Snackcrafting: A recipe for making hoppy honey butter

Snackcrafting: A recipe for making hoppy honey butter
Hoppy Honey Butter. (Martine Richards)

Snackcrafting is a blog series about culinary creativity with a dash of arts-and-crafts panache. Fill your pantry, fridge, and freezer with homemade goodies to eat and share.

Hops are pretty awesome, in case you hadn't noticed. Hoppy IPAs from microbreweries and home-brewers alike have been dominating the beer scene for a while, and for good reason. Hops are delicious and versatile.

What exactly are hops? Hops are the flowers (also known as cones) of hop vines, and around the 13th century they became the nearly universal botanical for flavoring and bittering beer. Different varieties of hops have wildly variable flavor characteristics: fresh-cut grass, pine trees, grapefruit, flowers, herbs, tropical fruit, spice, oak wood, general "earthiness." You can make it all (and more) happen depending on the type and combination of hops you use.

The length of time hops are boiled in your beer also effects the flavor and aroma of your beer. The hops you boil for a long time give a beer bitterness. Hops added later in a boil will contribute more to the flavor and aroma with more of the underlying notes (citrus, spice, etc.). You can also "dry hop" beer by adding hops to the vessel to infuse without added heat, so you get the most delicate flavors and aromas uncompromised.

But we're not talking about making beer. The thing is, you can also add hops to plenty of other stuff to experiment with those fun flavors without getting drunk. Nepenthe Homebrew sells hop candies. A friend of mine made a hopped kombucha that knocked my socks off. Another friend made hopped caramels that made me believe in a higher power. And you will too after you make this hoppy honey butter.

Flavoring butter is usually done one of two ways: melt butter and cook shit in it, or chop shit up and mix it into softened butter. For this particular project, I didn't like the sound of either. Melting and sauteing could be bad news for the fragile aromatic compounds—remember, boiling hops in beer for a long time is what bitters it. Chopping up hops and mixing them into butter to eat it all sounds even worse—there's a reason hops are strained out of beer before you drink it.

The answer, naturally, is to make your own butter from scratch. Heavy cream can be infused over several days in the refrigerator—essentially dry-hopping cream and keeping all those fragile flavors intact. The hops are then strained out of the cream, and you whip it into fresh butter with your food processor just like the pioneers did. A bit of honey and salt balance the hoppiness, and you're good to go.

For this butter, I wanted a fairly mild, slighty spicy hop. UK East Kent Golding fits the bill and is available at Nepenthe Homebrew in whole-leaf form. If you have some other hops around, or want to do a combination of a few complementary varieties, go for it. I think German Hallertau, Saaz, or Fuggle would all work well. The only thing I wouldn't recommend is using pellet hops because they will be harder to strain out. If you insist, use a few layers of cheesecloth or butter muslin in your strainer.

Keep in mind that the main ingredient in here is cream. Get some fresh from the farmer's market if you can—the flavor will be well worth it. But since you are giving a pretty serious flavor boost with the hops, it's not the end of the world if you use something generic from the grocery store dairy case.

So, what to do with your hoppy butter? If you're a brewer, save some spent grains from your next mash and bake them into a loaf of bread; use your hop butter on top for a chewable beer. Otherwise, just slather it thickly on warm homemade biscuits, popovers, or any high-quality bread. It's worth noting that this makes a lot of butter. Butter freezes well if you want to hoard it, and if you don't, most people won't turn down a gift of butter. If your refrigerator isn't already overwhelmed with half-used bags of hops like mine is, you can easily halve this recipe.

Hoppy Honey Butter
makes about 2 cups

Large glass jar (at least half-gallon is a good size)
Food processor, stand mixer, hand mixer, whisk, or jar and marble

1 ounce UK East Kent Golding whole leaf hops
6 cups high quality heavy cream
3-4 generous tablespoons honey
Salt, to taste

Pour the hops into your large glass jar. Pour cream over the hops and stir to combine.

Let infuse in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days. Stir up the hop clumps every day or two to make sure you're really getting all those flavors out.

Pour the cream through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes for the cream to all drain out. Discard hops.

My favorite method for butter-making is the food processor because it's the least splattery, but you have many different options for making it happen.

In a food processor or with a stand or hand mixer, pour the cream into the bowl and whip it. And keep whipping it. Whip it a little more. Watch it turn into various stages of whipped cream (soft peaks, medium peaks, stiff peaks, oh shit you ruined the whipped cream). Let it keep going for what seems like forever. And then like magic, it will cease being whipped cream. You'll see the pale yellow butter solids clump together, surrounded by a watery, whitish liquid.

For a whisk, it's the same deal, only your arm will hurt afterward.

Your other option is the grade-school science-class method, where you put the cream in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and toss a marble or two in. Shake the jar while you're binge-watching Netflix. The marble helps agitate it a little more than just shaking it in a jar. It'll take forever.

Regardless of what method you choose, you'll end up with the same thing. Clumps of butter in some buttermilk.

Strain the butter clumps out of the buttermilk and knead them together until you have one solid clump. Discard the buttermilk, or save it for baking, smoothies, or sipping if you like. Keep in mind that it will also taste like hops.

Fill a large bowl with very cold water. Put your lump of butter underneath the surface of the water and knead it around with your hands for a while. The water will get cloudy with buttermilk. Drain, add more cold water, and rinse again. Repeat a few times until the water runs clear or you get sick of rinsing. The more of the buttermilk you get out of the butter, the longer it will keep.

Once your butter is fully rinsed, marvel at how moisturized your hands are.

Transfer to a clean bowl and stir in the honey and salt until fully mixed.

Roll the butter into logs and roll in waxed paper or plastic wrap. Butter tends to pick up odors, so I would really recommend wrapping with an environmentally irresponsible amount of plastic wrap and then placing in a freezer bag. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks, or freeze for up to 6 months.