A friend of mine recently decided to go vegan. My first reaction was to shudder and stare at him in horror as I imagined a life without cheese and butter and ice-cream. But on the drive home, as I sipped on my coffee with extra cream, I started mentally going through my rolodex of recipes, wondering if I had any vegan ones to offer him. That’s when I remembered a medieval recipe I had come across on http://www.godecookery.com for a butter made from almond milk. I decided to give it a try.
To make almond milk butter, you have to start with, you guessed it, almond milk. Unless you’re already familiar with medieval recipes, you’re probably ready to call B.S. No way they had almond milk back then. I don’t blame you. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have assumed almond milk was invented in the 90s. At least that’s the first time I remember seeing it in grocery stores, and even then people eyed it with skepticism and questioned how you “milked” an almond.
But if you look through medieval recipes, you’ll find that almond milk was a very common ingredient. Animal milk, not so much. Without modern pasteurization techniques and refrigeration, milk spoiled easily. And regardless of what you might have heard, medieval people were not content to eat rancid food. Cooks stuck to products they could trust not to poison their employers–like almond milk.
Making the almond milk was simple…for me…because I have a food processor. I followed the recipe given by godecookery.com, and basically, all you do is add ground almonds to boiling water, steep for 5 minutes, and pour it through a sieve. Now I’m not sure how they went about grinding their almonds back in the day. I’m hoping for their sake that they had the miller do it, because I can’t even begin to imagine how tedious it would have been tackling the job with a mortar and pestle. If any of you medievalists out there know for sure, please let me know in the comments.
Anyway, I made two different batches. One for the butter and one to drink. The only difference was I used less water for the butter batch, because it called for thick almond milk. For the regular almond milk, I did a 2:1 ratio of water to ground almond. For the thick, I did a 1:1 ratio.
Step 1: Grind the almonds
This is pretty self explanatory. Throw it in your food processor and give it a whirl. You want the almonds as fine as possible, but don’t let it go for too long or you’ll end up with almond butter (not almond milk butter).
Step 2: Add to boiling water
Add it to the boiling water and then take the pot off the heat. Let it steep for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Step 3: Strain it through a sieve
If it’s not draining well, give the contents a little stir, but be careful not to slop the almond chunks into the bowl.
The Taste Test:
It had a much stronger almond taste than commercial almond milk. My first thought was that it would make one hell of a delicious soup base. My second thought was that I wouldn’t want to pour it on my cereal.
A Side Note:
Once you’re done sieving the almond milk, you’ll have a bunch of used up almond grounds.
It seemed like a waste to throw them out, so I threw them back in the food processor, added a few eggs, some milk, maple syrup, and enough flour to form a dough. Then I spooned the dough onto a cookie sheet and baked for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. It turned out really good–similar to a scone. I wish I had bothered to measure, so I could give you an exact recipe. But my point is, don’t waste the almonds. I’m sure they’d be good in a lot of things. Toss them in your oatmeal or a smoothie. Get creative.
On to Almond Milk Butter
The medieval church had stricter laws regarding food abstinence during Lent than are typically practiced today. Not only wasn’t meat permitted, but animal products like eggs and butter were also forbidden. Fortunately, almonds were high enough in fat to make butter and expensive enough to make you look like a baller if you served it.
*This recipe also came from Gode Cookery, which they sourced from: Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century
Step 1: Bring thick almond milk to a soft boil
I used three cups. Keep your burner on medium-medium low heat. You don’t want to scorch it.
Step 2: Add (red) wine or (red wine) vinegar
I used red wine vinegar. The recipe on godecookery doesn’t give amounts, so I went with 1/8 cup. I’m guessing this lowered the boiling point, because a few seconds after I added it, it bubbled up like crazy.
Step 3: Drain the whey
I’m not sure if this is technically “whey” or not, but that is what they called it in the medieval recipe. Line a colander with clean, undyed muslin and place over a bowl. Then pour in your vinegar/almond milk mixture.
I worried that the liquid would run straight through the cloth, but it didn’t. Let the whey drip out for a few minutes.
Step 4: Drain some more
Now you’re going to want to tie up the corners of the cloth and suspend it from something over the bowl. I used my banana hanger thing (what are those things called?). In the medieval translation they say to leave it for the time it takes to walk a mile. Cute, right? I ended up leaving it for a half hour.
Step 5: Set it in cold water.
Open up the muslin and scrape its contents into something water proof. Gode Cookery suggests wax paper. I used a sandwich bag. Then submerge it in cold water for several minutes to set. This is what it looked like before I dunked it in the water bath:
Step 6: Enjoy
I smeared some on a piece of bread and dug in. The texture was light and creamy, somewhere between hummus and cool whip, if that makes any sense. I was surprised by how much the vinegar taste came through. Describing it is difficult. I can’t really think of anything to compare it to. I expected a lighter version of almond butter. It wasn’t that. It was at once subtler and yet more complex and tangy. I freaking loved it. I ate that piece and buttered up a second before I swallowed the last bite. My oldest daughter loved it too. My husband couldn’t try it as he’s allergic to almonds, but I did give some to my parents and aunt and uncle. They weren’t quite as enthused as my daughter and I were. My parents thought it was okay. My aunt and uncle said they liked it, but I suspect they were just being polite. This recipe is probably not for everyone, but it’s easy enough that it’s worth trying. You might be like me and think it’s amazing.
This isn’t going to work on everything you might normally put butter on. I wouldn’t put it on my baked potato, but I’d love to lather it on a sandwich or maybe dip some veggies or even chicken in it. If you try it out, please let me know what you think.