Adventures with Heavy Cream

It sounds like it could be a previously unpublished with by William S. Burroughs, but no, it’s just me in my kitchen.

It took me several days to reach a point in our schedule when it was feasible and reasonable for me to leave the oven on at 180°, which is what I would have to do to try my hand at making clotted cream. But I hit that golden hour on a recent Saturday night. And so, armed with the link provided me by a staffer at Kimball Brook Farm, I tried my hand at making clotted cream.

The instructions, from this website, are very easy. You buy cream and pour it into a shallow pan; you cover the pan with tinfoil, and then you leave the pan in the preheated oven for twelve hours. After twelve hours, you take the pan out of the oven, and peel back the foil a bit to let steam escape. When the cream’s cooled for 30 minutes, you decant the stuff into a jar, pop it in the fridge for another twelve hours, and at the end you’re supposed to have — WHOO HOO! CLOTTED CREAM!

So I did all this. At eight thirty in the evening, after the dinner dishes were cleaned up, I turned the oven to 180° and I poured the cream into an 8″ square Pyrex dish and I covered it with tinfoil and I slid the pan gently into the oven. Then we all went upstairs. Eight-thirty the next morning, after my first cup of coffee, I removed the pan from the oven, peeled back the foil a bit, and let the cream cool. After thirty minutes, I got out a little Mason jar and a shallow spoon and did the big reveal.

What I saw was a thick layer of stuff on top and… warm cream underneath. I was frankly not sure what the big deal was; was the stuff on top the clotted cream? Because it really wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Or maybe it was; no, it definitely was; but there wasn’t much of it.

Nonetheless, I had a sense that separating the cream from the cream, if you’ll follow me, was not what I wanted to do quite yet; I needed to get all of this stuff into the Mason jar. It wasn’t easy to spoon it into the jar, but I managed, and only made a small mess (which the cats were happy to clean up) (yes, I cleaned the floor afterwards), and then I bunged the jar into the fridge and told myself that no matter what happened, I would be able to use the cream, and it was just some dairy products and everything would be ok.

I didn’t dare to open the jar until Monday morning. The jar made a strong “pop!” sound as I opened it, and the cats came running. “Okay,” I said to myself reassuringly, like the way the surgeons do in movies when they’re reconstructing the violinist’s hands and rebuilding his heart at the same time. Sure, it’s tricky work, but if you stay calm, you can do it. As I was saying, I opened the jar and I gingerly stuck a teaspoon in. Sure enough the top of the jar was nearly-solid cream — butter, more like — and underneath it was a pool of heavy cream.

Bearing in mind that my husband had been very curious about this process, I decided to not muck with it any further until he got home from work. During the course of the day I decided, too, that I would use some of the cream to make biscuits for dinner — because, frankly, I’d have to use the cream up, and it would probably only be suitable for baking. He came home from work and as he poured himself a drink and lifted the lid of the pot on the stove to see what we were eating for dinner (chicken and lentil soup), I said, “You gotta see this.” I took the Mason jar from the fridge.
“What’s that?” he asked

“This is the cream from Vermont,” I said. “Check this out.” I opened the jar and jabbed another spoon into the thick cream. “Oh, nasty,” he said.

“Come on, you jerk,” I snapped.

No one wanted to try it. I ate some of it myself, on toast, and found it fine, but to be honest, not particularly compelling; and it wasn’t the kind of thing I’m capable of eating in vast quantities anymore. I guess I’m getting old. And, given my family’s reception of the results of all this work and attention, I don’t think I’ll be bothering to do this again anytime soon.

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Kimball Brook Farm Milk: For When You Can’t Fly to England?

Americans with an interest in English cookery are aware that there are dairy products that are normal in England that basically don’t exist in America. For one thing, there’s clotted cream. For another, there’s double cream. These are creams that have a significantly higher butterfat content than any of the conventionally-available American forms of cream (light cream, half-and-half, heavy or whipping cream).

Those of us who have eaten the real things in England know that once you’re back home in America there’s really no way to get your hands on any of this stuff. It’s a sadness to which one becomes resigned. You have to maintain a stiff upper lip about these things.

So it comes as a shock to buy a carton of milk at the store, bring it home, and find at the neck of the bottle a dairy product that you regard as impossible to obtain in the US. When I bought this milk and brought it home, I had no idea that I would find white gold stuck in the neck of the bottle.  I tasted a little of the cream, gawped, and used some of it to make carrot pudding. I spent a long time reading online about butterfat percentages and different types of cream, trying to establish some ideas regarding what kind of cream this really was.

I had no butterfat numbers for this product; but I did have the means to reach out to Kimball Brook Farm and ask them questions. So I did.

