Making Cultured Butter

bread and cultured butter

You’ve probably noticed we make a lot of bread in these parts. I’ll often eat my slices plain (especially on the first day, when the crust is at its crackliest), but I do also enjoy making things to top my toasts. One of the simplest, but most fun, is cultured butter.

Cultured butter is one of those snooty sounding things that is actually dead easy to make. All it requires is adding live bacteria to cream before churning it into butter. This can be done a number of ways, but one of the most straightforward is just adding a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt to cream and letting it sit at room temperature for a bit. This simple step enhances the flavor of butter, giving it a slight tang (the exact flavor profile will depend on how long you culture the cream as well as the quality of ingredients you use). Some people would say there are health benefits as well, but I just think it tastes good. Plus, it’s a fun little party trick!

Once you’ve churned your butter, you can flavor it as desired. I usually just add a little salt, but there’s nothing stopping you from making any range of fancy compound butters (think herbs, citrus, honey…). Serve with your next loaf of homemade sourdough!

cultured butter

Notes:

  • Just as there are several ways you can culture the butter, there are different methods of churning as well. The food processor is hands-down my favorite because it’s quick and clean. You could also use a handheld or stand mixer, but make sure you cover the bowl with a splash guard or plastic wrap because trust me — the buttermilk will splatter once it separates from the butterfat. If you’re feeling especially old school, you could also try the old shake-it-in-a jar method. I’m far too lazy so I’ve never tried…
  • I have a story highlight of this whole process on Instagram (“Cultured Butter”), so check that out for some extra visual cues.
  • I haven’t tried using cultured butter in baking, first because I think it’s better appreciated serve straight up and second because I don’t know the final fat content compared to “normal” butter. The buttermilk, on the other hand, I definitely use in any recipes called for buttermilk. Here are a few to get you started:

Cultured Butter

Makes ~1/2 lb butter (1 c), plus a cup of buttermilk

Ingredients and materials:

  • 2 c heavy cream (at least 35%; not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 60g / 1/4 c plain whole milk yogurt (not Greek-style)
  • Salt to taste (if desired)
  • Ice water
  • Food processor (see note above)
  • Fine-mesh strainer double-lined with cheesecloth, set over a jar or bowl
  • Small spatula
  • Clean bowl

Method:

  1. In a glass measuring cup or jar, whisk together the cream and yogurt to combine. Cover and leave at warmish room temperature for 18-36 hours (in especially warm climates/seasons, this may take less time; check at 12 hours).
  2. When your mixture is thickened and tastes delightfully tangy, congratulations — you’ve made creme fraiche! You could stop here, or continue on to make some cultured butter.
  3. Refrigerate the creme fraiche for 1-2 hours. (This is especially important if you’re churning in a food processor to keep the butter from melting.)
  4. When creme fraiche is cold, transfer to a food processor. Process until the the butterfat clumps and separates from the buttermilk (this takes a few minutes).
  5. Strain the butter mixture through the cheesecloth-lined strainer, squeezing to extract as much buttermilk as possible from the butter. Reserve buttermilk for another use.
  6. Transfer butter to a clean bowl. Pour about 1/4 c ice water over the butter and use a spatula to press the butter against the side of the bowl. You’re “washing” the butter of all the buttermilk, which will keep your butter fresh for longer. Drain the cloudy water, and repeat the process until the water looks clear. (This may take 5-6 washings.)
  7. Season with salt to taste if desired (you can knead this in with your hands). Roll into a wax paper log or transfer to another container. Keeps for a couple weeks in the fridge; freeze for longer storage. Serve at room temperature.

Mom’s Sponge Cake

sponge cakeWhen we went back to Seattle to visit this past Christmas, I spent some time going through my mom’s recipe box and making some childhood favorites. This sponge cake was first on my list, then and now. It’s soft, light, and fluffy — perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. This cake is perfectly delightful plain, but just to be a little fancy I drizzled on a simple lemon glaze (colored with natural food powder from Go Supernatural).

A few notes:

  • This cake is traditionally baked in an ungreased aluminum 10″ tube pan for the best rise. Don’t use a non-stick pan; the cake has to cling to the sides to rise.
  • The most important keys to success with these type of cakes are properly whipped egg whites and good folding technique. For beating egg whites, I have the best success starting on a low speed and gradually raising it; this helps build a tighter, more stable structure and helps reduce the possibility of overbeating.
  • I find it easiest to fold these types of batters in a large, wide stainless steel mixing bowl with a silicone spatula. For the longest time I was so afraid of over-mixing my sponges that I’d end up undermixing them; it’s important to make sure you don’t have any pockets of flour or unincorporated egg whites or your cake won’t bake up properly. Just be patient and gentle and mix until you have a homogeneous batter.
  • The order of mixing is sort of personal preference. You could beat the egg whites first, transfer them to another bowl, and then beat the yolk mixture with the stand mixer. Or you could beat the yolk mixture with the stand mixer, transfer it to another mixing bowl, clean the mixer bowl and attachment thoroughly, and then beat the whites. I prefer to just start with my yolk mixture in my big mixing bowl and beat that with handheld electric mixer (or a whisk); that way I minimize the number of bowls used and I don’t have to clean stuff during the mixing process.
  • The cake should be cooled completely upside down to minimize shrinking. If your tube pan doesn’t have feet, you can invert it and slide a funnel or a heavy bottle through the center insert.

