Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for a few hours or longer.  If you put it in a jar, you can put water over the top of it to keep the air away.

10.  Once it’s chilled, it is ready to use!  You did it!

11.  (optional) I like to make my butter into fun shapes.  Adds to the table decor at brunch!

This is my husband! I have a cookie cutter of his adorable head. This is the only context in which I would call him a butterface.

*If you do not have a food processor, you can also use a well sealed container and a child whose hands you want to keep busy.  Just make them shake it hard for as long as it takes to make solid butter.  It will take a long while, and the butter will be soft, but hey, you kept a kid occupied and buttered your bread.  Not a bad night’s work.

Note: This post was scheduled in advance.  I’m currently visiting the wonderful country of Peru and have limited access to wifi and my own electronic devices.  If you comment and it doesn’t post or I don’t respond immediately, I apologize.  I promise I’ll catch up with you when I’m back in the country!

Fermentation Basics – Sauerkraut (and a variation)

Sometimes cabbage looks like leather.  This is my leathery cabbage pet.

Sometimes cabbage looks like leather. This is my leathery cabbage pet.

Sauerkraut is undoubtedly one of the simplest and best known ferments in America, especially if your family is a Polish/Ukranian/Austrian/northern French hodgepodge like mine is.  I also think sauerkraut is a gateway ferment.  People think they’ll try to make it once as a lark, or maybe they give in to peer pressure.  Then they realize how simple and delicious, how fun it is and they go to town.  Before too long has passed they’re making kimchi in the bathtub, finding themselves passed out in a pool of their own vinegar, stashing flasks of kombucha in that old pair of boots in the back of the closet and sneaking out of bed to make mead and miso by moonlight. I’ve seen it happen. (No, I haven’t.)

Sauerkraut isn’t something I make every week.  I really like it, but it tends to be a seasonal treat for me.  Its salty tang inevitably brings delicious memories of Christmas Eve eve (yes, two eves) to mind: watching my dad prepare the kielbasa and sauerkraut before sitting down to roll an imperial amount of gumpke (stuffed cabbage) over the course of an evening.

As with every ferment I make regularly, I like to tweak the recipe whenever I make it.  With sauerkraut, I usually prefer caraway over juniper and I generally use mustard seeds if I have them on hand.

Remove the swanky outer leaves before you start.  They'll come in very handy later in the process.

Remove the swanky outer leaves before you start. They’ll come in very handy later in the process.

When I heard Sandorkraut speak at the Free Library in June, he mentioned talking to someone who included mashed potatoes in her sauerkraut.  Neat, right?  Never done it before.  I’m more of a sweet potato person than a potato person, so that’s what I used when I made this batch.  As always, use your discretion.  Too salty?  Add less salt!  Not enough “rye bread” taste?  Double the caraway.   Like it to remind of you of gin?  Add a few juniper berries.  Feeling funky?  Add some sliced or pureed ginger or a load of garlic!  The only essentials are cabbage and salt* so make it your own!

Salting.  Use good salt if you can! Fermentation will give you all those good minerals.

Salting. Use good salt if you can! Fermentation will give you all those good minerals.


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Fermentation Basics – Keeping Sourdough Alive

Loafin’ around

Sourdough is really bread that has been leavened with starter (natural yeast), rather than with commercial yeast.  It is delicious, has some terroir and if you like sour dough (or not!) you can control the sourness by how often you feed it.  I use a desem starter.  The desem culture originated in Belgium, as the Belgian answer to the French pain au levain (aka French not-so-sourdough).  It is meant to be fed whole wheat flour and eventually, to make whole wheat bread.

I’ve had mine for almost 3 years now, though I did accidentally use it all up one time.  I don’t count that because I’d given some to a friend beforehand, and she gave some back to me after his death, so I like to think of that as my culture going off to get a little culture, then coming back home.

Personally, my favorite way to start starter is to get some from a friend.  I love that the bread you bake will have a sense of history and community, and a little bit of the character of your friend’s home, too.  It’s really easy to make your own if you don’t have a friend with starter.  Here’s a great tutorial from Serious Eats.  If you live in Philly, I’m happy to share mine since I ALWAYS have extra.

