Crème fraîche provides the richness of heavy cream with a pleasant tang. It is similar in tang and ranges in texture from that of sour cream to almost as solid as softened butter. It has a slightly nutty flavor and a velvety nap that enriches without being heavy.
Crème fraîche is a matured cream in which lactic acids and natural ferments have been allowed to work until the cream has thickened. To make crème fraîche, cream is pasteurized and then seeded with a starter culture, much the way yogurt or cheese is made. It is found in the dairy cases of specialty food stores and many supermarkets.
- Crème fraîche is highly valued by top chefs because it can be heated – even to the boiling point – without the fear of curdling.
- Crème fraîche, which is less acidic than buttermilk, yogurt and sour cream, is not as standardized as most other commercial dairy products. It will have the fat content of the cream from which it is made.
While homemade crème fraîche does not have the depth of flavor or silky, smooth texture of the commercially produced variety, a substitute can be made at home in a pinch. Here are two methods:
- Add 1 tablespoon buttermilk to 1 cup heavy cream (preferably 40 percent milkfat). Heat just to 100 degrees F. Pour into a jar, cover with a lid, and shake mixture. Set aside at room temperature until it thickens slightly, from 8 to 12 hours. Refrigerate (it will thicken). Store in refrigerator for up to 10 days.
- In a small bowl, whisk sour cream with an equal amount of heavy cream; refrigerate until well chilled.
- For an ultra-rich dessert topping, whip 1 cup crème fraîche with 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until soft peaks form. If not using right away, cover and refrigerate. Makes 2 cups.
- For a lovely brunch or dessert, fill a bowl with diced fresh mango, pineapple and papaya. Drizzle fruit with a sauce of crème fraîche lightly sweetened with honey and flavored with finely grated lime zest.