March 2, 2009

Ode to Bread and Butter


I’ve always loved that friend in French is copain, the person you share your bread with. Kristina Strain of Sweet Fern Handmade and I are breaking bread together today and spreading it with homemade butter.

Like Buttah
from Kristina Strain of Sweet Fern Handmade

Call me an appliance whore. I have a waffle iron, a panini press, an electric teakettle, for crying out loud. My coleslaw takes three minutes in the food processor, my homemade bread takes all the effort of measuring out ingredients and dumping them into the machine. In addition to all this flummery, I also own this, the star culinary workhorse, the venerable KitchenAid stand mixer.

Cakes and Christmas cookies are a snap, a breeze. Meringue is a matter of course, a ho-hum affair. Plug, dump, and turn it on. Wait while the glorious beater works its wonderful magic. I am no stranger to singing the praises of this member of my kitchen team.

Before last month, however, I hadn’t considered it part of the perpetual Appalachian-farmer’s-wife fantasy I’m always pretending at, making my own bread and cheese and canning enough tomatoes to choke a hog. But, behold: now I get it. For that mixer is more than just a whipper of egg whites, a mascerater of pie dough. What that appliance is, friends, is a perfectly serviceable, modern-day butter churn.

Butter making. It’s really this simple: heavy cream, stand mixer, patience. I was so eager to try it out, to experience the beauty of fresh butter, to escape from the drudgery of stoic, indentical, individually-wrapped fat sticks to the world of mellow, halcyon, oleic bliss.

So, here’s what I did. I bought a quart of heavy cream at the grocery store. I brought it home. I plugged in my mixer, dumped in the cream, and turned it on. I kept it on a low setting, since I didn’t relish the thought of wiping thousands of little globby butter-blobs off my kitchen walls. Then, I let the mixer work its aforementioned magic. I washed a whole sinkful of dishes, swept, mopped, and cleared the crumbs out of the toaster before the cream began to coalesce into butter.

Be warned: the cream will begin to thicken. It will get thicker and thicker before your eyes. Triumph and success will be at hand. If you’re me, you might even dance around and shout, “hell yeah!”, scaring the dog. Then, as quickly as the coagulation began, it will dwindle away. The cream will get thin and watery again. You will be downtrodden; you might even say, oh, shit. Perservere, for you are close to the promised land, the splendid moment where the cream suddenly releases its buttermilk, casts off its old life as a liquid, and becomes butter.

Drain off as much buttermilk as you can (squeezing the butter helps), and transfer the solid butter to a big bowl of cold water. Save the buttermilk for pancakes tomorrow morning. Wash the butter in the cold water, squeezing some more. It’ll give up a little additional buttermilk, making the water cloudy. Dump it and rinse the butter in fresh water. You’re done.

The fun part, for me, was adding flavorings. My quart of cream yielded 12 oz (three sticks) of butter, so I made three different flavors.


Lemon Honey Butter

4 oz butter, softened
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp honey

Sundried Tomato Butter

1 cup boiling water
1/3 cup sundried tomatoes
4 oz butter, softened
¼ tsp salt

First, let the tomatoes soak in the water for ten minutes. Squeeze them out, mince them, and add to the other ingredients.

Garlic-Herb Butter

4 oz butter, softened
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tbsp fresh basil, minced
1 tsp fresh oregano, minced
½ tsp fresh thyme, minced
¼ tsp salt


The Only Bread I’ve Ever Made
from Sarah of Pink of Perfection

In the 1970′s, my Aunt Margie gave my mom a spiral bound cookbook. For the next decade, I think the recipes in that book (along with a sheet of notebook paper with a brainstorm of about eleven different ways to serve hot dogs) sustained my family through lean times. My mom’s copy of the More-with-Less Cookbook is stained, the pages crowded with check marks next to recipes she intended to try, stars next to successes, and some pretty entertaining marginalia (the white bean and scallion salad is, in case you were wondering, “gross.”) This cookbook is a really helpful, if somewhat outdated, repository of how to economize in the kitchen. Flipping through the book at home a few months ago, I rejected most of the recipes, telling my mom they were a little too close to the bone. A few months later and a job lost, they sound pretty good.

I have only ever made one bread recipe in my life, and it’s the one in this cookbook. When I first moved off-campus in college — into a poorly insulated purple bedroom with no closet in an apartment with one girl I knew and one girl I didn’t — my mom sat me down and gave me a crash course in home ec. Lessons included how to bake bread, roast a chicken, and make all the pieces of a grocery list fit together into a tight puzzle where no item is leftover or left out.

Every Sunday, I roasted a chicken and baked two loaves of bread. I stuffed the chicken with any leftover bread from the week before. After a warm Sunday dinner, I used the leftover chicken and bread to make sandwiches the rest of the week. It was a simple way for me to eat then, and a real source of pride that I knew how to provide for myself. Once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout, I guess.

I never begrudged the hours involved in baking the bread. In fact, I really loved it. While the bread rose, I read at the sunny kitchen table. Built-up aggressions from my romantic life were worked out during the kneading and punching-down process. Amidst the melodrama of being a boy-crazy twenty-year-old and the intensity of studying literature at a small, snowy college, the Sunday baking routine was the time in which I sunk into something slow and steady, a process that yielded real results: springing yeast into action, mixing flour, and putting my hands to work making something to sustain me.

Even now, though the interpersonal drama in my life is far less heady, the simple act of baking bread still holds the same elemental appeal. From practically nothing, comes something. And something, might I add, that’s really good.

