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Creme fraiche, which translates from French into “fresh cream,” is often considered the French version of sour cream, but it’s quite different. It’s made from 30 to 40 percent butterfat cream that has been left out to mature and sour naturally without the addition of bacteria starters or cultures. It has a nutty and mild tangy flavor, with a smooth, rich, custardlike texture. When it’s first made, the flavor is slightly sour and the texture is smooth — almost pourable. As it matures, the flavor becomes stronger and the texture thickens, becoming almost solid.
Creme fraiche originated before the days of pasteurization, when refrigeration and fast transportation weren’t available. The cream collected bacteria and fermented before it was able to make its way from the French dairy farms to the markets. The French developed a taste for it and still enjoy the flavor today.
Like all raw creams, creme fraiche contains lactic acid and other ferments. These naturally occurring ferments, if allowed to grow properly, work as thickening agents and also help preserve the cream. This process is disrupted in dairy products made in the United States because they’re pasteurized, which kills the natural ferments and bacteria, but any fresh cream, if left alone at room temperature, will go through this fermenting process.
All creme fraiche has an average of 30 percent butterfat, and some can be as high as 60 percent. Heavy cream in this country comes in at about 35 percent, but the taste is not at all similar to the French type. Because creme fraiche is a matured cream, it’s often referred to as a soured cream, but don’t confuse it with sour cream; they’re different products.
Yield: about 2 cups
Prep time: 15 minutes
- 1 to 2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk
- 2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream
- This is a home version that comes close to the real French thing. Start with organic cream, if possible, to avoid additives. Do not use ultrapasteurized cream.
1.) Combine the buttermilk and cream in a medium saucepan and heat only to tepid (not more than 85 degrees Fahrenheit). Check temperature with a thermometer. Pour mixture into a clean pint jar. Cover partially and let stand at room temperature (between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit) for 8 to 24 hours or until thickened.
2.) Stir and refrigerate at least 24 hours before using. The cream will continue to thicken and develop flavor in the refrigerator. It will keep about 2 weeks.
Using Creme Fraiche
Here are some quick and delicious ways to use creme fraiche in your everyday cooking:
Herbed Cream Sauce: This is an extremely simple way to use creme fraiche in a no-cook sauce. Simply blend 1⁄2 cup of creme fraiche with 1 1⁄2 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs such as chives, tarragon, basil, or thyme, and 1⁄4 teaspoon lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve it with fish, poultry, or vegetables.
Creamy Pan Sauce: When you’re making a deglazed pan sauce after pan-frying poultry or beef, stir in a generous tablespoon of creme fraiche just before serving.
Cream Soup: For an extra-rich cream soup, try reducing the cream in the recipe by 1⁄4 cup and substituting creme fraiche.
Fresh Fruit: Creme fraiche makes a great topping for fresh berries or cut-up fruit such as peaches, plums, or pears. You can sweeten the creme fraiche if you prefer by adding 1 teaspoon of honey and 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract to about 1⁄2 cup creme fraiche.
Plain: Creme fraiche can be drizzled over grilled vegetables, steamed or baked potatoes, poached or scrambled eggs, salads, or grilled fish, especially salmon.
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Excerpted from The Home Creamery © by Kathy Farrell-Kingsley. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.