“Good butter makes every batch of cookies the best batch of cookies.”
– Christina Tosi
I’ve always found the most important recipes, in my life, were vague suggestions: A list of ingredients, sparse instruction, an unspoken dare to replicate an experience.
Learning how to make cannabutter was the opposite of that experience. It was information overload.
Six years ago, my partner and I set a goal to make the best cannabis-infused cookie we could. What we learned very quickly was that our cookie recipe was great, but the process of infusing our butter was damaging its integrity. So we set out to find a way to infuse butter—not for maximum potency—but for the best possible flavour, and to preserve what makes butter magic. (Now there are people “reading” this column who are going to subtweet about how writing a primer on cannabutter is being non-inclusive for vegans, and that would be correct: this piece is going to have more butter love than a Bertolucci film, kids, so bear down.)
What the fuck is butter?
As briefly as possible, butter is a byproduct of the fats and proteins found in milk and cream. Most butter North Americans know comes from cows, however, butter can be derived from the cream or milk of sheep, goat, yak, and bison. These fats and proteins are then mechanically mixed (churned) and a uniform product is then portioned, packaged, and sent to your local grocery store.
Butter in a more technical sense is an emulsion of fats and proteins that stays semi-solid at room temperature and begins to melt at around 90 degrees F. As you raise the temperature of butter to near 120 degrees F, you will begin to notice a white foam forming at the top of the butter. These are the proteins in the butter separating from the pure butter fat. This separation process is known as clarification, which we will touch on later.
Why does most cannabutter taste like Swamp Thing’s taint?
What I have found in picking through hundreds of recipes for cannabutter, is that there are totally understandable utilitarian goals which underpin these recipes. I am not inferring that these techniques are wrong, they just come from a different perspective.
First, these recipes endeavour to maximize the cannabinoid content of the butter, something I think we can all agree is an important goal for many patients making edibles at home. If you pile a bunch of trim into a slow cooker and leave it simmering overnight, one can make some rocketfuel potency cannabutter. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what I am looking for in an edible experience.
Second, these recipes find uses for the cannabinoid-bearing parts of the plant that are less prized than the flower. Popcorn buds, trim, kief, sugar leaves, all of these byproducts of the process need to be used somehow and moving these cannabinoid-bearing assets into edibles is a great way to maximize the profitability of one’s harvest. Eliminating waste is a basic tenet we should all have and it’s admirable.
Third, many of these recipes are one-size-fits-all solutions that don’t really take into account what kind of lipid is being used. Butter, unlike coconut oil or olive oil, has pesky proteins which can burn during the infusion process, and they tend to take on some of the more “dank” flavours from the cannabis.
What I do differently
When I am making cannabutter, I have different goals than most home cooks. My goal is to create a less potent but more flavourful butter, which expresses at least some of the flavour profiles found in the cannabis I am infusing. I find that this generally expresses in a golden brown butter with delicate nutty flavour backbone and usually citric, spicy, or herbaceous notes depending on the plant matter.
I also use flower for my edibles. Rarely do I use trim or kief, as I find those substances can impart some of those more off-putting flavours. Along those same lines, I do not grind my flower at any point in the process. (This does limit the potency potential of the final product, but I have found that the reduction in potency is relatively small.)
For the purposes of safety, I also check all of my flower before decarb with a loupe (a small magnifying glass) to make sure there is no mold or botrytis visible. Mycotoxins are serious business and it’s not uncommon to find mold in any supply chain.
I have tried numerous decarboxylation methods but I find doing the decarboxylation (converting the non-intoxicating compound THCA found in cannabis to its active form, THC) in a closed vessel (like a Dutch oven) at 240 degrees F for one hour to be the best. Then the closed vessel should sit at room temperature for an additional hour to cool, and to allow any vapour to condense back into the flower.
I like to use the best possible butter when infusing. I have had a longtime love affair with Amish Roll butter which generally comes in at about 85 to 88 per cent milk fat. I then take that butter and clarify it by slowly heating it to about 120 degrees and skimming off the milk solids which rise to the top. Generally this process takes about 35 minutes of skimming but the clarified butter really does deliver a better flavoured, more potent infusion.
The infusion method
I personally use a sous vide method with an immersion circulator and mason jars. I find this gives me both the ability to precisely control the temperature of my infusion and to infuse multiple different cultivars at the same time. However, if you have a MagicalButter Machine or prefer a simple bain-marie method these are all great ways to infuse at home with considerably less mess and complication. (A bain-marie is also known as a water bath or double boiler. It uses the heat of a water bath to evenly transmit heat into a container—in this case, a mason jar).
Ingredients and equipment
- 28 g decarboxylated whole cannabis flower
- 500 g liquid clarified butter (The best quality butter you can find)
- 2 tbsp sunflower lecithin
- Mason jar(s)
- Immersion circulator (or MagicalButter, or bain-marie)
- Deep pot
- Instant read thermometer
- Silicone gloves or heat pads
- Silicone spatula
- 2 medium saucepans
- Fine sieve
- Mircon filter bag (or cheese cloth)
- Food syringe
- Silicone molds
- TCheck UV spectrometer
- Large Ziplock freezer bags
I like to have all of my ingredients laid out in my workspace from the beginning. In French kitchens this is called “mise en place”, or putting in place. I always find doing this step allows me to keep a clean and sanitary workspace, and it ends up saving time in the long run.
Put the decarbed cannabis into the mason jar. Then, pour the liquid butter over the cannabis, afix the lid of the jar, and tighten.
