Category Archives: Dairy

Making Ricotta

Purists may cry foul because this ricotta is made with whole milk (and a little cream), but I say let them. This is the internet. They’re miles away. Classically ricotta is made from the whey left behind after provolone is made. However few if any of us can just nip down to the corner market and pick up a gallon of provolone whey, now can we? And anyway I’m on record that I believe ricotta is a process, not a fat percentage, and I’m stickin’ to it!

Yes this cheese has a little more fat than the Italian or store-bought stuff, but as I can personally attest, this is how many, many Italian-American nonninas made theirs the last century. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. ‘Nuff said. Start by pouring your milk and cream into a large pot. The less it’s been homogenized and/or stabilized the better, since both of those processes are designed to inhibit clumping and congealing…and that’s what we’re trying to do here.

Add the salt.

Bring the whole thing to a rolling boil (it will foam quite a bit, which is why you want the big pot), then add the lemon juice.

Turn the heat down and let the pot simmer for 2-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, line a strainer with cheese cloth and place it over another large pot or pan.

Don’t be under the impression that the milk mixture is going to suddenly get thick or turn into a big blob of curds or anything. All you’ll notice are some spots floating around in it. There’s really not all that much in milk that can be solidified when it gets right down to it. That’s part of the reason cream is added to the milk in this recipe, to introduce more “substance” to this mixture so the curds will be larger. Believe me, it takes a whole lot of liquid whey to make a tiny amount of ricotta.

So where was I? Oh yes, pour the whole sloppy mess into the strainer, then just let it sit.

After an hour this about where you’ll be. It’s milky and ready to eat at this point if you like…and in fact you’ll have a hard time restraining yourself once you taste it, it’s that good.

About two hours later and it’s thick enough that you can simply turn it out into a fine mesh strainer for faster draining.

If you plan on using it as a filling instead of just a snack, let it drain for several more hours. Lay some plastic wrap on the top, put the strainer and the pot into the refrigerator and let it go for at least six hours or overnight. It’s best the day it’s made but will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

Filed under:  Pastry, Ricotta | 21 Comments

Ricotta Recipe

OK, so maybe I’m going a little nutty putting up a homemade ricotta recipe, but a.) not everyone outside of a major city can get fresh ricotta; b.) it’s amazingly easy, but, most importantly; c.) I’m a fermented dairy and/or cheese freak. You’ll need:

2 quarts whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Combine the milk, cream and salt in a large pot and gently bring it to the boil. Meanwhile line a large strainer with a double layer of cheese cloth. When the milk mixture is at a rolling boil add the lemon juice and reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir the mixture every now and again for about two minutes, until curds form. Place the lined strainer in the closest sink and pour the curds and whey into it. Allow the mixture to drain for at least an hour. Remove the cheese to a bowl, cover it and chill it in the refrigerator.

If you’re making ricotta cream for cannoli, place the strainer over a bowl, cover the cheese lightly with plastic wrap, and put the whole works in the fridge to drain overnight.

Filed under:  Pastry, Ricotta | 23 Comments

Making Clotted Cream

The texture of clotted cream is really unlike any other dairy product I’m aware of. It’s smooth, incredibly thick, full of big, curd-like blobs and just a little gooey. “Mud-like” is the term I usually use, and it’s apt.

For a one-time Devon resident like myself, the realization that I had the resources available to make my own clotted cream caused waves of both nostalgia and lust — butterfat lust — to wash over me. I had to rush out immediately and try it. If you have small, local dairy cream available to you (un-homogenized and especially un-stabilized) this recipe will be a snap. If not you probably won’t get quite the same result, but to my way of seeing things that’s no reason not to try. The potential rewards are simply too great.

Start by setting your oven at about 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything under 200 will do. Then pour about a quart of heavy cream into a small dish or pot. That there are already some clots of butterfat here indicates that this is definitely the sort of cream I want.

Cover that with aluminum foil (or a lid in the case of a pot) and place it in the oven for 10-12 hours.

What’s going to happen in that time? Well, the steady low heat of the oven is going to encourage all the tiny fat globules in the cream to rise. As they do they’ll bunch up — though not combine with one another — to make a huge, thick mass.

You can see what that mass looks like when I take it out. Much of the fat (and a little butter, there) has risen to the top. However it’s still liquid. Turning this into clotted cream proper means cooling it. So into the refrigerator it goes.

What will happen in there? A couple things. The chill will cause the lipid molecules in the butterfat globules to form crystals. The whole mass will get firmer. That’s how it works in Devon and Cornwall at least. Will the same thing happen for me here in Kentucky?


