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Crème Fraîche: A Revelation

March 22, 2013

Creme Fraiche

Crème fraîche is rocking my world. To say that I’m excited about it would  be an understatement. Making crème fraîche has been a revelation. It’s rare for so little effort to yield such outstanding results. I’ve known for ages that you can make it yourself from scratch. I even made it once back in my teens during a baking phase. But that was before I knew enough to appreciate what I had created. This time around, I was looking to spruce up some chocolate pots de crème. Since my local Whole Foods doesn’t sell crème fraîche, I decided to make my own.

I still can’t believe how well it turned out and how easy it is to make! If you’ve never had crème fraîche before, it tastes divine – similar to heavy cream, but more buttery, with a pleasant, mild, tanginess and a hint of nuttiness. Its thick, creamy texture is similar to yogurt or whipped sour cream.

The detailed instructions are below, but you literally put a cup of heavy cream in a jar, add about 2 tablespoons of buttermilk and stir. Then you simply leave it alone, and after 12-24 hours you’ll be raving about your very own crème fraîche.

Creme Fraiche on Pot de Creme

Creme Fraiche on Pot de Creme 2

What Is Crème Fraîche?

All of this would be cool enough if the story stopped here. I made some delicious crème fraîche for my pots de crème – the end. But, the real excitement is due to its potential uses – the very versatile spot it has earned in my cooking repertoire.

The literal translation of crème fraîche is fresh cream. But it’s actually heavy cream that’s been cultured/fermented. Crème fraîche originated in the Normandy region of France. Unlike in North America, where crème fraîche is a rare and expensive product, crème fraîche is sold in every French supermarket, by the tub. (Strangely, regular heavy cream is more challenging to source). This homemade version of crème fraîche is not quite the same stuff as the French variety. French crème fraîche is made from unpasteurized cream, so there’s enough existing bacteria that no additional culture (buttermilk or otherwise) is required. If you would like to try making crème fraîche with raw cream, please read the section on raw cream at the bottom of this post.

How is Crème Fraîche Used?

The French, as well as chefs worldwide, use crème fraîche for just about everything. Because it’s not as sour as sour cream and has a hint of nuttiness to it, it can go in either the sweet or savory direction.

Savory

Crème fraîche is commonly stirred into soups and sauces to thicken and add flavour. Unlike sour cream, it won’t curdle when heated thanks to it’s high butterfat/lower protein content. Crème fraîche can replace sour cream in practically any recipe. It’s also a good replacement for yogurt, regular heavy cream, or even mayonnaise. It can even be used in dishes where you might not consider using sour cream due to its inherent sourness. Other ideas for savory uses include salad dressings, dips, gratins, and in scrambled eggs.

Sweet

For sweet applications, you can use crème fraîche as you would whipped cream – it can actually be flavoured or sweetened and whipped into soft peaks. However, one of my favourite things about it is that while I’d typically sweeten whipping cream, I find the buttery/nutty flavour of crème fraîche so tasty that I don’t feel the need to sweeten it. Because of its mild tang, it pairs nicely with desserts without overpowering them with additional sweetness – in fact, it does a great job of cutting through rich desserts (like chocolate pots de crème). Also, thanks to its thick texture, it dollops well even without being whipped. Crème fraîche makes a great topping for fruit and various desserts (pies, cakes, puddings, custards, etc.). It can also be used as a filling (e.g. crepes), layered (e.g. trifles/parfaits), or as an ice cream base.

Other Reasons to Love Crème Fraîche 

The fact that crème fraîche is delicious, easy to make, and ridiculously versatile is reason enough to try it out. But here are a few more reasons why I’m smitten by it:

  • I don’t like buying sour cream. At my local Whole Foods, all of the organic brands have additives in the form of gums/stabilizers. Now I no longer need to.
  • Fat content. Since going paleo/primal, I’ve reduced my dairy consumption considerably. I try to only consume high fat dairy products. Sour cream is 18-20% fat, Greek yogurt is 10%, and crème fraîche is 30%+.
  • It’s a cultured/fermented food, adding a little extra good bacteria to my diet. This bacteria also helps to pre-digest the lactose. No, this doesn’t make crème fraîche paleo, but it does help.

