July 26, 2012

Homemade Crème Fraîche, Butter, Buttermilk, Leaf Lard, Bread, and Broth

Last weekend we did a fair bit of food preparation:
- baked a few loaves of bread
- rendered about a liter of leaf lard
- made a big pot of stock using oven roasted beef shanks
- cultured 3L of creme fraiche
- churned about 2L of it into butter and buttermilk
- harvested and braised a bucket of kale from the garden

The girls helped me bake some bread; as usual they made themselves some little shapes and rolls to eat with olive oil and salt. We had fresh bread, cheese, and fruit for lunch on Saturday.

Becky pulled out a ~1kg pack of unrendered leaf lard from the deep freeze and turned it into about a liter of liquid goodness. The lard came from a small farm in western Mass. called Moon in the Pond, which a previous housemate of ours Leeann interned at a few years back. Leaf lard comes from the fat around the kidneys of a pig and is excellent for making flaky pastry. It has a neutral flavor and makes small crystals when solid, so it is a good match for the taste and physical requirements of sweet pastry baking. I bought a few tubs of rendered leaf lard at a greenmarket in Brooklyn once and it improved the flakiness of my pie crust quite remarkably.

Becky chopped up the raw fat into 1cm cubes, then put it in a pot with a little water and cooked it on lowish heat for about 4 hours. It rendered nicely, though it did turn out yellower than the commercially rendered leaf lard and will likely have a bit more meaty flavor to it. It finished late on Saturday so it hardened in a bowl on the counter. On Sunday I put the bowl in the oven (hot for bread baking) until the lard was liquid enough to pour but not scalding hot, then poured it into jars using a canning funnel.

I am excited to use some of this lard to make some pies next weekend!

We have a meat CSA at Stillman's at the Turkey Farm, and Becky had special ordered some beef shanks and various joints from them. She oven roasted these along with some halved onions, then boiled the shanks and stock bones with water for 15 minutes. In contrast to most stock making I have seen previously, she then dumped the boil water down the sink, rinsed the bones, and started over with new water, along with the onions and some ginger and peppercorns. She says this is the Asian method of making stock and read about it in her Vietnamese cookbook, among other places. This is a way to make stock with all the flavor but almost no scum. The scum apparently comes out in the beginning of the process, but the flavor develops slowly over the 10 hours of subsequent true simmering.

Creme Fraiche
Becky now thinks of butterfat, lard, and suet as nature's perfect health food, so we have been going through a ton of cream lately. One fine way to eat cream is by culturing it into creme fraiche. This process turns it very thick and gives it a pleasant tangy flavor. The cultured cream doesn't curdle at high heat as regular cream does, so it is more useful for cooking. It is also excellent to eat with berries or other fresh fruit for dessert, and tastes wonderful atop a pancake or waffle. It is smooth and rich, less tangy and less stiff than sour cream but with a more complex cultured flavor, and also doesn't weep whey like sour cream does. It can even be strained to make a mascarpone-like soft cheese.

Most sources abhor the use of ultra pasteurized cream, and if you can get your cream in the non-UP state then that is great. But Becky has been using UP Organic Valley cream with good results.

Creme fraiche is easy to make; just heat the cream gently no higher than 30C, add a culturing agent, then let sit at room temp until thickened (usually 12-24 hours). It will get even thicker after it chills in the fridge. In the past I have used mesophilic bacteria from a cheesemaking supply house, but these days Becky has been using buttermilk from the store. She froze the buttermilk into ice cubes and keeps the cubes in a bag in the freezer. A good amount to add is one buttermilk cube (~30ml) per liter of cream. Its probably good to defrost the cubes, or at least to stir the cream until the cubes melt to insure good distribution.

This week I took the extra step of sanitizing the jar of my Dazey #40 vintage butter churn with iodophor, then put in 6 boxes of cream. I warmed the cream by stirring it, and running hot water in a surrounding pot in which the jar was partly submerged. After getting to temp and mixing in the buttermilk, I poured off 1.5 liters into jars to remain as creme fraiche and left the rest to thicken in the churn jar.

Butter & Buttermilk
Next weekend we are attending a bbq dinner hosted by the family of the CTO of 1366, and I signed us up to bring a "non-refrigerated dessert." I thought fruit pies would be a nice summer treat, and that it might be fun to churn the butter to make the crust for the pies. Its easy and fun for the kids, and its always a pleasure to use my ~90 year old Dazey #40 butter churn.

Using cultured cream instead of sweet cream has several positive benefits. Firstly, it makes butter taste far better. The culturing step adds a whole layer of depth to the flavor which is sadly lacking in sweet cream butter. I've read that it increases yield of butter because it helps to break down micelles of butterfat more quickly and fully so they can agglomerate better; this also has the effect of decreasing the time and agitation needed to reach the breaking point of the cream.

After making a big pile of creme fraiche in the Dazey jar, I chilled it for a few hours. Reports online indicate that optimal churning temp is 10-15C, so I let it warm up on the counter for a little while after removing it from the fridge. Millie thought it smelled weird. Actually it smells tangy and flowery!

The girls helped me churn. One time I made some butter with my old housemates Alexi and Leeann, and it did get very thick but never broke into butter despite champion efforts on the crank of the churn. I attributed this to perhaps too vigorous of an agitation, which may have re-emulsified the butter into the buttermilk and made a mayonnaise-like product. Since then, I have pursued a slow and steady approach concerning RPMs of the churn.

The butter started to break after around 20 minutes of turning.

I poured off the buttermilk into jars, then continued churning to agglomerate the chunks more.

Next, I washed it twice in the churn with chilled water, then paddled it in a bowl to press out residual water and buttermilk.

A small amount of buttermilk will go into pie crust along with the butter, for next weekend's pies. The rest will go to baking; probably 2-3 weeks of pancakes worth in there.

Finally, we molded it in a butter mold I bought on ebay, just for fun. I weighed out two packets for the two pies, then salted the remaining butter to demi-sel level (around 6ml/kg). We enjoyed the fresh homemade cultured butter on fresh bread for lunch.

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