In a deep pot filled with hot water, begin your immersion circulator at 160 degrees F. If you are using a water bath method use your instant read thermometer to get a temperature reading in your slow cooker or in the oven. Keep in mind, most oven temperatures are wildly inaccurate and can vary in different spots in your oven. (I have a thermometer that lives in my oven because I have trust issues.)
Over a saucepan place a fine mesh sieve with cheese clothes or a micron filter. I really love the MagicalButter Micron bag, I was given one for a gift over five years ago and it’s still performing admirably after hundreds of uses. This will be your filtration station.
On a sheet pan, lay out some silicone molds. I like these ones as they hold about 20 millilitres of liquid, so it’s a very good vessel for 15-milligram portions.
Light a joint, put on a playlist (see below), find a comfy chair, dance around your kitchen, do whatever you want, but every 20 minutes, check your thermometer and make sure that your infusion is hanging out somewhere around 160 degrees. You can also carefully flip the jar to make sure the plant matter is getting fully submerged in butter. Do not shake the jars! I repeat, keep checking your temperature, but also enjoy the two hours of minimal work.
3. Fining and filtration
When your infusion is done, slowly pour the contents of your mason jars into your cheesecloth or micron bag, which should be sitting on top of the strainer. The liquid butter will run through the layers of filtration into the saucepan. Any butter which runs freely through the filter should be collected and put aside. This first run of butter is going to taste the best and should be reserved for sauces and more delicately flavoured baking (think shortbread).
Swapping in your second saucepan you can now gently press the wet plant matter against the filter. I like to use a silicone spatula to do this pressing because it allows for a more gentle pressure. You will notice a much darker coloured butter from this technique. This infused butter will taste a little more “weedy and dank”, and it is best used in something with a stronger flavour, like chocolate or cheese.
4. Analysis, packaging, and storage
Once I have filtered my butter, my next step is analysis. I take small samples from both runs of butter and use my TCheck Uv Spectrometer, which gives me a reasonably accurate representation of the cannabinoid content of the butter.
I then use a food syringe to measure out 15-milligram portions of liquid butter and carefully dispense the butter into individual cavities of my silicone molds. This gives an accurately portioned and dosed butter pate. Once the molds are filled, put them in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up. Once firm, pop the butter pates out of the mold.
For storage, I like to use Ziplock freezer bags. They protect reasonably well against freezer burn and are easy to suck the air out of before popping into the freezer. I always package my two runs separately as they taste differently and generally have different potencies. Freezing the butter adds considerably to its shelf life. I generally would never leave infused butter in the freezer for more than three to four months, but I have heard people keeping cannabutter in the freezer for over a year with no ill effects.
Recipes have flash forwards, right?
As you may have noticed, the above recipe is partially incomplete. We left off with these awesome little pates of infused clarified butter that were stored in a Ziplock bag beside the ice cream in the freezer. And knowing what you now know about butter, this infused butter is missing its milk solids, which are paramount for butter reacting like butter in any recipe.
So, let’s flash forward to a future mac and cheese recipe. I am making an infused bechamel sauce that calls for 112 grams of butter. Assume that I have been on top of things and I have grabbed two of those 15-gram cubes and allowed them to soften on my kitchen counter overnight. I then add 82 grams of softened, non-infused butter to my 30 grams of infused butter, and do my very best to blend them into a uniform mixture. I now have a cannabutter that can do everything that butter can do, with a subtle cannabis flavour and lots of THC.
This technique also makes dosing much easier. Say your infused butter came in at 10 milligrams per millilitre of THC. You can quickly figure out the potency of your recipe by multiplying that 10 milligrams per millilitre by 30 grams of infused butter. This means 300 milligrams of THC is going into this recipe. You can then divide by the number of servings and you can easily figure your potency per serving. In this case, the recipe makes eight servings, which would give a potency of 37.5 milligrams of THC per serving.
Now, is this recipe overly complicated? Probably—it involves time travel—but it’s also better than a list of ingredients, sparse instructions, and a dare.
The infusion playlist
- Gordon Lightfoot – “Sundown”
- Kids See Ghosts – “Fire”
- Schoolboy Q – “Blind Threats” (feat. Raekwon)
- Chance the Rapper – “D.R.A.M Sings Special”
- Explosions In The Sky – “First Breath After Coma”
- Spiritualized – “Come Together”
- The Brian Jonestown Massacre – “It Girl”
- Ghostface Killah – “Cherchez LaGhost” (feat. U-God)
- Gza – “Lyrical Swords” (feat. Genius and Rass Kass)
- Lil Wayne – “Mahogany”
- Jay Z and Kanye West – “Gotta Have It”
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Seed. Stem. Stash. Smoke.
Despite the perception of Canada as a cold and snowy landscape, cannabis has been grown outdoors here for generations, long before prohibition was lifted in 2018. In Rock Creek, a small town in British Columbia’s Okanagan region, an area adored for its long, dry summers and endless rows of wineries and fruit orchards, a portion of a sprawling 2,200-acre ranch once dedicated to ginseng and cherries is now filled with rows upon rows of cannabis and hemp.
“My partner and I set a goal to make the best cannabis-infused cookie we could. What we learned very quickly was that our cookie recipe was great, but the process of infusing our butter was damaging its integrity. So we set out to find a way to infuse butter—not for maximum potency—but for the best possible flavour, and to preserve what makes butter magic.”
“Weed infused in various candies, brownies, or cookies generally takes much longer to kick in and there’s inevitably a few moments half-an-hour post-consumption in which I say, out loud: “I’m not sure this thing is working.” Then, like one of Mike Tyson’s fists to the face, the full might of a deceptively delicious baked confection takes hold, and for the next few hours—I’m high. High high. And sometimes, too high.”