Without further ado, here is how to make your very own batch of lovely crème fraîche:


How to Make Crème Fraîche: Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup heavy cream* (30% – 40% butterfat), not ultra-pasteurized**
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk***

Preparation:

1. Pour cream into a freshly cleaned glass jar.

2. Stir in buttermilk.

3. Cover jar with a sheet of paper towel (can be secured with an elastic band).

4. Leave the jar on your kitchen counter (or in any other room that you would consider to be “room temperature”) for 12 hours. Alternatively, you could do what I did and place the jar in the oven, which tends to be slightly warmer (turned off, with the oven door closed). The colder the temperature, the longer the process will take.

5. Check taste and consistency of crème fraîche after 12 hours. If you are happy with it, stir it, put a lid on the jar, and place the jar in the fridge. You can expect the crème fraîche to thicken slightly over the next 24 hours in the fridge – but you don’t have to wait for it to finish thickening before you start using it.

6. If you’re not satisfied with the thickness after 12 hours, or if the flavour isn’t tangy enough for you, leave it out for another 12 hours. Twenty-four hours seems to be the sweet spot. Once it has thickened, there’s no point in keeping it out longer, as the flavour will become acidic. Stir the crème fraîche, put a lid on the jar, and place it in the fridge.

7. The crème fraîche will keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks (assuming it was made with fresh cream).

8. Use the crème fraîche as is, or sweeten it / flavour it / whip it just like you would heavy cream.

Notes:

*You can multiply the recipe to make more, but a larger batch may take slightly longer to ferment.

**Use pasteurized cream, not ultra-pasteurized. If you’d like to use raw cream, please read the section below.

***Some people prefer using sour cream or yogurt instead, but there appears to be a strong consensus on buttermilk being the preferred starter. It seems that more yogurt or sour cream is required than the mere 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Also, I’ve read that the resulting crème fraîche can be slightly less creamy and tangy.  Another option would be to use a high quality crème fraîche as a starter. The bacteria strains will be different than the limited one used to culture buttermilk, resulting in a more pronounced nutty and buttery flavour as well as a different texture. Feel free to experiment if you’d like. Personally, I found the buttermilk-cultured crème fraîche to be great. I did try using a store bought crème fraîche, and liked the results as well – I’ve sinced re-used that batch to make a new one before it ran out (and have repeated the process several times).


Making Crème Fraîche from Raw Cream?

Raw (unpasteurized) cream already has naturally occurring active bacteria. That’s how the original French crème fraîche was made – without adding any additional cultures. However, bacteria is very area-specific. The bacteria in one part of France (both in the air and in the dairy), will be different from another part of France, and it will certainly be different from the bacteria found in the raw cream currently sitting in your fridge. All of these various bacteria behave differently. So the bacteria in the original Normandy cream behaved in a way that created the texture and taste of what we now call crème fraîche. What all this means is that you can certainly leave out your raw cream at room temperature, and it will “culture”, resulting in a “cultured cream.” But the taste and texture of your particular cultured cream will depend on the bacteria in your environment. Your cultured cream may not resemble classic “crème fraîche”. That is why we add specific cultures depending on the product we want to produce.

So, can you just add some buttermilk to the raw cream and proceed as you would with regular pasteurized cream? That’s not so simple, either. If there is a lot of active bacteria present in the raw cream, it can compete with the culture that you have added, resulting in a thinner product. The fresher the cream, the less bacteria it contains, so it’s advisable to use the freshest cream possible if you will be adding in other bacteria cultures.