sponge cake in pan

sponge cake from above

sponge cake slice

Mom’s Sponge Cake

Makes one 10” tube cake

Ingredients:

For the sponge cake:

  • 10 large eggs, separated when cold but brought to room temperature before mixing the batter
  • 188g (1.5 c) cake flour
  • 300g (1.5 c) sugar (preferably caster), divided
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 c neutral oil (I use grapeseed)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the lemon glaze and garnish (optional):

  • 188g (1.5 c) icing sugar, sifted
  • 2-3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • Zest of one lemon, for sprinkling

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350F with a rack in the lower third.
  2. Sift cake flour into a small bowl and set aside.
  3. In a large, wide mixing bowl, combine half the sugar (150g), egg yolks, oil, salt, and vanilla and beat on medium until creamy and the sugar is dissolved (3-5 minutes). Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low until foamy. Increase the speed to medium. When the whites reach soft peak stage, slowly add the remaining sugar (150g) one tablespoon at a time. Once all the sugar has been added, continue whipping on medium to medium-high until the mixture is glossy and holds medium-stiff peaks.
  5. Sift the flour into the yolk mixture in three batches, using a silicone spatula to mostly fold each portion in before sifting in the next. Once all the flour has been added, continue folding until all the flour is incorporated and the mixture is thick and smooth. Be sure to scoop all the way down to the bottom of the bowl to make sure the flour is evenly incorporated, but take care not to overmix.
  6. Fold in the whipped egg whites in three or four portions, using a silicone spatula to mostly fold in each portion before adding the next. Once all the egg whites have been added, fold until the batter is smooth and uniform in color, again taking care not to overmix.
  7. Pour the batter into an ungreased aluminum 10″ tube pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the cake is well browned and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not open the oven for at least 45 minutes or the delicate cake may fall. Invert the pan to cool completely (if your pan doesn’t have feet, you can insert a funnel or heavy bottle through the center). Slide an offset spatula around the edges to loosen, remove the insert, then slide the spatula around the bottom. Flip the cake onto a serving platter.

For the glaze and assembly:

  • Whisk together sifted icing sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in the lemon juice 1 Tbsp at a time until desired consistency. Drizzle onto the cooled cake and sprinkle with lemon zest, if desired.

Chocolate Sheet Cake

chocolate sheet cake slices

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this cake. It’s easy and delicious in that moist, tender bakery-style sort of way; and it feeds a crowd. You don’t need a mixer; it’s almost a dump-everything-in-a-bowl-and-stir situation. The frosting is my favorite ever chocolate frosting: it’s swoopy and glossy and not too sweet, and if you use black cocoa and good dark chocolate it comes out basically black without a smidge of food coloring involved. I love it! Plus it’s all made in the food processor — even easier than the cake. Add a few sprinkles (the colorful ones and/or flaky sea salt) and you’ve got yourself a pretty classy sheet cake with minimal work involved.

frosting sheet cake

single slice

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Note:

  • If you don’t care about the color of the frosting, you can use Dutch-processed cocoa in place of black. The ultimate color of the frosting will depend on how black your black cocoa is (I got mine at a local baking goods store and it’s exceptionally dark) and what kind of dark chocolate you use. The frosting also tends to darken as it sits. The frosting isn’t too sweet — I definitely prefer it this way, but if you like a sweeter frosting, you can increase the amount of confectioners’ sugar to taste.

Chocolate Sheet Cake with Glossy Black Frosting

Makes one 9×13 cake

Ingredients

For the chocolate sheet cake:

  • 284g AP flour
  • 380g granulated sugar
  • 84g dutch process cocoa
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 226g sour cream, at room temperature
  • 114g grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 c freshly brewed hot strong coffee

For the glossy black chocolate frosting (adapted from Sweetapolita):

  • 255g unsalted butter, softened
  • 90g confectioners’ sugar
  • 45g black cocoa powder
  • 1/4 c hot water
  • 60g / 1/4 c sour cream
  • 3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • 145g good quality dark chocolate, melted and cooled (I use Callebaut 70%)

To assemble:

