Sour Cream and Crème Fraiche Recipe

Make your own sour cream, an alternative to the highly processed grocery-store version. Crème fraiche will curdle less and a better match for hot dishes.

| May 2019

Sour Crema and Crème Fraiche Recipe 
Creme fraiche can be whipped and used as a surprising and more complex
alternative to whipped cream. 
Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell

Before pasteurization became a widespread practice, cream left at room temperature would have fermented spontaneously and naturally just like the fermented milks we covered in the last lesson. These thickened, slightly tart products were used in cooking without necessarily having names. When raw cream became rare, commercially created cultured creams such as sour cream and crème fraiche became popular in recipes and cookbooks. Mexican cuisine has its own version called crema, and in Russia you will find a sour cream called smetana.  

When you first make homemade sour cream, you might be surprised at how different it is from its grocery-store cousin. It is important to remember that commercially produced sour cream is highly processed, often with added thickeners and ingredients, and its fat content is strictly regulated by the government. Crème fraiche, on the other hand, does not have its fat content decided upon by regulators, but rather by the cheesemaker. It is often much richer than sour cream. When it has more fat, it naturally has less protein; this makes it less vulnerable to curdling when added to hot dishes. High heat and acid cause milk proteins to dump. It is therefore a nice alternative to sour cream when adding to hot soups and the like.

What You'll Need

  • Milk: 2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream (about 36% fat) for crème or light cream (about 20% fat) for sour cream
  • Culture: 1/4 teaspoon (0.8 g) Flora Danica OR 3 tablespoons (90 ml) buttermilk with live active cultures (try using some of the buttermilk you made in lesson 4)
  • Equipment: Saucepan, thermometer, 1 qt. glass jar with lid  

Process in a Nutshell

  • Time: 15-30 min. active, 12 hr. inactive
  • Steps: Heat cream, add culture, ripen, chill, store and use  

Step by Step

Heat Cream: Pour the cream into the sauce pan, and place the pan over medium heat. Heat the cream, stirring constantly, until the temperature reaches 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius); remove the pan from the heat.

Add Culture: If using, sprinkle the culture on top of the milk and let it set for 3-5 minutes. Stir gently for 2-5 minutes. Or, stir in the but­termilk until evenly mixed.

Ripen: Pour the mixture into the jar and cover with the lid. Let sit at room temperature, 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit (20-22 degrees Celsius), tasting it periodically, until it has a gravy-like consistency and a tangy taste, usually about 12 hours.

Chill: Cover and refrigerate the cultured cream for 24 hours; it will continue thickening as it chills.

Store and Use: Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.  


If you prefer your crème fraiche a bit fluffier, simply pour it into a bowl and whisk to thick peaks. You can sweeten or flavor it as well: try adding a touch of maple syrup, honey, or fresh fruit. 


If you have the chance, compare the flavor and texture of the mascarpone from the last chapter with the results of this recipe. They look quite similar and have similar uses, but the method and science behind them are different: high heat and added acid versus low temperature, added culture, and a long ripening time.


mastering-basic-cheesemakingThe craft of home cheesemaking is exploding in popularity. However most “beginner” books are essentially loosely organized collections of recipes which lack a progressive approach to teaching the fundamentals of this exciting and satisfying traditional skill. Mastering Basic Cheesemaking provides a complete hand-on guide to making cheese and other fermented dairy products from scratch, geared toward helping the novice cheesemaker to develop the intuition and abilities to position them for success, especially in the real world of the home kitchen. This well-illustrated, clearly written practical guide assumes no prior experience on the part of the aspiring cheesemaker.

Reprinted with permission from Mastering Basic Cheesemaking: The Fun and Fundamentals of Making Cheese at Home by Gianaclis Caldwell and published by New Society Publishers, 2016. Buy this book from our store: Mastering Basic Cheesemaking: The Fun and Fundamentals of Making Cheese at Home.



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