I had a lovely exchange first with a farm staff member and then I got transferred to one of the farm’s owners. I learned a great deal. My basic question was, “Hey, is the stuff on top of your whole non-homogenized milk double cream, in the English sense?” It became clear that the woman I was writing to didn’t understand what was meant by double cream, so using the information at this chart I rephrased, asking if they had percentages regarding butterfat content of the product (actually the two products that came in this one milk bottle).

The farm owner told me that the whole milk is usually 4% butterfat, but that the cream at the top of the bottle is 40-45% butterfat. This would put it in the double cream range, according to the WhatsCookingAmerica information. They say double cream is 48% butterfat. So not identical — but close.

Before I’d learned about the very high butterfat content in this stuff, I decided to jump in with two feet and attempt  to make yogurt with a mixture of the cream and the milk. I had to decant the milk into another container so that I could cut the milk carton with scissors to get at the cream: there was no other way to get at the cream. Using a skinny silicone spatula and a Hello Kitty chopstick, I scraped out about 1/4 cup of cream; I then added milk to make 2 1/2 cups, and put it in a pot to come to a boil. As soon as the cream began to melt, a yellow buttery film appeared on the surface of the milk. “Okay,” I thought, “this is going to be weird.”

And weird it was. I boiled the milk, cooled it to 110°, and added the yogurt starter as you’re supposed to do, and then I decided to do as a friend of mine does and just let the yogurt ferment in the Dutch oven where I’d boiled the milk. It seemed like a good idea, and if I’d been paying closer attention to maintaining the requisite warmth around the pot, I’m sure it would have proven to be a brilliant idea. But in my case, I got distracted by other things, and what happened was, when I checked on the yogurt around 5.30 yesterday evening, what I had was slightly yogurty-smelling milk with little yellow bubbles of butterfat floating on top. Cue Kevin Kline. It wasn’t that it looked scary or smelled rancid or anything like that; but it was plainly not right.
So: Operation Yogurt Rescue commenced. This meant trying again by letting the yogurt warm up to 110° again. It took a little maneuvering and juggling to do it, but I did it; in the end I transferred the stuff into a glass jar, wrapped the jar in towels, put the jar and towels into a clean Dutch oven with a lid, and put the whole shebang into a pre-heated oven (as low as I could get it, 170°). Then I left it there overnight. “We’ll see what happens,” I said to my husband. He replied, “Look, if it fails, don’t agonize over it, ok? It’s just some milk.”
This morning, I was awakened by the cats and staggered into the kitchen to feed them; while they snarfed their yummy slop, I opened the oven and pulled out the Dutch oven. I was not exactly optimistic about what I’d find. To my considerable surprise, the yogurt had thickened, beautifully! It was definitely yogurt-textured. Sure, it still had the weird buttery dots on top of it, but it was definitely yogurt.
Late in the morning, I baked a yogurt cake using the top several tablespoons of yogurt; the cake, which I dosed with some vanilla and cinnamon, came out a delicious, slightly sweet snack cake. What shocked me about the yogurt was that once I’d used the buttery layer of yogurt at the top — which was also slightly grainy-looking — the yogurt that remained in the jar was so smooth, and so rich, it was shocking. It was also rather more tart than I expect my homemade yogurt to be, probably because of the long fermentation period. But no matter: this stuff is lush. If I strained it to make yogurt cheese, it would be the yogurt cheese of the gods.
The graininess of the top was a little off-putting. I read up online about this grainy quality in yogurt. The consensus was that you could just whisk the yogurt and that graininess would disappear; this was exactly what happened when I whipped those top tablespoons of yogurt before using them in the cake. It was definitely unappealing, but clearly a non-issue if you just stirred the yogurt after it had chilled.
In the meantime, we ate the snack cake and I got another message from Kimball Brook Farm, this time from the person who does all the in-store tastings. She wrote that she thinks I’m basically correct about the cream-on-top being more or less an analogue to British double cream, though the numbers are not precisely matched. She admitted that she’d never personally made yogurt with any of their products, but said — and this was exciting — that she had made clotted cream at home. She gave me a link to a recipe, and said, you have to use the heavy cream to do this, but here’s how you do it.
Naturally, when I was downtown yesterday, I picked up a bottle of the cream on top milk and a bottle of the heavy cream. My husband, opening the fridge last night, said, “You know, I remember ten years ago, you were someone who only bought 2% milk; you would yell at me if I bought whole milk. And now you’re buying heavy cream with abandon.” “I’m going to try to make clotted cream,” I said.
He didn’t complain.
It turns out you have to keep your oven at 180° for 12 hours straight to make clotted cream. This means it’s something I can’t decide to do just any old day. However, I have announced my plans to my husband, and so, probably after dinner on Friday night, I intend to turn the oven on, pour the cream into a pan, and then…. see what happens.
I will report back.

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