So I just skim off the big, firm clots and keep them in a bowl until I need them. The remainder I’ll strain and use as half-and-half in, well, whatever. Store this for a week or more tightly covered to prevent odors or off flavors from getting in.

You’ll want to serve this chilled. Spread it on scones and consume with abandon. Large quantities are suitable for bathing in.

Filed under:  Clotted Cream, Pastry | 215 Comments

Homemade Mascarpone

Time and temperature are the secrets to a successful batch of mascarpone. Other than that all you have to work with are cream, some acid, a thermometer and a pan. Simple, right? Right…

The formula is one pint of heavy cream and one pint of half-and-half (all of it un-homogenized and un-stabilized if at all possible), which I have found gives a firmer texture than all cream (though that works too). As for the acid, you’ll need 1/4 teaspoon of tartaric acid (cream of tartar) OR 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice OR two tablespoons of white vinegar. Different people have different preferences, I like the powdered acid since it’s always reliable. The acidity of both lemons and vinegar, depending on the variety, can fluctuate.

Most mascarpone recipes begin with a double boiler because the heat is gentler. I prefer a small straight-sided saucepan. Yes, there is a risk of over-heating, however 1 quart of dairy isn’t much, and it tends to get lost inside a typical double boiler. It comes maybe one inch up the side of the pan, which makes it hard to get a reliable thermometer reading. A small pan gives me more depth, and as long as the pan is thick, very little risk of overheating. So then, pour your cream (or mix of cream and half-and-half) into the pan. Place it over medium-low heat.

I should insert, for those who might be inclined toward flavor infusions of some sort, that this is an excellent time to get busy. I can imagine a small cheesecloth bag containing perhaps citrus rinds, maybe spices or herbs, even coffee beans being dropped in at this point. Cream, because it is so full of fat, is a sponge for flavor.

While the cream mixture is slowly coming up to temperature, mix your tartaric acid into about a tablespoon of water. Stir it up and keep it ready. If you’re planning on using a liquid acid, you can skip this step.

Now start watching your temperature closely. You’ll want to bring the mix up to temperature slowly, over the course of ten or fifteen minutes. Once it hits about 185…

…give your acid mixture one last stir and pour it in.

Begin to stir again. This will help the mixture curdle.

Now then, you want to maintain a temperature of right around 190 for about five minutes, until you see evidence that the acid is having an effect. What will that effect be, exactly? A slight thickening of your mixture. No, it won’t break into curds like other types of cheese mixtures will. However the thickness will tell you that your uncoiled proteins are starting to coagulate and interlock with one another, slowing the mixture’s flow. Instead of making lots of little curds (think ricotta or quark) it’s rather like, in fact it’s very like, in fact it’s exactly like, making a single large curd.

Keep stirring gently until…ah yes: there. About the thickness of a finished crème anglaise. See those little bulging waves? When you stir the mixture slowly, that’s what you’ll get. And no, those bubbles are not evidence of boiling, what you’re seeing is just some light foam the whisk created. For extra verification that you’ve reached the right point, remove the pan from the heat, insert a spoon, turn it over and run your finger down the back side. Does it make a clearly defined stripe? Then you’re done.

Set the pan aside and allow it to cool down to room temperature. This might be another prime opportunity, if you were so inclined, to introduce a flavoring in the form of an extract…if you wanted to…I’m just sayin’. Park it in the fridge for 24 hours. Yes, I drink Diet Coke. So what? I like the taste.

The next day, grab a medium-sized strainer or colander and set it in/over a pot or large bowl.

Line it with at least two layers of cheese cloth.

Take the pan out of the refrigerator and pour the mixture — which by now will be a good deal thicker — into the strainer.

Don’t worry if the last of it seems rather runny, it still has a good deal of sitting yet to do. Return the cheese to the refrigerator, lightly covered with plastic wrap, for another 24 hours.

At the end of that period it will be thick, with a texture somewhere between sour cream and cream cheese.

Oh and…here’s a quiz: what would you get if you employed this technique not with cream but with whole milk? Answer: paneer. And if you tried it with goat’s milk? Answer: goat cheese. Pretty cool.

