There’s a reason the French have such revered cuisine: they use excellent ingredients. One of those beloved, delicious ingredients is crème fraîche. Chances are you may have heard of it, or you might even be lucky enough to have eaten the creamy stuff ― whipped into eggs, it makes for some perfect scrambled eggs ― but do you know what it is?
Crème fraîche is basically fermented cream. Historically, crème fraîche was cow’s cream left out of refrigeration to sour. Naturally-occurring bacteria would make it thick and tangy ― like a lighter, more sophisticated sour cream. Today though, the cream is pasteurized, so a bacterial starter is used to start fermentation.
For the record, crème fraîche and sour cream are completely different. First, sour cream generally contains about 18 percent butterfat, whereas crème fraîche can contain up to 45 percent butterfat. Second, sour cream is made by adding milk solids to obtain the desired texture. And third, sour cream is acidified by adding an acidulant to drop the pH ― that doesn’t happen with crème fraîche.
“At Vermont Creamery we pasteurize fresh cream that is 42 percent butterfat. Most heavy cream that you buy in the store is 36 percent fat. We add a bacterial starter culture to the cream and let the cream ferment overnight between 55-70 degrees F. The bacterial culture eats the lactose in the cream and leaves enzymes behind that produce wonderful rich flavor. In the morning the cream is still liquid and we package it in cups. Once it is in the cooler for several days it thickens and ‘sets.’”
Here’s the rub: when you find this creamy, thick stuff at a gourmet market it can be kind of expensive.
The good news is it’s really easy to make, and not expensive to make either. Sure, it’s not exactly the same thing that you buy at the store, but it’s better than nothing. All you need is one tablespoon of buttermilk and one cup of heavy cream. Mix the two together and leave it out on the counter overnight ― or for roughly 12 hours ― and then voila, your own homemade version of crème fraîche. Try this solid recipe from Serious Eats.