These days I am haunted by the butter a friend brought by a few weeks ago, made by Pamplie, a cooperative of dairy farmers in Poitou-Charentes, France. It had little crunchy flecks of fleur de sel folded in: sweet, creamy, faintly floral butter with bright bursts of salt. We ate it as an hors d'oeuvre while we cooked dinner, slabbed onto bread.
Though I hunger for that butter, I am too busy these days to schlep uptown to get it. So I made my own version of crunchy fleur de sel butter one morning, mixing creme fraiche and heavy cream to get that cultured ferment taste, then kneading in fabulous salt after it chilled. It is the urban person's version of a great butter, far better than just about anything I can buy easily.
To really understand butter-making with a delightful read, check out Anne Mendelson's Milk, The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages.
The blog What Geek's Eat has detailed instructions of butter-making with photos.
This recipe seems involved but isn't. It takes no time and the butter you get will be a revelation.
Although you can make satisfying butter with vin ordinaire non-ultra pasteurized cream, the impact increases proportionally to the quality of the cream you use: super-fresh, un-homogenized, bio-dynamic, or organic cream from a farmer's market, for example, will blow the roof off.
Using half crème fraiche is my cheater's way of getting a really rich, cultured taste. If you can't find crème fraiche or want to reduce your costs, culture the cream yourself by mixing some yogurt or buttermilk with active cultures into the cream, figuring one tablespoon per cup of cream and leaving it uncovered on the counter for 16 to 24 hours until thick.
Don't try making butter on a warm summer day or in a hot room. A cool atmosphere is essential to its texture.
This recipe can be scaled up indefinitely and will work just fine with an electric mixer. Or just pour the cream into a screw-top jar and shake (great for kids).
Makes 2/3 to 1 cup butter (see Sally's explanation in Comments, below), plus 1 cup buttermilk
1 cup (1/2 pint) heavy cream (not ultrapasteurized)
1 cup (1/2 pint) crème fraiche
About ¼ teaspoon of a pebbly-or-flaky-yet-chewable sea salt, such as fleur de sel or
Malden, or to taste
Place the food processor bowl and blade, along with the crème fraiche and heavy cream, in the freezer to chill about 15 minutes. Then assemble the processor, add the cream and crème fraiche, and process, stopping to check the consistency occasionally and scrape down the sides of the bowl until the mixture has "broken" and looks like yellow curds in milky whey. It will seem to take forever, but after 4 or 5 minutes the mixture will go from looking whipped to forming a big clump briefly on the side of the bowl, to "breaking" into curds.
Pour into a strainer placed over a bowl to catch the buttermilk (this is totally different from the commercial stuff and is truly delicious. Refrigerate to use on fresh berries, in cucumber soup, in buttermilk biscuits, cornbread, or quick breads and cakes).