This week I noticed that the sky was dark blue by the time I entered my classroom. The days are shorter, and this is what happens in November when you teach an evening class: the building is quiet (we are in the basement), the lights brightly lit, the wind battles against our solitary window. It may as well be the middle of the night.
On weekends, as I comment on student papers, I take breaks in my kitchen. When I eat alone I stand by the window and look at my neighbor’s garden below. I can stand there barefoot for a long time, staring into space. My father finds it annoying (he’s a man of the earth, grounded and very present, though restless if he doesn’t have something concrete to do), and he often comments, “What are you thinking about, Sanaë? Tu as la tête dans les nuages.” The truth is I like to recharge by being alone. I can’t imagine a more pleasant Sunday morning than this one: daydreaming by my window, eating a slice of bread with salted homemade butter. The pipes clang and the apartment sweats from overheating, and I reach for another piece of bread. There is apple pie resting on the counter from last night, the crust still firm. The crumble has lost its bite, but there’s enough spice in the apples to have me hunting for pieces.
My week, from Monday to Friday morning, goes by so quickly — long train rides, papers, writing, students, walking, lesson planning — it seems that every minute is accounted for. I measure my half hours of sleep. But the weekends are mostly calm. It can be disorienting to have odd patches in the late afternoon, when it’s too early to cook but the five pm sunset makes it difficult to sit down at the desk and roll up my sleeves. Those sinkhole hours were made for butter.
It’s a simple procedure, you pour cream into a standing mixer and you observe. Some like to do other things while their butter churns, but I enjoy watching the cream turn from swooshing liquid to soft peaks to a dense whipped cream to a yellow buttery cream to scrambled eggs swimming in whey.
My father and I love our butter with grains of sea salt that crunch under your teeth. I can’t think of a better combination than salted butter on bread covered with a layer of homemade jam. Butter is like cheese, robust, it begs to have its own thickness. It should never be a sad layer buried beneath condiments. My favorite combination is still radishes dipped in butter and salt.
I once stayed with an aunt for the summer and she pointed out my avid butter eating at breakfast. She said at this rate there would be none left by the end of the week. You are an expensive guest, she added. I was mortified and didn’t touch the butter for the rest of my stay. Now I consume butter with confidence. And with 300 grams of butter sitting in my fridge, there is no reason to be shy.
What to do with your butter? Give it as a gift wrapped in parchment paper and tied with colorful string. Make apple cheddar pie (see recipe below). Soften to room temperature and stir with herbs and dab on steak. Spread on baguette and top with a square of dark chocolate for an afternoon snack.
(from Homemade Winter by Yvette Van Boven)
1 liter organic cream
Sea salt (fleur de sel, or sel gris, a grainy, coarse kind)
Two wooden spatulas
Soak two wooden spatulas in cold water.
Pour cream into your mixer and beat for approximately fourteen minutes, until it looks like scrambled eggs and the whey splatters at you. Pour the scrambled cream into a clean dishtowel that you’ve placed over a strainer (placed over a large bowl). Collect the liquid; you can use this to make soda bread. Wring the butter as much as possible. Knead the butter in a bowl of ice water, changing the water two or three times, until it runs clear (this reminds me of washing rice). By the time I was finished my hands were almost blue, I had to take a few breaks to warm my hands again. But this step is important because if there’s any whey left, the butter can turn rancid quickly. It’s also fun, like massaging clay. Use the wooden spatulas to shape the butter into a thick bar. I was able to make two bars with one liter of cream. Wrap the butter in parchment paper and store in the fridge for at least two weeks. This recipe yields ~ 300g butter.
For salted butter:
Place butter in a large bowl. It should be soft enough to work with after the washing part. Add a tablespoon of sel gris or fleur de sel and quickly massage with your hands or stir with a wooden spoon. You may want to play with the saltiness. Personally, I like my butter crackling with salt.
Apple Cheddar Crumble Pie
The recipe is from an excellent food blog called Two Fat Als. I’ve been making this for years, and I’ve tweaked the recipe since my first time, but the flavors are essentially the same, because the combination of cheddar, apples, lemon, and cinnamon is so divine.
(From Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food)
¼ cup ice-cold water
1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (85 grams) cold butter, cut into cubes
6 small granny smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp corn starch
Lemon zest from one lemon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (extra sharp)
1/2 stick (57 grams) butter
Make the piecrust: Work the butter into the flour with your fingers leaving fairly large, irregular pieces. Pour the water into the dough, stirring with a fork. Bring it together with your hands, and form into a ball. Wrap the ball in plastic and let it rest for an hour in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a medium bowl, combine topping ingredients, mixing the butter with your fingers until a crumble has formed. Set aside in the refrigerator. In a large bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch, zest, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Toss apples in the mixture. Roll out piecrust dough on a lightly floured surface, and place in the bottom of a buttered pie pan. Gently place apples into the crust. Sprinkle the cheddar topping over the apples. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the topping and crust are golden brown. Let cool slightly, and serve warm. This pie keeps in your kitchen for two days, and then an extra two days in the fridge.