  • Sprinkles
  • Flaky sea salt

Method

For the chocolate sheet cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease and line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper that overhangs on the two long edges by at least a couple inches. This will make it easy to remove the cake from the pan later. (I like to secure the long edges with binder clips so the parchment doesn’t fall onto the cake in the oven.)
  2. Sift together all ingredients from the flour through the salt. In a small bowl, whisk together all the remaining ingredients except the coffee. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Add the coffee and stir just until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and level the surface with an offset palette knife.
  3. Bake until the cake is lightly springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs (but no raw batter), about 28-35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

For the frosting:

  • Combine all ingredients except the melted chocolate in a food processor and process until combined. Add the melted chocolate and process until smooth. Use immediately. (Note: the frosting is glossy as long as it stays at room temperature; it will harden and take on a more matte look after refrigeration. If you do refrigerate the cake, make sure to bring it back to room temperature before serving. It just tastes better!)

To assemble:

  • Transfer the cake to a serving platter if desired. Spoon large dollops of frosting around the cake and use an offset spatula or spoon to swirl it around. Add sprinkles. Enjoy!

close up slices

Carrot Cake for Two

mini carrot cake

Every February I make carrot and chocolate cakes, one for our anniversary (on Feb. 1st) and one for Valentine’s Day. Since you can…er, should only eat so much cake, I’ve been converting cake recipes to cute little 4-inch versions. You could make one large cake layer and cut out rounds, but this way you don’t have any scraps and the cleaner edges make frosting easier. (I use two pans like these.)

By the way, this is also the perfect size for smash cakes and kids’ birthdays!

Finally, this post was created as part of a blog/Instagram carrot-themed collaboration! Be sure to check out all the recipes and photos of the many delicious carrot creations from around the world (links at the end this post).

mini carrot cake cut

Carrot Cake for Two

Makes one 4-inch cake

For the cake layers (adapted from BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts):

  • 66g toasted pecan or walnut pieces
  • 152g whole, unpeeled carrots (About 1 large)
  • 70g unsalted butter
  • 20g grapeseed oil
  • 52g AP flour
  • 24g WW flour
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 38g light brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • heaping 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • heaping 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, fridge cold

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 180g powdered sugar, sifted
  • 200 g cream cheese, cold
  • Dash of vanilla extract
  • Generous pinch of salt

Method

For the cake layers:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. I like to toast the chopped nuts while the oven is preheating; spread them out in a single layer on a small sheetpan and put into the preheating oven. (Just don’t forget about them! This small quantity should toast pretty quickly — about 5-7 minutes.) Shred the carrots and set aside. Grease and flour two 4-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
  2. In a small saucepan, brown the butter. Transfer browned butter (plus all the toasty bits) to a pourable, heat-safe glass cup and add the oil. In a separate bowl, whisk the all purpose and whole wheat flours together and set aside.
  3. In a bowl of a standmixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the remaining ingredients (sugars through egg). Mix on low speed to combine, then turn up the speed to medium and mix until the mixture is thick and fluffy, 6-8 minutes. With the mixer still running, slowly drizzle in the brown butter/oil mixture. Turn the mixer to low and add the flours. Once the batter is smooth, turn the mixer off and fold in the nuts and carrots with a silicone spatula, mixing just until everything is evenly combined.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake until the cakes are golden and lightly springy to the touch, about 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 15 minutes, then run a thin spatula around the edges and turn the cakes out of the pans to cool completely.

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • Beat the butter on medium-high speed until pale. Add the icing sugar, then beat until light and fluffy. Add the cream cheese, vanilla, and salt and beat just until smooth.

To assemble:

  1. Level the cakes if needed and slice each layer horizontally in half to make four total layers. (You can pop the cooled cakes into the freezer for about 10 minutes; this makes them easier to cut.)
  2. Attach the first layer to a cake board (or cake stand) with a dollop of frosting. Using a small offset spatula, spread on an even layer of frosting and top with the next layer. Continue until you have used all the layers, then cover the entire cake with a thin coat of frosting to lock in all the crumbs. Refrigerate the cake for about 20 minutes, or until the frosting is hard.
  3. Spread a thick, even layer of frosting over the entire cake. Use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to create swoops and swirls if desired. Store covered at cool room temperature until ready to serve.

#24carrotgoals Carrot Collaboration Links

Sourdough Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

stacked swirl bread
I’m pretty excited about this recipe. I have a soft spot for raisin toast, having grown up on that red-packaged Sunmaid Raisin Bread (so good with butter…); and have been wanting to make a sourdough raisin loaf for quite awhile now. But not just a plain raisin loaf: a cinnamon-swirled raisin loaf, because what’s better than slowly unraveling and eating a piece of swirly carbs for breakfast? Well, maybe French toasting said swirly carb, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

So anyways, this loaf took me a few tries to get right. At first I used a cinnamon-butter paste for the swirl, but this left me with gaps (I think the butter generated too much steam during baking) and the texture was too heavy. Egg wash turned out to be a much better solution. The folding technique I first saw on Bake Street, and I love it! The swirl is encased within the loaf and makes for a really striking presentation. I had to try a couple times to work out the proper dimensions for my pan, but in the end I’m really happy with the result.

