The imaginary drink from J.K. Rowling's books became a reality when the first Wizarding World of Harry Potter appeared in 2010. Since then, many hacks for the beverage have emerged online. The only problem is, if Rowling's reported requirements for the drink are true, then almost all of those copycats recipes got something very wrong.
Muggles like you and me (non-magical folk) pack themselves into wand shops, candy stores, and thrill rides throughout the impressive re-creations of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade at Universal Studios in Orlando and Hollywood.
Kids scamper around streets straight out of the Harry Potter books waving $50 wands to animate window displays and fountains. Restaurants serve British pub food like bangers and mash, and mini meat and fish pies. There’s even a real fire-breathing dragon (the fire’s real, not the dragon) on top of one building, taunting the crowd below.
But as fun as these amusements are, none are considered the number one attraction at the park.
That honor goes to this imaginary-beverage-turned-real that everyone wants to taste…
It took three years for two guys, chef Steve Jayson and Ric Florell, to develop the secret recipe for Butterbeer, a frothy sweet drink mentioned in J.K. Rowling’s books several times, but with a flavor that’s never described.
What Jayson and Florell developed is a two-part beverage: sweet-flavored soda on the bottom with a creamy whipped flavored head on top. When sipped, the flavors combine for a taste that makes you think of caramel butter cookies.
The drink looks like a beer, but it has no alcohol in it, and the foam is not a by-product of the drink. It’s added separately, and you cannot get a drink without it. That makes it hard for a curious person like me to tell what the soda tastes like on its own. Hard for sure, but not impossible.
After I finished the first one, I ordered another Butterbeer, quickly removed the top with a spoon, and poured the soda into an empty plastic water bottle. At home I compared it to other popular sodas on the market and found the best match was A&W Cream Soda. Okay, that part was easy.
Now, for the tricky part: the foamy topping.
Check out this short video I took at the Hollywood park:
A weak foaming machine is used to distribute a pre-measured bubbling portion of the creamy topping into each cup.
The machine is similar to a whipped cream machine, like the one behind the counter at The Cheesecake Factory that adds add a pile of whipped cream to every slice of cheesecake. But this machine makes a looser foam. And this is definitely not cream. Or any kind of dairy product, for that matter. According to The Huffington Post, J.K. Rowling was adamant that Butterbeer is a dairy-free product:
“…because Universal Orlando wanted as many guests as possible to be able to sample this brew (and that included the lactose intolerant), there could be no butter, or dairy products of any kind, in Butterbeer.”
This information means that virtually every copycat recipe you’ll find on the cyberwebs is incorrect since they call for either ice cream, evaporated milk, half-and-half, cream, butter, or some other cow product. Dairy may be an easy and obvious way to make foam, but in this case it’s not the right way.
Since an accurate hack of the famous drink can’t rely on dairy protein to make foam, we must turn our attention to another protein for the job.
Thank the chickens.
Egg whites come in different forms with each of them making a slightly different foam. Fresh egg whites make the tightest foam, and the meringue powder makes the loosest. The dry egg whites are somewhere in the middle, and that’s the one I liked best.
These egg foams are a good start, but they are much too light by themselves. We need a stabilizer to thicken the foam and make it “creamier,” as if it has dairy in it.
Here are a select few of the many natural ingredients we can use to gel our creamy topping. Some of them, including gelatin, need heat to do their magic.
Others, like xanthan gum, can be activated in cold solutions.
The amount we need to add depends on the type of thickening we desire. In this case we need a fairly loose gel, so about 1/4 teaspoon per cup of water is a good average measurement.
Now we need a quick way to turn our liquid into foam.
As you can see, there are several ways to suspend millions of air bubbles in a liquid. Four of these five devices make a tight foam with small air bubbles.
What we need is something to make a very particular creamy foam, with big bubbles. We need the hand blender.
A hand immersion blender will allow you to move the blades slightly out of the liquid as you’re blending to work more air into the liquid. This creates large bubbles and a loose, wet foam similar to what you saw coming out of that nozzle at the park.
An immersion blender is the magic wand for this hack, but if you don’t have one you can use an electric mixer. Your foam will look different than the real thing, but it will still taste great, and only the pickiest will care.
It took me 42 to attempts in all to complete this Butterbeer hack. About half of the time I was stuck on making it this way, because it made sense.
I added gelatin to water, heated the water, then cooled the solution.
I mixed in egg whites, a little xanthan gum for a slightly thicker gel, and some cream of tartar to add more volume to the egg white foam.
I used the stick blender and made a good-looking loose foam, then I dumped in some powdered sugar and mixed it again.
The finished product looked great, and the taste was heading in the right direction. But the consistency wasn’t quite right. It lacked the smooth mouthfeel that emulates cream.
Also, it required obtaining some ingredients which are not usually found in food stores. Like dry egg whites and xanthan gum.
