Today we will look at cream and its various states. First, and primarily, we know cream as a milk product. It is composed of a high-butterfat content (important in our discussion today) and is skimmed off the top of milk collected from cattle, before the milk is homogenized. We homogenize milk so that the fat molecules do not separate from the water content, that homogenization process is achieved through centrifuges.
Heavy cream is an emulsion, which is to say it is tiny droplets of one liquid floating in another liquid evenly distributed. In this case, globs of fat are suspended perfectly in water.
Because of its high percentage of fat, cream has the ability to do miraculous things. It can transform in front of our eyes.
Primarily we know transformed cream by the name whipped cream. But what happens when we whip cream? The reason we have cream specifically designated as Heavy Whipping Cream is because in order to aerate the liquid we need at least a 30% fat content. Essentially, what we’re doing here is trapping air bubbles in a network of fat droplets. We are pushing the fat closer together and that is what provides structure out of a seemingly structureless ingredient (moving from liquid to semi-solid).
But if we keep whipping, do you know what happens? Those fat droplets get closer and closer together, becoming more and more dense. As they get closer together, they press out water and casein. And what do we call dense fat droplets smashed together out of cream? Butter!
And what is the liquid that gets pressed out? Why it’s nothing more than buttermilk! Yes, this is the real deal. It is the byproduct of butter. Buttermilk is acidic and slightly thick when compared to regular milk. Why so acidic? Because the fat molecules have pressed out most of the whey (a milk protein we discussed in my cheese segment).
When you reach this point with the cream, you can strain out the butter and then run it under water while you knead it. We knead the butter to remove even more water content. Don’t worry about it melting away under water, it’s a nearly pure fat at this point which isn’t water soluble.
While we need to remove most of the water, we will not get rid of it entirely. And that leads us to another miraculous transformation of butter. Refined or clarified butter. When we cook out that final bit of water over low heat we separate the pure butterfat from water and protein. Water will evaporate, and then we can skim off the protein. Pure butterfat is an excellent cooking vehicle because it can reach nearly 400 degrees before smoking (which is extraordinarily high).
Now that you know how easy it is to make butter, might you make some tonight?
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