Aug 312012

The weather has cooled!  This is excellent!  It is also inspirational to the nesting instincts in my blood.  When the temperatures drop and the skies turn grey and the winds pick up, this means it is time to cook.

I started with something easy.  Or so I thought.  Many of the informal restaurants around here serve a pork dish known as kassler (or kasseler).  This is a smoked, brined cut of meat that is fairly salty and extremely tender.  When I tried to find a recipe on the net, I discovered that Americans seem to think kassler is smoked pork chops!  Definitely not what they serve here.  Wiki tells me that it can be a variety of cuts from the neck to the belly.  But, here it seems to always be a thigh cut, though not at all trimmed and defatted.  Oh, no.  This is Germany.  You don’t get low fat meats here!  But, long story short, the internet failed me.  I learned how to *make* kassler (i.e. brine and smoke it!) but not what to do with it once you had it in your fridge.

Since I was unable to find a recipe, I decided to go ahead and just cooked it the same way that I was taught to cook Scheufele.   So, I popped it in an oven tube with soup veggies and wine and slow cooked it.  Whoa.  It smelled really good!

It looks a little like corned beef, only, you know, porkier!

And, in fact, it tasted pretty good, too!  I think I still prefer scheufele if I have to choose.  But, not too bad.  And, definitely cool weather comfort food!  As a plus, leftovers fed me for lunch all week.

Butter (and buttermilk)
Recently I had come across several references to homemade (selbst gemacht) cultured butter.  There are all sorts of butters here in Germany.  And, they really do all taste a little different!  Cultured butters are the most common.  These are made using cream that has been subjected to live cultures until it thickens a bit.  They are somewhat sour, so are often, unsurprisingly, called sour butters.  There are also middle sour butters.  And there are also sweet butters like we get in the US.  Most butter is unsalted, but larger stores often have at least one type of salted butter.  Most places also carry a couple varieties of Irish butter.  And usually there are also special small-batch or imported butters from other places.  Sometimes these are kept in the main dairy section, but often they are with the specialty cheeses.  I recently got this lovely variety.  I tried to decipher the country of origin but failed.  I am therefore going to guess Italy.  I did love that it has rivets, though!

So, anyways, I read a couple recipes on how to make butter and decided that since we have a ready abundance of good quality cream, I might as well give it a shot.  So, away we go!!

Step One:

In a clean container, mix cream with something that has active cultures (yogurt, buttermilk, creme fraiche).  I used about 3 cups of cream with a third of a cup of greek yogurt.  (The better the cream the better the butter, of course- the higher the fat content, the more butter it will yield, and some recipes said to avoid anything with stabilizers in it, but others indicated this is less of an issue than advertised). Cover the container loosely (you want to let air in but keep crumbs, flies, etc out).  Some recipes call for using plastic wrap, but cheese cloth is made for this, so use it if you have it!  It should be stored around 70 degrees.  Warm, but not hot.  I stuck it in the cupboard above the fridge.

Step Two:

The next day what you will have creme fraiche!   If you want creme fraiche and not butter, seal up your container and stick in the the chill box until it is cold.  You are done!  This is what it looks like:

Creme Fraiche

(If at this stage it is bubbly, gassy or smells bad, toss it- you got some sort of bacterial infection.  None of the folks who provided the instructions seemed to think this is a common problem, but good to be safe.)

Step Three:
Otherwise, still put it in the chill chest until it is cool.  You want it to be about 60 degrees for optimal whipping, I am told.  Then, take it out and pour it into a deep bowl.  Its time to make mistakes and Get Messy!!

Step Four:
All the recipes I read were for stand mixers.  Unfortunately, I killed my KitchenAid on arrival, so I am still stuck using a hand mixer.  But, really, for most things that is just a matter of power and convenience.  So, I expected this would take a bit longer.  What I did not anticipate, however, is quite how MESSY it would get.  I used my deepest bowl, but I found that it was still just flinging droplets of thick, sour cream all over me and the kitchen.  I have whipped regular cream, made pancake batter, etc etc without any such problems.  But, whatever the physics involved, this stuff was just nasty on the clean factor.  In the end, I improvised a sort of blast shield.  I draped an old silicone baking mat over the bowl as I mixed.

Shield Engaged

Cap’n!  We’re taking shrapnel!
(Believe it or not, I had to wipe down the shield several times- and even wash
 it once while working)

As you can see, it looks a lot like whipped cream at this point, though it never really got fluffy.  It seemed to be taking a long time, so eventually I added an ice-water bath.  That seemed to do the trick.  Within another couple minutes, the glop had broken into lumpy glop and milky liquid:

The curds are butter, the whey is buttermilk!

Step Five:
So, now it is time to separate the two.  For this I used a strainer lined with cheese cloth set inside a medium bowl:

Both kids helped me with the pouring, since you need to pour and scrape and the bowl I used was heavy:

DS bowl holding while I scraped

This is starting to look a little more like butter. 

Step Six:
Ok, so now you have a thick, greasy mass with a lot of buttermilk still in it.  The buttermilk will not only affect the consistency, but also cause it to go rancid faster according to my recipes.  So, the next step is washing.  You use ice water for this.

Your goal is for the water to run clear

So, you pour a little icy water on the butter lump, then you work it around and squish it to get all the buttermilk out.  Since the water is cold, it also helps the butter mass to solidify some more and makes it easier to work with.

Here is what I wound up with at the end.

Notice that at the end the little bit of water at the bottom of the bowl is clear.  Pour off the remaining liquid (you may need to squish it out a little to make sure there are no pockets).

Step Seven:
Optionally, now is the time to add salt.  A little goes a long way.  I used a large pinch, and I think it was slightly too much. (As a side note, good salts are cheap here- and pink salt from the Himalayas is available in 2 kilo sacks for like 3 EU.  This is unrefined grey sea salt- one of my favorite finishing salts.  Ironically, it is from Washington State and I brought it with me).

This would be the time to pull out the good salt!

Step Eight: 
All that is left is to form it up and chill it!

Could have gone for a round log, but I opted for a monolith shape

You can use waxed paper, but I only had parchment available.

 Step Final:

Oh yeah, then there is the whole EATING thing.  Bread wasn’t ready, so we tried it first on some noodles:

Looks like butter.  Melts like butter.
Tastes like butter!  Hooray!!

 DD was less cooperative with the photoshoot:

Thanks darling.

For the Buttermilk:
Pour the liquid that you strained off into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator until you make some awesome pancakes, biscuits, fried chicken, oatmeal, or whatever your favorite use of buttermilk is! 

Some folks drink it straight!

 Ok, this is getting long.  I will do a separate blog on the adventures with Bread Making next.

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