A few notes:

  • There’s no beating around the bush: this loaf takes time. I like having this loaf for breakfast, so I will make the levain when I get up in the morning, mix the dough early afternoon, shape the bread right before going to bed, and bake first thing the next morning. Keep in mind that the health of your starter and your environment play a big part in fermentation times, so always “watch the dough and not the clock.” If you follow me on Instagram, I have a story highlight called “Swirl Bread” that goes through the entire process. This will hopefully give you some visual cues as to how your dough should look at each stage.
  • The base dough for this bread is the sourdough Hokkaido milk bread that I’ve used a few times on this site before. If you haven’t tried this style of bread before, I highly recommend reading through those posts for more tips and tricks.

uncut swirl bread

cut swirl bread

Sourdough Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

Makes one loaf (I highly prefer a 9x4x4 Pullman Pan for the nicest shape, but a regular 9×5 loaf pan works too)

Ingredients

For the levain

  • 18g starter (100% hydration)
  • 31g milk
  • 57g bread flour
  • Mix and ferment at room temperature until ripe (mine is usually ready in 4-6 hours, but it depends on the strength of your starter). When ready it should be more than doubled in volume, puffy, and domed. You should see large bubbles if you pull back the top.

For the final dough:

  • 284g bread/AP flour (I use half and half)
  • 46g sugar
  • 21g milk powder
  • 53g egg (about 1 large)
  • 104g milk
  • 88g cream
  • All of the levain
  • 6g salt
  • 52g unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
  • 100g raisins

For the filling:

  • 100g brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp arrowroot powder or cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • One egg, whisked with a bit of water or milk

Method

  1. Mix together all final dough ingredients except the salt, butter, and raisins until just combined. Cover and autolyse (rest) for 45-60 minutes.
  2. Add salt, and knead dough (with the dough hook attachment if using a stand mixer) until gluten is moderately developed (I use speed 3-4 on a KA mixer). The dough will start out sticky and rough but should gradually come together and feel quite smooth and stretchy. Turn the mixer to low and add butter about a tablespoon at a time, incorporating each batch before adding the next. Turn the speed back up and continue kneading until the gluten is very well developed and the dough passes the windowpane test as demonstrated here. The dough should be smooth and supple (and quite lovely to handle!). This will take quite some time, especially if done by hand. Consider it your arm workout for the day! Mix in the raisins just until incorporated.
  3. Transfer dough to a clean and lightly oiled bowl, cover, and bulk rise at room temp for 2 hours. The dough will be noticeably expanded, but not doubled. Fold, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight (or at least 6 hours, and up to 24).
  4. When ready to shape, mix together the filling ingredients and prepare the egg wash. Line a loaf pan (I prefer a Pullman pan) with parchment and lightly grease. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle about 10″ x 15″, doing your best to maintain an even thickness (the more accurate your shape, the better your swirl will look at the end).
  5. Brush the rectangle with an even coat of egg wash and sprinkle on about half the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Go all the way to the edges and gently press to adhere.
  6. Fold in the long edges so they meet at the middle, like you are closing the shutters on a window. You should have a long, skinny rectangle about 15″ x 5″. Repeat the egg wash and cinnamon-sugar process, again going all the way to the edges.
  7. Starting with the short end closest to you, roll the rectangle into a tight log. Transfer, seam side down, to the prepared pan.
  8. Brush the loaf with a coat of egg wash (this keeps it from drying out) and cover with a piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap. Proof at room temperature until the dough is puffed and roughly doubled (if you’re using a pullman pan, the dough should fill the length of the pan and be about an inch from the top). This usually takes me ~8 hours, or overnight. Cover and refrigerate the egg wash; you’ll use it again later.
  9. About 45 minutes before you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 400F with a rack in the middle. When the oven is preheated, gently brush the loaf with another coat of egg wash. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350F, rotate the pan, and bake for another 20-30 minutes. (If the loaf is browning too quickly, tent a piece of tinfoil over the top.) When finished, the loaf should be well browned and register at least 195F in the center.
  10. Gently remove the loaf from the pan and cool on its side (this helps the loaf retain its shape and keeps the bottom from getting soggy). Resist the urge to cut before the loaf has cooled; otherwise the texture will be gummy. Leftovers keep well at room temperature for a few days, well wrapped; it also makes excellent French toast.

side by side swirl bread