So can you make crème fraîche from raw cream? If I had access to raw cream, I would certainly experiment with smaller 1/2 cup batches (to minimize waste if I didn’t like the results). First, I would try to make a cultured cream to see if that yields results similar enough to crème fraîche. So I would just follow the instructions above, and test/stir every 6-12 hours. And I would watch out for any “off” smells or tastes, which are quite different from those of a fermented dairy product.

I would also try to make another batch, with 1/2 cup of very fresh cream, and 2 tablespoons of buttermilk and test/stir every 6-12 hours. You could also experiment with other cultures as starters (Cultures for Health is a good resource, no affiliation).

It’s slightly ironic that although the original crème fraîche was made from raw cream, it’s actually more straightforward to make it from pasteurized cream! But, the time spent tinkering will be well worth it if you are able to create a raw crème fraîche-like product that you like. If you try this with raw cream, please do share your experience in the comments below!

Disclaimer: There are risks associated with consuming raw dairy, and I am not advising anyone to do so. I am not a doctor, nor a nutritionist. The above is simply an explanation of how one might go about making crème fraîche. On that note, there are a lot of recipes that actually involve heating the cream first to activate the added bacterial culture, in case that is a concern for you. Or, of course, you can do as I did and make crème fraîche from pasteurized dairy.

 

Have you tried crème fraîche? Store bought or homemade? From raw or pasteurized cream? What’s your favourite use for it?

If you enjoyed this recipe, please remember to share it (pinterest, facebook, twitter, etc.). Thanks!

Shared with Real Food Wednesdays and Fight Back Fridays.

Creme Fraiche on Pot de Creme 3

Leave a Comment

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim March 22, 2013 at 8:03 AM

This is interesting and I really want to try making this! So… it’s okay to leave the heavy cream out on the counter? It won’t spoil if it’s not refrigerated?

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[email protected] March 22, 2013 at 9:14 AM

No, it will not spoil if you leave it out on the counter, as long as you stir in the buttermilk. The good bacteria will eat away all other bacteria during the fermentation process. Just make sure to put it in the frigde after it has thickened.

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Kim March 22, 2013 at 12:48 PM

I see…. thanks!

lisa March 22, 2013 at 8:38 AM

You say ‘not ultra-pasteurized’ – but can you use pasteurized? I don’t live in an area where you can get raw milk/buttermilk.

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[email protected] March 22, 2013 at 9:21 AM

Yes, regular pasteurized cream works perfectly, it’s what I used. I have never actually seen ultra-pasteurized cream in Canada, but apparently it’s not uncommon in the US. Ultra-pasteurized dairy is heated at a much higher temperature, making it morr shelf stable and less likely to ferment (among other issues – it’s like the polar opposite of raw dairy).

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Elizabeth March 22, 2013 at 11:09 AM

I love making creme fraiche! We used it all summer when we had access to only-pasteurized heavy cream when we lived in Colorado. Now, back in Tennessee, EVERY milk product seems to be ultra-pasteurized. Thanks for the reminder about this amazing food.

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[email protected] March 23, 2013 at 9:16 AM

That’s awful that you pretty much only have access to ultra-pasteurized milk. And from what I hear that’s especially the case with organic milk.. Luckily that’s not (yet) a problem here in Canada..

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Julie March 22, 2013 at 12:38 PM

Think you can use homemade milk kefir instead of buttermilk as the starter?

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[email protected] March 23, 2013 at 9:17 AM

Yes, I think you could. All you need is some good bacteria, and kefir has that. I’ve heard of a few people trying it successfully. Maybe try it on a smaller batch first? Let me know how it turns out!

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Aaron March 22, 2013 at 4:12 PM

I’m a little surprised your Whole Foods doesn’t sell any. We’ve sold the Alta Dena creme fraiche forever – a very common natural brand. Only ingredients are cream and cultures.

