How to Make Butter from Scratch

butter from scratch

See that dreamy yellow stuff up there? Well, it’s butter! And I made that! It didn’t even occur to me that I could make it myself, but it’s actually pretty simple. The only ingredient is cream. Unless you salt your butter, in which case, you also need salt.

The difference between fresh, homemade butter and store-bought is amazing. This stuff just tastes fresh and buttery! I don’t know how else to describe it. Of course, any butter is good butter, but homemade is the best butter.

A note about cream: you don’t want to use ultra-pasteurized, which is heated to a higher temperature than “regular” pasteurized cream to get rid of harmful bacteria. It tends to have a more chemical and cooked flavor and it’s harder to whip up. I used an organic, pasteurized cream from Whole Foods. They also had raw milk (not pasteurized) from grass-fed cows, but a quart was $14! I wasn’t ready to pay that kind of money, but I would love to try it some day. There’s a great article at Chow comparing flavors of different kinds of milk if you want to learn more.

Anyway, butter is made by beating cream until it separates. You need either a hand mixer or a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. If you are going to salt it, try about 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon per half pound of butter. I like to keep mine unsalted. Read the rest of the post for a step-by-step photo tutorial on how to make butter from scratch.

Update: Welcome everyone coming from the Tasty Kitchen Blog! I encourage you to subscribe to my RSS feed or view my Tasty Kitchen profile and add me as a friend.

Let us know in the comments below if you have any success making your own butter!

Step 1: Buy some pasteurized or raw cream. Make sure it has at least 36% fat content. How much cream is up to you. I used a quart. Let it sit at room temperature for about an hour.

use pasteurized cream to make butter

Step 2: Put your cream into a large bowl.

cream in a large bowl

Step 3: Start beating the cream on high with your whisk attachment. Realize cream is splashing everywhere and get a larger bowl. Ok, maybe that part was just me. You will reach soft peaks. Alas, I passed this stage without photographing it. Let me explain: when you beat cream, first it will thicken into the soft peaks stage. This means that when you lift your beaters out of the cream, it will softly droop downward.

Step 4: If you continue beating, your cream will reach the stiff peaks stage. This means that when you lift your beaters, the cream will stand stiffly and point straight out, like so:

cream with stiff peaks

Step 5: Continue beating and the cream becomes very thick and starts to take on texture. This is how I like whipped cream on my desserts, even though most people stop at the stiff peaks stage.

over-beaten cream

Step 6: Keep whipping and now your cream will become, for lack of a better word, chunky. Watch closely at this stage, because you’re almost there!

overbeaten cream almost butter

Step 7: Now, all of a sudden, your cream will break and your beaters will start splashing liquid all over the place. That means it’s time to stop beating!

butter and buttermilk

You can see that the butter curds here turned a very rich shade of yellow. And that white liquid? It’s buttermilk!

cream separated into butter and buttermilk

Step 8: Drain the butter using a sieve set over a small bowl. You could also just pour off the liquid and save yourself a step.

drain butter for homemade buttermilk

Put the buttermilk in the fridge, but remember that it’s fresh, not cultured. (More info on cultured vs. uncultured buttermilk) You can add a little bit of vinegar or lemon juice to approximate cultured buttermilk and then use it to make raspberry buttermilk cake or some homemade ranch dressing. Here’s the buttermilk I drained off:

homemade buttermilk

Step 9: While still in the sieve, work the butter with a rubber spatula. That buttermilk is hiding in pockets inside the butter. Look at these little white droplets of buttermilk coming out of the woodwork. The dreamy, delicious woodwork.

buttermilk in butter

Step 10: Put the butter into a bowl and add some cold water. Then work it with your rubber spatula. You want to get all the buttermilk out to lengthen your butter’s shelf life. The water will get cloudy. Drain and add some more fresh water. Continue draining, working with a spatula, and adding fresh water until the water is clear. Drain.

draining buttermilk out of homemade butter

Step 10a (optional): After you’ve drained the clear water, you can salt your butter. I like to keep mine unsalted, which is why I don’t have a picture. But if you want, use about 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon per 1/2 pound of butter and work it in with the spatula. You can also embellish here. Add some chopped basil and parsley to make herb butter. Or add some honey and orange zest for a sweet citrus butter. Be creative! The sky’s the limit.

Step 11: Enjoy your fresh and delicious butter on a toasted English muffin with a drizzle of honey. It’s the best way.

english muffin with butter and honey

Step 12: Even though it looks pretty set out on a plate, you should keep the butter in an airtight container in the fridge. Butter’s really good at absorbing all those funky refrigerator smells, so make sure it’s sealed tightly.

seal butter airtight in the fridge

Out of a quart of cream, I got 1 cup of buttermilk and about 7 ounces of butter. I’d recommend making smaller batches than that, since the fresh taste will only stay for so long.

I’ve heard about people making butter by just shaking cream in a jar. Does that method actually work? Seems like it would take hours…

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21 Comments

  1. Wow, that’s amazing! I take my hat off to you, Jersey Cook! That is so, so cool. It certainly takes a lot of work, but I bet it’s worth it. I LOVE butter – I know that sounds gross to say, but baguette+butter=heaven, right? I rarely go to Whole Foods because the closest one to me is 45 minutes away in Madison, but this would definitely make the trip worth it…

    Thanks for sharing this fascinating post!