Filed under:  Dairy, Mascarpone, Pastry Components | 27 Comments

Making Buttermilk

I’ve always felt that “buttermilk” is a misleading term. It implies a richer form of ordinary milk, when in fact most buttermilk is about as rich as low-fat milk. That makes a lot of sense when you consider where buttermilk comes from, for it’s the liquid that’s leftover when fat (butter) is removed from cream. But if that’s the case, why is buttermilk so thick? And more than that, why is it tangy? The answer to both questions is: lactic acid bacteria. It’s bacteria that make the acid that curdles the proteins that live in the house that Jack built….er, that makes buttermilk thick and tangy. (Sorry, too much time singing nursery rhymes).

But then where do the bacteria come from, and how do they get into the milk to begin with? The answer is that lactic acid bacteria are pretty much everywhere: in the air, on container surfaces, even in the udders of cows. Except when milk is irradiated, live lactic acid bacteria and milk are essentially inseparable. So the question isn’t really where the bacteria come from, but how and why the bacteria are allowed to become so numerous that they affect the taste and texture of milk.

The answer to that is that lactic acid bacteria, like most microbes, will grow and reproduce given food, water, time, temperature and the right pH. Milk provides the food, water and pH and conditions around the farm provided the time and temperature. For farmers of old had no refrigeration equipment. When a cow was milked, the milk went into a container where it sat, warm, a perfect environment for microbial growth.

The upshot was that all milk and cream once was, at least to some extent, sour. Soured cream makes sour (“cultured”) butter, and, by extension, sour buttermilk. It wasn’t very long ago at all that people — especially kids and farm hands — loved to drink buttermilk. It’s low in fat which means it chills well, and the tanginess is enlivening to the taste buds. Yuck, you mean people actually drank that stuff??? Yes they did, though it’s important to remember that homemade buttermilk is/was much milder — and thinner — than the kind we buy in stores today. Store bought buttermilk is extremely “ripe” by conventional standards, which makes it less enjoyable to drink but better for leavening quick breads.

And that is/was the other great value of buttermilk on the farm. Combined with baking soda acidic buttermilk creates a reaction that raises the buttermilk biscuits and pancakes we associate with country living.

So it’s versatile stuff, yet it’s poorly understood at a time when so few of us live on farms anymore. Mostly we just buy a jug when a recipe calls for it. However it can be made at home. The easiest way to make buttermilk is to simply make some cultured butter. You get it as a by-product. See?

You just knead the butter and pour it off. Knead and pour it off. In time you have quite a bit of buttermilk.

Just store it in an airtight container and use it as you would any other buttermilk. You can even drink it if you like. If you find it too strong you can add a little milk to it. Or ice. (Very nice).

But then what if you were making sweet cream butter? That’s not made from soured cream, but from fresh cream, which leaves “sweet” buttermilk behind. It tastes just like low-fat milk (because that’s essentially what it is). Drink it, or, if you want to make buttermilk from it, add a little soured buttermilk (or sour cream or yogurt) to it…


… and let it ferment overnight. All done! I should add here that if you want to make buttermilk exclusively for drinking, you can control the tanginess by only letting it ferment for a few hours. Fermented milk drinks are enjoyed the world over, and for good reason. I think they’re a tradition we should bring back here in the States.

Oh, and if you need to make “quick” buttermilk for baking, just add a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of low fat milk. It’s horrible stuff for drinking, but it will work just fine in recipes.

Filed under:  Buttermilk, Dairy, Pastry Components | 4 Comments

How to Make Sour Cream

Since I’m planning to gather all my home-dairying posts together and put them in their own section, I thought I’d be thorough and put up a separate post on sour cream. Yes, I know I did this yesterday when I posted on cultured butter, it’s just how my mind works. Sure it’s redundant, but it’s for the greater good of education.

I should emphasize here that what I’m making is an animal you won’t find in stores: full-fat sour cream. It’s decadent stuff, with twice the butterfat that store-bought sour cream contains. Which makes it good. Can I make it with less fat? Yes, though the consistency will be thinner. Crème fraîche has perhaps 25% less fat than full-fat sour cream, but the difference in firmness is noticeable.

Commercial manufacturers of sour cream employ all sorts of interesting tricks to thicken lighter creams to a full-fat consistency. Gelatin, starches, gums and protein-coagulating enzymes among them. Not a big deal, just not the real deal. To get that stuff, you want to do like I do. Pour some heavy cream into a bowl, it doesn’t matter how much.

Then add your culture at the rate of about a tablespoon per cup of cream. Any fermented milk product will do: sour cream, buttermilk or yogurt.

Stir it together…

…covered it with plastic and let it sit out overnight. In the morning it will be nice and thick:

However it will get thicker still in the refrigerator. Use it as you would any other sour cream, though remember the higher fat. If you’re planning on incorporating it into some sort of batter, you can probably compensate for the extra fat by decreasing any other fat (say, butter or oil) that the recipe calls for. If not, well, you only live once, right?