I decided I could do better.
So I went shopping.
In researching this drink I read a comment from someone who said the foam topping on Butterbeer reminded them of marshmallow creme. That stuck in my mind. A check of ingredients listed on the jar confirmed most of the ingredients I was using in my first round attempts are also in marshmallow creme, like dried egg whites, and cream of tartar, and xanthan gum. Okay, then. Now we’re onto something.
I grabbed some marshmallow creme at the store and started the new round of tests with it.
For the next few days I played with marshmallow creme. I tried several ways of mixing it and adding other foaming agents and stabilizers into the mix. Most things I tried didn’t work, but some did. And eventually, 20 batches later, I had my hack.
Here’s what I did to make the final recipe:
Marshmallow creme is a stable foam, but it’s a little too stable, so we must dilute it.
Add about half a jar of marshmallow creme to a small bowl of water.
You can use warm water for this, or even better, pop it in the microwave…
It only takes about 30 seconds for your microwave to help liquefy the marshmallow creme.
Use a whisk to combine the marshmallow creme with the water, and you’ll begin to see your foam forming.
Now we need to cool the liquid before moving on.
Cool the solution down for about an hour or even longer in your refrigerator.
You want it cold.
Our foam has started to form, but it’s still much too thin at this point. And it’s lacking an oily quality that makes the topping feel like cream.
I needed something that would thicken the foam, add a slick quality to it, but not contain any dairy.
So, I used this…
Dream Whip topping mix contains exactly what we need. And none of what we don’t want.
It adds cellulose gum and cellulose gel, which are natural thickeners and stabilizers made from the cell walls of plants. These ingredients give the foam more body.
And the palm kernel oil adds some needed fat. This will help to create a silky smooth foam that feels like cream in your mouth.
Thanks to Dream Whip we finally have the foam we want.
Time to add the perfect flavor.
Here’s what one of Butterbeer’s co-creators, Universal Orlando Executive Chef Steve Jayson, had to say about the taste of the drink to Bon Appetit:
“We wanted this beverage to be for everyone — it wasn’t going to be alcoholic. And we wanted to make something that would feel mystical and whimsical and magical, but that also resembled a beer, with a beautiful base, amber color, and creamy top. It had to taste unfamiliar, yet soothing and smooth. I thought of those soft butter cookies, or butterscotch, and that’s what the recipe is based off of. But everyone tastes it differently — some say cookies, some say creamsicles. It’s a magical beverage like that.”
If the flavor profile is “butterscotch” and “sugar cookies,” we must determine what will duplicate that.
In sugar cookies we taste butter and vanilla, so we’ll add those two flavors.
The butterscotch taste was trickier. Butterscotch is basically caramel made with brown sugar rather than white sugar. But every butterscotch flavoring I tried did not taste right in this drink. Too, um, butterscotch-y.
Then I tried some caramel extract and…bingo! It was the perfect flavor.
All caramel flavorings taste a little different, so choosing the right one is important. I tried several brands and Watkins was clearly the best tasting of them all. If you can, get Watkins.
Now it’s time to bring it all together.
Dump a whole envelope of Dream Whip mix into your marshmallow creme foam, and blend it until it’s bubbly.
Add the sugar and salt and blend again.
Lastly, add in the flavorings and give it all a good blend. Move the hand blender up and down in the foam as you mix so that big bubbles are formed.
Once it looks thick and bubbly, you’re ready to build the drink.
Pour cold cream soda into a glass and be sure to leave some room at the top.
Add a few spoonfuls of foam over the top of each drink and serve immediately.
Soon you will see that Muggles can do magic after all.
They will make these drinks disappear.
— Todd Wilbur, The Food Hacker
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Butterbeer Hack
- 1 1/3 cups water
- 1 cup marshmallow creme
- 1 envelope Dream Whip Whipped Topping Mix
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon butter flavoring
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon caramel extract or flavoring (Watkins is best)
- 10 12- ounce cans cold A&W Cream Soda
You will also need:
- Immersion hand blender
- Combine the marshmallow creme with the water in a medium bowl and microwave it on high for 30 seconds. If you don't want to use the microwave, use warm water from your tap. Stir until the marshmallow creme dissolves, then cool uncovered in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until cold.
- Add the Dream Whip to the bowl and mix with an immersion hand blender for about 30 seconds. If you don't have a hand blender you can use an electric mixer, but only mix for about 15 seconds.
- Add the powdered sugar and salt and mix for another 30 seconds.
- Add the butter, vanilla and caramel flavorings and mix just until combined. Store covered in your refrigerator until needed.
- When you are ready to serve the drinks, pour a can of cream soda into a 12-ounce glass or mug. Be sure to leave about 1/2-inch of room at the top.
- Use the blender to mix the foam for 5 seconds, or until some large bubbles form in the topping. Spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons of topping onto each drink and serve.
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