    Reply
    • I agree completely. Trader Joe’s also has pasteurized cream – maybe there’s one close to you. I just learned about making sour cream butter, which involves using live cultures to sour the cream and then making butter from that. The taste is heavenly and I’ll be blogging about it soon!

    • If you are 45 minutes from a Whole Foods does that mean you live in the country? I find taking a drive out that way you can find dairy farmers and buy from them if you can create a repoir or a relationship with them…then it’s probably not $14/L as well! Good instructions – The more buttermilk you get out the longer shelf life your butter will have!

  2. Kate

     /  March 10, 2010

    I can attest to the glass jar method! I haven’t made butter since we had a pioneer day in elementary school, and boy did we shake it back then! I imagine it was to keep a bunch of 10-year-olds busy for a while. I honestly don’t remember the exact timing, just that my arm hurt a bit. :-) Your method looks like a great thing to keep in mind for any fresh whipped cream that’s left over… why we ever have fresh whipped cream left over I can’t explain.

    I reached your post via Tasty Kitchen, btw. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Reply
    • That’s so funny, Kate! I would never dream of making it in a jar – thank goodness for electronics, right?

      Never in my life have I had leftover whipped cream ;) but I have heard of people who accidentally over-whipped cream and ended up with butter!

    • Pam P

       /  March 10, 2010

      Me too! I dropped over here from Tasty Kitchen and all I keep thinking about is when I was a Pioneer Girl (the Presbyterian girl scouts..yeah weird, I know, anyway…) that is exactly what we did! Shaking cream in a empty, clean baby food jar. It was so much fun, but I don’t remember how long it took, I just know that it was a lot work :)
      It was also something we did on rainy afternoons in front of the TV, so next time your kids are bugging you, hand them a jar of cream and tell them to get churning!

  3. Okay, I’mk already in love with your blog! I’m always trying to find ways to make basics at home, since they are typically SO easy! I was seriously just thinking last night that I go through butter so fast. It didn’t even occur to me to make it myself! Thank you so much for sharing, I’m excited to try this now!

    Reply
    • Thanks Piper! I totally agree — homemade is just better. Please report back after you’ve made it!

  4. Suzanne

     /  March 11, 2010

    Start to finish…How long does the process take? I would love to try it in a cooking class.

    Reply
    • Suzanne, if you’re not stopping to take pictures every 10 seconds, I would say that it took about 5 minutes of beating and 5 minutes to “rinse” the butter. Just make sure that your cream is at room temp since it can take much longer if the cream is cold. I would suggest trying it out on your own with a small amount of cream before demonstrating in front of a class.

  5. Michele

     /  March 13, 2010

    I can’t wait to try this with my girl scouts. This will be so fun and a gift to take home to boot. I love it.

    Reply
    • Michele – Yes, I have heard kids love watching the butter come together and actually learn something in the process. Good luck!

  6. I made this yesterday. Thanks so much for the detailed instructions. I don’t have a whisk attachment doohicky, so I used a regular hand mixer. I must say that it took a very long time. But it was very worth it. Especially yummy on the Challah I made with it.

    Also, found you via Tasty Kitchen.

    Oh. And I used organic ultra-pasteurized heavy whipping cream – I couldn’t find anything else.

    Reply
    • Hi Ki – From what I understand, ultra-pasteurized cream takes longer to whip up than pasteurized so that could be a reason it took you longer. It can also make a difference if your cream has been homogenized. But in any case, I’m glad it worked out and that you enjoyed it!

  7. Dee

     /  April 8, 2010

    I found you as I was searching on ways to make fresh butter. Some sites recommended using cold cream and so I did that with the first batch to experiment how long it would take. I get my fresh pasturized cream from a friend who milks her own cows. It does take about 20 minutes to make butter if the cream is cold. I have the second batch of cream setting out to make it in just a few minutes. But the butter turned out wonderful and thankfully my sister stopped by just in time to help hold the towel around the mixer bowl as it was splashing cream. (I just have one size mixing bowl) Thanks so much for the easy instructions and pics. I will be checking out the rest of your site.

    Reply
    • Thanks for stopping by, Dee! I had the same problem with cream splashing everywhere when I first started. But it’s worth it!

  8. Christen

     /  July 8, 2010

    I have made butter in a canning jar, with the ultra-pasteurized heavy whipping cream that you would find in a typical grocery store. It took about twenty minutes of shaking, switching off between me and my sister when we’d get tired. It tasted super delicious, but that could also be attributed to the massive self satisfaction we felt!

    Reply
    • Hi Christen, that is so crazy. I think I would run out of patience! Glad we have mixers now and don’t have to go through all that to get delicious homemade butter.

  9. Riversana

     /  July 27, 2013

    Thank you so much for this article! I waited until I had already started the process to look up the details, and I came across this page. I started with just over a quart of raw cream, poured it into a half gallon mason jar, and started slowly working it back and forth. I thought it had to be a slow process. I shook it around, looked online, shook it some more, and finally tried “shimmy and shake”! I couldn’t see much difference in my cream through the glass, it just looked a little thick and foamy at the top, so I headed into the kitchen to get out my mixer. In better light, I realized I had a huge lump of butter!!!! YAY ME!! The hardest part was probably trying to get all the buttermilk out, the rinse and repeat step. It felt like I could never quite drain everything off. I ended up with about 11 ounces of butter, most of which I put in the freezer, since we’ve slacked off on butter consumption lately. Thank you for your help! lol

    Reply
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    Reply

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