Filed under:  Dairy, Pastry Components, Sour Cream | Leave a comment

How to Make Cultured Butter

Cultured butter is now synonymous with European-style butter, however it was once common in the States, at least until the rise of “sweet cream” butter, which is the American standard now. The spread of sweet cream butter was based on a technological innovation: refrigeration. For it was refrigeration that made it possible to get milk from the farmer’s barn to the dairy before it soured due to the action of lactic acid bacteria. Americans preferred their butter sweeter, without the slightly tangy, some say “cheesy”, aftertaste. However there are times when tang and complexity are very desirable things indeed.

Cultured butter is getting more popular in the US, which is not to say it’s available everywhere. So why not make it? All you need is some heavy cream, some other sort of fermented milk product (sour cream, buttermilk or yogurt), a food processor and some time. Since cultured butter is based on soured cream, that’s where we need to start.

Here I have a quart of cream. I initially planned to run off to the specialty shop and buy some local bottled cream for this, since I wanted to impress you with how profoundly authentic my life is. Then I remembered what my life is really like and went to Kroger. The results would have been excellent either way.

Next I added my “culture”, in this case some buttermilk, though any bacteria-rich milk product hanging around in the fridge (like sour cream or yogurt) would have done nicely. I added about a tablespoon per cup.

I didn’t add any more than that because I didn’t want to risk diluting the fat content of the mixture. In order to whip cream you need a minimum of 30% milk fat in the mix. This is why I soured my own heavy cream for this project instead of just buying sour cream, because commercial sour creams aren’t made from full-fat cream. They’re made from light cream (about 15 percent milk fat) thickened with additives like gelatin or guar gum. Wouldn’t you just know it? I stirred it up…

…covered it with plastic and let it sit overnight. Presto change-o:

All done, but speaking for myself, I prefer to churn it when it’s chilled (makes the finished butter firmer). So off it goes into the fridge for a few hours. I should have taken a picture of what the sour cream looked like coming out of the fridge because it was even thicker than normal commercial sour cream. However when you stir it up the matrix breaks (as with yogurt) and it becomes soupier. Here I poured the stirred sour cream into the bowl of my food processor…

…and switched it on. After about a minute it whipped up to, essentially, sour whipped cream.

Another full minute and it showed signs of breaking.

Another full minute after that and butter grains began to form…

…and finally fifteen seconds later the whole mixture separated into butter and buttermilk.

I strained the whole mess…

…then, in a separate bowl, used a big fork to knead the butter and squeeze out any remaining pockets of buttermilk.

After about a minute of kneading and pouring off buttermilk, I had thirteen ounces of cultured butter.

Now then, I should mention that it’s not possible to make butter at home that’s “dry” enough to use for laminated pastry like croissants and puff pastry. However this is an excellent general-purpose butter, for spreading on toast and cooking with. I’ve used my own butter for pie crusts and buttercream, though since it’s a bit wetter than commercial butter, the results aren’t quite as good compared to the store bought stuff. That said, I had the caché of being able to say I made the butter myself!

UPDATE: Reader Evan adds:

I would dispute your assertion that it is not possible to make “dry” enough butter for puff pastry at home. I myself have inadvertently overdried butter to the point that it was nearly 100% fat. The simplest method is to place your butter wad into a flour sack towel and twist down to squeeze the hell (and buttermilk) out of it. With enough effort (and periodic kneading to homogenize the wad and allow more water to the surface), a great deal of buttermilk can be expelled. I don’t know if this is “dry” enough for puff pastry (perhaps it is too dry!), but it certainly at least as high in fat percentage as store bought butter.

Also, these extra tips:

First, don’t use products with only acidophilus cultures. They won’t grow at low temps, and you’ll wind up with cream that has yogurt in it, rather than a cultured cream. It’s still usable, but will resemble sweet cream butter instead of cultured butter.

Second, I double checked my weights to approximate the fat percentage in my final butter. I started with 16 oz of cream and added 1 oz of yogurt. Assuming Snowville’s heavy whipping cream is 36% butter fat (I can’t find the exact number), there’s 5.76 oz of fat in this cream. My final butter weight, after pressing, was 6.61 oz. There’s some loss involved, obviously, but for the sake of argument let’s assume that all the fat (or most of it) got into my butter. That puts the fat percentage by weight at 87%. Obviously this number is a little high, since I ignored loss and the weight of the yogurt, but I think it’s a pretty good indication that the butter is at least commercial grade in terms of fat percentage. I also obtained about 10 oz of buttermilk – enough for pancakes!

