Now we’re getting into some weirder stuff here. Or more unusual stuff, anyway. Because we grow our own elderberries, and because I now have a wonderful piima culture in my possession, I’ve gotten into making piima yogurt and mixing it with a bit of elderberry syrup (which, in my interpretation, is halfway between a syrup and a jelly) to make a kefir-like drink.
But let us talk first about this puzzling thing with a Scandinavian-sounding name. Piima is this bacterial culture, and I was taught to use heavy cream as a “host” for piima – it is the medium in which the culture “lives.”
Piima culture has turned this cream into a thick, slightly bubbly, carbonated substance with a distinct flavor I came to think of as “piima flavor.”
I like to re-culture a new batch of cream to serve as my “mother” batch every week, which means that every week I put a little bit of old piima from my fridge into some fresh pasteurized cream and let it culture, which, in the case of piima, means letting it sit out at room temperature for about 24 hours. After that, I store it in the fridge. Like with sourdough, you don’t want, so to speak, to put all your eggs piima into the same basket, and I also keep a small back-up amount in the freezer.
The way I use it is this:
Number one: butter!
I stir a couple of tablespoons of piima culture into 3/4 cup to a quart of heavy cream, let it sit overnight (to prevent the flavor from growing too strong, I don’t wait for the entire 24 hrs), and then simply whip the cream in my stand mixer using a whisk attachment until butter solids separate from buttermilk. At first it will seem that it is staying at the whipped cream stage for an awfully long time, especially if your cream was ladled off the top of a jar of non-homogenized milk, but, eventually, the magic will happen. I then strain the butter reserving the buttermilk, press as much buttermilk as possible out of the butter by pressing it with a spatula, and rinse the butter in a fine-mesh colander under cold water, all while pressing it molding it into a ball. I don’t have a butter mold – this “ball” method seems sufficient to me. The addition of piima does two things – it imparts a slightly tangy flavor to the butter, and it safeguards against butter failure according to the cheesemaking class teacher.
Of course, making butter also gives you buttermilk, which in my case is piima cultured buttermilk, and I use it either as regular buttermilk – in chocolate cakes (hint: double the cocoa in this recipe and cut the sugar in the batter to 1 1/2 C), or to make homemade feta.
Which, I think, turns out really nicely.
Now if you add piima to milk, it can also be used to make yogurt, although don’t expect anything like the regular asydophilus yogurt, for which it is not a substitute, in my mind – for one, piima yogurt is sweeter and not quite as acidic, and after a day or two in the fridge, it develops a fairly pronounced carbonated quality. This yogurt is made by simply adding some piima culture to room-temperature milk (let’s say, 2-3 T to a half gallon) and letting it sit at room temperature for 24 hours (not just overnight – in this case, you really need about this long for it to set). Note that you don’t have to use a crock-pot for this, because it is a lot less temperature-sensitive than the regular kind.
And, because of all the carbonation, this turns into a milk-kefir-like drink if you add to it some fruit syrup or preserves, offering considerable savings over the storebotten kefir (note that this is not actually kefir, which is cultured in a different way). Right now I have a lot of frozen elderberries that I’ve been turning into a thick syrup to this very purpose.
Just stir it in, and there you go! (This – this is not really well stirred-in. I just thought it looked cool.)
If you can’t wait to try this, you can purchase your very own piima from my cheesemaking teacher here.
Elderberry Syrup-Jelly Recipe
- elderberries, fresh or frozen
- sugar to taste
Remove the berries from the larger, woody stems (notice that elderberry leaves are toxic, and I believe so are the stems, so be sure to not skip this step). I think leaving on the tiny, fine stems that attach immediately to the berries is OK. Place them in a non-reactive, non-enameled pot (which could stain – which is why stainless steel is great), and add water to about 1/3 to 1/2 the volume of the berries. Simmer until the fruit has softened considerably and lost most of its dark-indigo color (the berries will look sort of brownish at this point). Strain the juice/water mixture, and pour it into another non-reactive pot (or wash the old pot). Add sugar to taste (I like 6 C of sugar to 8 C of juice, but you can also add honey or cut the sugar a little). Myself, I am happy with the plain cane sugar. I then simply simmer mine, uncovered, until the temperature reaches 223 degrees (or roughly thread stage). Note that this syrup is thicker and closer to a jelly, which I like because then it’s a double-purpose product, which can also be used to feed orioles this time of year in place of grape jelly. Works just as well.