The key to sourdough is regular feedings.  I think of mine as a pet so I feel bad when I don’t feed him.  Also, since he’s Belgian, I call him Hercule. Get it?!

I use my iPhone reminders feature for all of my ferments, otherwise people (okay, ferments) die.  And it feels horrible, like when you kill a plant you grew from seed.  An established starter should be fed at least weekly, and refrigerated between feedings.  If you keep your starter on the counter, it should be fed daily. In the summer heat, I could stand to feed him twice a day, but he generally gets by on one.  The only reason to keep your starter out  is to have it ready to use.  If you’re not baking bread everyday, by all means, keep it in the fridge except for those essential weekly feedings.

Feeding process:

Take a small amount of starter.  I like to go by weight, but you can also do volume, no problem, at this stage.  I take 20 g (you could do a tablespoon, say) of starter, add 20 g whole wheat flour 20 g all-purpose flour and 40 g of lukewarm water.  Stir vigorously until well-combined. Cover with a cloth, secure that with a rubber band and set aside to ferment at room temperature for 24 hours. Obviously if you’re about to bake a big loaf of bread or make multiple pizza doughs, you’ll want to reserve a larger amount of starter to feed so you end up with enough finished product for your recipe.

If you’re not baking regularly, there’s no need to feed your starter everyday. You can simply stick it in the fridge for up to 7 days before feeding it again.  When you’re ready to bake with it, pull it from the fridge and feed it for a couple days to get it active before you start baking.

There are many ways to use that extra starter that inevitably starts to pile up.  Here’s a link to my favorite way to use that extra starter so you don’t need to trash it.  Extra starter will store fine in the fridge for a week or more, but it does get increasingly sour the longer it’s there.

Once you have a good amount of starter bubbling, you can make delicious things, like bread!

The tasty final product, courtesy of Hercule

Fermentation Basics – Kombucha


If you have been in the US since the 1990s, you’ve likely heard about the outstanding health benefits of kombucha.  I can’t speak to the miracle claims from personal experience, except to tell you that if you are experiencing a post-Thanksgiving food or drink hangover, skip the self-recrimination and go for a gigantic slug of the big K.  I can feel myself getting my soul back as it moves through my system.  And there is actual science that says kombucha supports liver function.

Making kombucha is super simple once you get the key element: the SCOBY.  SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeast (cute, right?) and it is sometimes called the mother or the mushroom.   The best place to get your own scoby is from a friend or fellow fermenter.  SCOBYs auto-reproduce in the kombucha-making process, so anyone who regularly makes kombucha will probably have an extra or two laying around.  The SCOBY plus a bit of kombucha from the last batch will get you started.  I got my most recent SCOBY from Allyson Kramer, the amazing blogger and photographer at Manifest Vegan.  She is also the author of the cookbook I’ve been using to make my friends and family crave gluten-free, vegan food for the past several months, Great Gluten-Free Vegan Eats.  (Seriously, I made dudes watching football unknowingly devour gluten-free vegan things and ask for more.)  I can honestly say this is the best SCOBY I’ve ever had, it makes babies like a (vegan?) mofo and produces the most delicious kombucha I’ve ever had, bar none.  I used to be a sometimes ‘boocher, but with this SCOBY, I’ve started experimenting with constant fermentation and making a batch every week.

Once you have your SCOBY and your starter kombucha, you are ready to go!  Don’t freak out about the sugar. It gets partially or entirely converted (depending on how long you let your big K ferment) and your guts will thank you for giving them all the healing bacteria and the glucaric acid which may help the liver function more efficiently (see previous hangover comments) and may have anti-carcinogenic properties.

Makes 1 gallon of kombucha.  You can adjust batch size to your needs/projected hangover level.

A note on carbonation:  The best way to get super bubbly ‘booch is to do secondary fermentation. Your kombucha is done when the sweet/sour level is where you like it, not when it’s bubbly.  That said, in the warmer months, your bubbles may be vigorous in the first round of fermentation.  See after the recipe for the simple secondary fermentation how-to.

Recipe after the jump.

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