Filed under:  Butter (Cultured), Dairy, Pastry Components | 6 Comments

How to Make Yogurt

What an anticlimax this is going to be after all this talk — just a lot of shots of white things. But that’s the reality of fermentation: all the really sexy stuff is happening on scale that’s far too small to see. Hmm…maybe I should buy a microscope and become a lactic acid bacteria voyeur. Or are there laws against that? While I ponder, combine your liquid and powdered milks…

…give them a whisk…

…then start heating the mixture. I suggest taking it up to 195 and letting it cool back down to 120, but simply warming the mixture to 120 will also do.

Add your store-bought yogurt or packaged starter (and any flavoring you might want at this point, a little honey or vanilla extract let’s say)…

…whisk again…

…and pour the yogurt mix into a container. I use this very tall one for reasons that should be obvious when you get to the next photo…

…because my yogurt-making rig consists of heating pads. Now, I’ve received quite a lot of feedback on this front. Some people use thermos bottles, some use pots placed on top of heating pads, some use pots wrapped in blankets placed under beds. Whatever method you choose, be it one of those or something else (like an empty oven with a pilot light), do your best to keep the mixture around 110 degrees, but not more that 125.

Between two and eight hours later, you should have something that looks like this:

Pretty darn easy, yes? Yes.

Filed under:  Dairy, Pastry Components, Yogurt | Leave a comment

Yogurt Recipe

This is essentially the yogurt making process I saw Alton Brown do on one of his shows. The thing I love about it is that it dispenses with those silly and expensive yogurt making devices you see in kitchen gadget shops. Everything you need for this you probably have between your kitchen cabinets and your bathroom closet. So, to make home-made yogurt you’ll need:

1 quart low fat milk
1/2 cup powdered milk
1/4 cup room-temperature yogurt (plain)
Optional: 2 – 4 tablespoons honey, maple syrup or refiner’s syrup
Optional: A teaspoon or so of flavoring like vanilla, lemon or coffee extract

To start simply pour the milk into a saucepan with the powdered milk and sweetener (if using). Whisk the mixture gently over medium heat until it registers 195 degrees, maintain the temperature there, taking the pan on and off the heat as needed, for ten minutes (you can skip this heating step if you wish and simply bring the mixture to 120, though you’ll get a better texture if you apply the higher heat). Then, pour it into a taller-than-it-is-long container, either a wide-mouthed jar or piece of miscellaneous tupperware. Allow it to cool to 120, then add the yogurt and stir until blended.

After that you simply need to keep the culture as close to 110 degrees as you can for the next 4-10 hours…which is easier said than done since most of our modern-day kitchen devices are designed to prevent microbial growth, not encourage it. You’ll need an instant-read or probe thermometer to take regular readings.

Some people like an electric oven for this job, assuming it can be set to 110 degrees or so, though most ovens do a very poor job of maintaining steady low temperatures and sudden spikes in temperature (when the oven turns on) can be disastrous. Other people like an unlit gas oven (assuming it has a pilot light) and a warm water bath, though the water needs to be changed periodically to keep the temperature up.

Me, I like the hi-tech approach that Mr. Brown suggested on one of his show, whereby you wrap your culture jar in one or two electric heating pads using rubber bands (or a larger container that you can tightly stuff the whole works in). Careful regulation of heat is critical, since the bacterial cultures that make yogurt are extremely fussy. They’ll die if they’re heated much over 120, and slow down considerably if they cool much below 105. More on this in the tutorial.

Filed under:  Dairy, Pastry Components, Yogurt | 2 Comments

How to Make Crème Fraîche

By popular demand, an easy and clear recipe for this very handy pastry component. As you can see, the home-made stuff has a very nice, thick consistency, especially after it’s been well chilled (as this has). A home made version of sour cream is what it is. Begin by pouring about 2/3 cup of cream into a bowl.

Cut it with about 1/3 cup milk.

Add a splorp of buttermilk OR sour cream OR crème fraîche (which is to say about a tablespoon)…

…and stir it in. Let it sit for 12 hours at room temperature in a relatively warm place…

…and here’s what you get. A very thick and homogenous goo that won’t “break” like, say, home made yogurt. It is in fact a very interesting consistency…almost stretchy. It tastes, well…you’ll see. Fantastic.

Filed under:  Crème Fraîche, Techniques | 2 Comments