Multi-Grain Bread
adapted from the More-with-Less Cookbook
makes 2 9×5 loaves

2 packages dry yeast in
1/2 cup warm water with
1 teaspoon sugar

Warm in a saucepan (but do not boil):
1 cup water
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon salt

Pour heated milk mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add:
activated yeast mixture
1/3 cup buckwheat flour
3 tablespoons wheat germ
3 tablespoons milled flax seed
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups white flour

Beat at medium speed for 3 minutes. By hand stir in:
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes using:
1 additional cup white flour

Let rise until doubled. Punch down and knead briefly. Let rest 10 minutes. Divide dough and place in two 9×5″ greased loaf pans. Let rise again until almost doubled in volume. Bake at 375 degrees F for 35 minutes.

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  • Sarah Jane: ok. am seriously craving bread now.6 years ago

  • Sophie: MMMMMM…your bread looks so appetizing & I just love those butter toppings!6 years ago

  • katrina: Thankyou for this post…I am studying literature at college right now, and to see how much your college days mirrored mine gives me real hope that I could become as smart and successful as you Sarah.

    One question…Did the bread not go stale over the course of the week? I am forever harping on about how I’d love to never buy bread again, but when I make it myself, it is stale 2 days later!6 years ago

  • Julia: yum yum yum! I had never even entertained the idea of making butter before, I love it. I need a KitchenAid in my life… I think that’s one job you definitely wouldn’t want to be doing manually! I do have a secret-kitchen-weapon when it comes to kneading the bread dough though – my boyfriend!! I tell him he won’t be getting any bread unless he helps me knead….mwahahahaha. Enjoy your bread and butter ladies, sounds like you’ve earned it.6 years ago

  • Adrienne: Now I would like to go home and bake some bread. That butter looks great, too!6 years ago

  • Kristina: It was great collaborating with you, Sarah. I can’t wait to try that bread recipe.6 years ago

  • Brenda Leyland: What a splendid way to spend a day. That’s a mighty fine loaf you’ve made. I’ll imagine you eating your way through the loaf as you sample each of the three butter flavourings! Yum yum!6 years ago

  • Katrina, Maybe bookish college girls just love baking? :) To answer your question, this is some kind of magic bread — when I made it this last time it really tasted only slightly stale a week later.

    Kristina, It would never occur to me to make my own butter. Like Julia, I too need a KitchenAid mixer in my life to make that a reality, but I absolutely LOVE the idea.6 years ago

  • Karen: Wow…making your own BUTTER?? I have to say, I am very impressed. :) 6 years ago

  • Betsy: Mother knows best!6 years ago

  • Hillary: My friends have successfully made butter in the food processor – the stand mixer sounds better to me since I don’t have a dishwasher and tend to cut myself washing dishes. I keep thinking I should try it, but never remember that when I’m out of butter. Which attachment did you use?

    Thanks for the bread recipe. I’ve gotten decent at white bread, but am trying to incorporate more whole grains. The one I tried this weekend is ok, but too thick/chewy/strong for sandwiches.6 years ago

  • stephanie: I love this site!!

    I was always told this butter thing wouldn’t work with heavy cream from the grocery store because it was homogenized or pastuerized (I forget which) and that it would only work with milk from a cow. I actually have an antique butter churn and a fantasy of making butter (once!) – so did you use regular heavy cream or something else?

    Also – how did the butter taste as compared to regular butter?6 years ago

  • Ruth: This was a fantastic post. I love rethinking the everyday! I’m so inspired, and long to feel the triumph of making three sticks of butter and a loaf of bread.6 years ago

  • ann: you’ve made me crave bread and butter now! i still find yeast rather tricky to work with…when you’re prepping it, do you mix it with the warm water, or just sprinkle it on top and let it “bloom”?6 years ago

  • Kristina: Hillary– I’m also an accident-prone dishwasher. I used the whisk attachment on my mixer.

    Stephanie– I used regular cream from the grocery store for my butter. I’m pretty sure whole milk from the grocery store wouldn’t work for butter (since it’s homogenized) but plain heavy cream works like a charm!

    The butter tasted great– sweet and flavorful.

    Happy churning!6 years ago

  • Gourmet Chick: I have never attempted actually making my own butter but for slightly lazier people (like me) it is fun to add flavours to butter like sun dried tomatoes or even a handful of fresh herbs to give a fresh test.6 years ago

  • Ann, I have the best luck when, as in this recipe, I stir the yeast into warm water with sugar at the outset and set it aside until it’s really bubbled up. I tried a recipe this weekend (more on that soon!) where you mixed it right into the dough and that definitely made me nervous….but it worked. There is no need to fear yeast! Just buy extra in case you get a bum pack.6 years ago

  • Marcie: I’ve just obtained my first kitchenaid in the past week, and I’m super excited to try out as many different types of recipes as I can!

    My question about the butter: whisk or paddle attachement? As it get’s thicker I would think that the wisk is not the best idea, but what do I know?6 years ago

  • michaela: i just blogged multigrain bread the other day!6 years ago

  • Karen: I’ve never made bread before, aside from huge batches with my mom using her KitchenAid mixer, but that’s a whole different story. For the mixing step in your recipe, do you just mix it with a hand mixer? I’m clueless! …but going to try it this weekend hopefully :) 6 years ago

  • JeannaMO: My daughter is a college student. You instantly had me when you said you were once a college student who baked bread. I don’t think my daughter would even make toast!

    Please post what kind of “stuffing” you used to stuff your chicken with the old bread. What ingredients did you add to the bread and/or eggs, spices, etc. I love baked chicken but hubby does not like stuffing. This might be a way to hide it – in the chicken!

    Thanks! I teach a bread baking class to high schoolers and this is a great “story” for them as well as a good recipe for us to try.5 years ago

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I am not a glutton -- I am an explorer of food.
- Erma Bombeck