Why It Works
- Making crème fraîche at home is an easy and cost-effective alternative to specialty store-bought versions.
- The bacterial cultures in buttermilk and yogurt thicken and acidify the cream, while also preventing bad bacteria from taking over.
- Adjusting the amount of buttermilk or yogurt and amount of time left at room temperature will determine the consistency of the finished product.
Finally, I found a plus side to the summer heat. It's currently sitting on my windowsill.
For all the hubbub made over crème fraîche—gourmet markets charge an arm and a leg for this creamier, milder cousin to sour cream, and chefs and television cooks mostly treat it as a specialty item, often naming a substitute for folks who can't find or afford it—it's shockingly easy to make at home, and half as expensive. Not to mention it's science-project-style fun.
As its name suggests, crème fraîche has roots in France. Historically, it was fresh cow's cream left out of refrigeration to become sour. The naturally occurring bacteria cultures would not only prevent it from spoiling, but would work to thicken and acidify the cream.
Since today, our dairy is pasteurized (if not ultra-pasteurized), we have to introduce outside lactic culture to make crème fraîche. Lucky for us, two inexpensive dairy-section neighbors have just what we need: buttermilk and yogurt.
How to Make Crème Fraîche
Crème fraîche is incredibly simple to make at home: You simply combine cream with a small amount of buttermilk and allow it to rest in a covered container at room temperature for about 12 hours. Within the day, the cream will have transformed into a thicker, tangier, and more spoonable version of itself. Then just store it in the fridge, where it will continue to mature. The ratio of cream to buttermilk doesn't really matter all that much; add more buttermilk and you'll need less time for the cream to thicken (but it'll be less creamy). Add less, and it takes longer, but tastes better. We found one tablespoon of buttermilk per cup of cream (that's a 1:16 ratio) to strike the best balance.
Even though some recipes recommend kickstarting the process by heating the cream mixture to take off the refrigerator chill, I found that using cold cream actually worked better. It made for a thicker, creamier result. Plus, after 12 to 24 hours at room temperature, the short amount of time you save by preheating the mixture is not that significant anyway over the long run.
Just as every brand of store-bought crème fraîche tastes different, yours will vary slightly depending on the flavor of your milk or yogurt, the butterfat content you can find, and how long you let it become sour. If you like a softer, runnier consistency, check your crème after 12 hours. I've left some batches as long as 36, especially when using yogurt, which I find produces a thinner version. Just keep in mind that the mixture will continue to thicken once you place it in the fridge.
This crème fraîche gets super rich and creamy at right about the 12-hour mark. You can also halt the process early by just refrigerating it to stop the bacterial action. This is useful if you want a thinner Mexican-style crema agria for drizzling over tacos or sopes. For those of you worried about cream spoiling at room temp, that's the idea: It's the good bacteria from the buttermilk multiplying in there that prevents the dangerous bacteria from taking over.
Notes on Shopping
When choosing ingredients, try to find pasteurized* (as opposed to ultra-pasteurized) heavy cream, yogurt and buttermilk. I used a locally produced cream and a full-fat plain yogurt from Ronnybrook. I could only find 1 percent buttermilk in the markets near me (which I was worried would be too diluted), but it worked swimmingly.
*Look out for wording on the packaging! I've read that ultra-pasteurized cream takes longer to sour, but I haven't actually tried it myself.
Your crème will keep for around seven to 10 days, plenty of time for you to dream up some fun ways to use it! Besides spooning some over fresh fruit, pancakes, cobblers or pies, you can use it in savory ways, too. Stir a little into pan sauces, soups or mashed potatoes—it tolerates heat better than milk or cream, and adds a richness and nutty flavor—or mix with lemon and herbs to serve with fish fillets. My favorite use to date: stirring it into scrambled eggs before cooking. Simply out of this world.
There'll be plenty of buttermilk left over, too (which is partly why making your own pays off).
1 pint (16 ounces) heavy cream
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cultured buttermilk
Combine buttermilk and heavy cream in a non-reactive container. Cover and allow to rest at room temperature until thickened to desired texture, about 12 hours. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 11g||14%|
|Saturated Fat 7g||34%|
|Total Carbohydrate 1g||0%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||1%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|