We sell a boatload of the stuff over the holidays. Every friggin year I have to hear: ‘Aaron, make sure we don’t run out of creme fraiche’. I have to order a bunch early in the season though, as the warehouse tends to run out come Xmas time. I’m not exactly sure what everyone around here uses it on, but my guess is for some of the sweet things you mention.

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[email protected] March 23, 2013 at 9:20 AM

It is surprising that Whole Foods wouldn’t carry it. I’ve never seen the Alta Dena brand. I once spotted creme fraiche by Liberte at Choices (another local health food store), but when I recently looked for it, they didn’t have it.

It’s interesting that creme fraiche is THAT popular over there. How is your store’s supply of non-ultra-pasteurized dairy products? I was surprised how widespread ultra-pasteurized dairy is in the US.. and Europe..

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Aaron March 23, 2013 at 4:46 PM

The Horizon milk we have is regular pasteurized while the Organic Valley is ultra. In our store, people don’t seem to care much about the type of pasteurization, but rather if it’s organic and the correct size they’re looking for. I think one is in the minority if 1: they even know the difference and 2: they believe higher temps destroy more of the ‘good stuff’.

We have carried the Kalona supernatural VAT (low temp) pasteurized, non homogenized milk, but I’ve had to stop recently due to lack of demand. Even though, of course, it’s way tastier – and pricier.

When I was visiting Montreal, I noticed that Liberte dominated the yogurt sections of the stores I perused. And that the yogurt sections themselves were way, way smaller than what we have here. We used to get Liberte yogurt at our store, but when General Mills bought the US division, the quality went way downhill (as an interesting aside, before GM bought them, they had to buy milk from the US (Vermont) to use in their products that were headed for here. They could not use Canadian milk and send it over the border.

Alexis March 22, 2013 at 5:57 PM

Sooooo how would I make this if I have raw cream??

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[email protected] March 23, 2013 at 9:42 AM

I’ve updated the post above with some info on raw cream. If you try making it, I’d love to hear about your results!

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Wynette March 22, 2013 at 6:27 PM

http://www.culturesforhealth.com/creme-fraiche/
Here is a link where you can find other recipes to make creme fraiche and buy a creme fraiche starter kit. Just fyi… not an affiliate.

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[email protected] March 23, 2013 at 9:43 AM

Thanks for the resource!

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Sarah March 24, 2013 at 1:30 PM

I made creme fraiche a couple days ago using raw cream and milk kefir for the starter. The consistency was a bit runny (I assumed that could have been because the cream was frozen then thawed?), but that didn’t bother me since I made it to make cultured butter. That turned out great! I will try fresh raw cream next and see how it goes. :)

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[email protected] March 24, 2013 at 2:05 PM

Interesting. I know cream changes its texture once frozen, and often it’s not able to be fully whipped. So that could have contributed to the runniness. It’s also possible for some of the cultures to have been affected by being frozen. Let me know how your next batch turns out! And the butter sounds lovely!

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Jo @ Jo's Health Corner March 29, 2013 at 8:01 AM

This is great and thanks for sharing! It is hard to find where I am and I have many Swedish recipes that asks for creme fraiche. We use it a lot in our cooking back home.

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[email protected] April 1, 2013 at 10:55 AM

You’re welcome, glad you found it useful!

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moana June 15, 2013 at 11:38 AM

So you said you have made from store bought before, how much store bought do you add to the cream? Is it still 2 tablespoons per 1 cup cream?

thanks

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[email protected] June 15, 2013 at 11:55 AM

Yes, same amount.

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[email protected] March 23, 2013 at 5:35 PM

@Aaaron: I’m surprised that so few people know/care what they’re buying.. it’s a shame because then demand for the good stuff like Kalona drops, and then eventually they stop supplying it.

And yes, I was floored by the massive selection of yogurt at American Whole Foods. But my very next reaction was shock at how few full fat options there were. They sell SO many different types of yogurts, and yet 99% of them are low-fat! *sigh*

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