Creme Fraiche: Tastier Than Sour Cream, and Easy to Make

Creme fraiche is nothing other than French sour cream, a cultured dairy product made of nothing but heavy cream and some happy bacteria.

It’s a good introduction to making your own cultured dairy products, too, as it is beyond simple, since you barely have to heat the cream above room temperature and add either some commercial cultured buttermilk or a creme fraiche starter culture. You then cover it loosely and let it sit on a warm, not hot countertop out of drafts and away from the sun for about twelve hours and like magic, you come back to some rich, thickened, lightly tangy cream that is stable when it’s heated.

Yeah, let’s say it again, and more firmly this time. Creme fraiche is stable when it’s heated.

Commercially available sour cream is most emphatically NOT stable when it’s heated. In fact, it’s rather unstable after being heated and will often “break” when whisked into a simmering sauce, There is nothing more annoying than adding sour cream to a delectable sauce at the end of cooking and have it go all lumpy and curdly instead of making a nice, smooth, tangy creamy sauce. And yes, this can happen even when you are good and “temper” the sauce by whisking a small amount of the hot sauce into the sour cream before incorporating it into the rest of the sauce. (This is part of why I’ve used full fat Greek yogurt in my Beef Stroganoff for years–because it can be boiled and it will not break once it’s put into a sauce.)

But creme fraiche–well, it doesn’t break. You can boil it. It’s fine. You can temper it into a sauce, but you don’t have to. For all it’s velvety, lightly tangy delicate flavor, it’s tough, like a streetwise flower child who wears love beads and a set of brass knuckles.

And it tastes really, really good, too.

Very rich and satisfying.

Oh, and did I mention how easy it is to make?

Well, I’ll say it again. It’s easy to make. Easier to make than yogurt, because you don’t have to hold it at 110 degrees Fahrenheit for eight to twelve hours.

If you use commercially cultured buttermilk, just heat up a pint of heavy cream to 80 degrees F. (I used our local Snowville Creamery Heavy Cream, which is from grass-fed antibiotic free, growth hormone free cows just one county over from where I am typing) to room temperature and stir in two tablespoons of buttermilk. Pour into a clean glass jar (I use the locking ones with the gaskets like the one pictured above) and cover with the lid, but don’t lock it. Leave it in a warm, draft-free area out of the sun for 12 hours. Yes, I said twelve hours. Twelve. Please don’t get all worried about spoiling your cream or food poisoning. In this process, you are making friends with good bacteria, and they are keeping the bad bacteria at bay and are making your fresh cream into something sublime. Trust me.

After twelve hours, the cream should have thickened without solidifying, and should have the texture of commercially available yogurt. It isn’t as thick as the sour cream you’re used to buying from the store, but if you want to thicken it, you can put together several layers of cheesecloth and spoon the creme fraiche into it and tie the ends together and hang it up to let some of the whey drain out for an hour or so.

I used a starter from the company Cultures for Health. They sell yogurt starters, kefir starter, various dairy cultures and starters for vegetable ferments and soy ferments, and so far, all of their products I’ve tried have worked well. (Yes, you’ll have more posts on culturing milk coming up in the future.)

Their instructions are a bit more complicated, but not by much. They instruct you to heat one quart of heavy cream to exactly 86 degrees Fahrenheit, then stir in the contents of one packet of starter (they are sold in a box of four packets which can only be used once for $4.99–which is more expensive than the buttermilk, but in order to not use milk from a confinement dairy, I decided to go with the culture instead) into the cream, cover it and let it sit in a nice warm, non-sunlit place for 12 hours. I used my jar as noted above–I covered the jar with the lid, but didn’t seal it up.

How did it turn out?

Well, let me just say that everyone who tasted it buckled at the knees and rolled their eyes up in their heads. I ended up giving lots of my first batch away, so I never got to use much of it. That’s okay. I love my friends.

What can do you with Creme Fraiche.

Use it in any way you’d use sour cream, except be prepared to have your socks knocked off by the result. You can use it to top a cheesecake. You can use it in your Beef Stroganoff sauce. You can use it on a taco, on a baked potato, in mashed potatoes or swirled on top of a bowl of cream of tomato soup. It can go on top of fresh berries.

You can also just dig a spoon in and have at it plain and straight up.

Just use your imagination.

It’s good stuff.

Trust me.

8 Comments

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  1. I’m so glad you’re back! Joe Pastry recommended using a bit of yogurt, sour cream, or creme fraiche as a starter. Do you think yogurt would work in this recipe, or should I try to find the Cultures for Health starter?

    Comment by Alison — July 19, 2012 #

  2. Yogurt has a different flavor because it’s made with slightly different bacteria. All of the milk culture bacteria are related, but there are a lot of them, and they do produce different textures and flavors. Yogurt is tangier than creme fraiche, so I’d either pick up the starter from Cultures for Health or for the first couple of times, make it with cultured buttermilk which has a closer texture and flavor profile to actual creme fraiche.

    Comment by Barbara — July 19, 2012 #

  3. I’m so glad you’ve started up writing again, and I have a deep love for creme fraiche since it’s the only thickened milk product that doesn’t taste like spoiled milk to me. I will try to get my yoghurt-making d-I-l to switch :-)

    Comment by Judith — July 19, 2012 #

  4. i definitely want to try making this, but i’m a little confused. do you have to use a commercial starter on top of the buttermilk? or is it either?

    Comment by ashley — July 20, 2012 #

  5. Either, Ashley. You don’t have to use both.

    Comment by Barbara — July 22, 2012 #

  6. How warm do you want the cream to be if you’re using buttermilk?

    Comment by Cassie — August 4, 2012 #

  7. Sorry I left that out, Cassie. Heat it up to 80 degrees for buttermilk.

    Comment by Barbara — August 6, 2012 #

  8. Cassie, you can do it at room temperature or by heating the milk to 80 degrees F, and then adding the buttermilk. I’d just bring the cream to room temperature and the buttermilk to room temperature and then combine them.

    Comment by Barbara — August 10, 2012 #

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