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What Is Creme Fraiche?
Crème fraîche, French for “fresh cream” and anglicized simply as creme fraiche, is a thick cultured cream. Cultured cream is cream soured with a bacterial culture, similar to sour cream or Mexican crema. Creme fraiche has a nutty, tangy, slightly sour flavor and a fat content of around 30 percent. Creme fraiche is used as a condiment or thickener in many appetizers, dinners, and desserts.
How to Use Creme Fraiche
Creme fraiche is incredibly versatile in the kitchen. Its nutty flavor makes it an excellent base for condiments and toppings, and its high fat content and low protein content means it can be added as a thickener to hot dishes without curdling.
Creme fraiche is commonly used a number of ways:
- Mixed into soups and pan sauces to thicken them
- Blended with herbs and citrus as a topping for meat
- Mixed with spices as a creamy salad dressing
- Served atop scones
- Added to scrambled eggs. Try it in Gordon Ramsay’s perfect scrambled eggs recipe here.
- Mixed into breads, cookies, and other baked goods
- Whipped with sugar or vanilla and served with fresh fruit
What’s the Difference Between Creme Fraiche, Sour Cream, and Mexican Crema?
Creme fraiche is very similar in taste and texture to both sour cream and Mexican crema. All three are dairy products made of cream and bacteria culture, and all three are used in similar ways in the kitchen. There are, however, slight differences between them:
- Creme Fraiche vs. Sour cream. Sour cream originated in eastern Europe and is now the most common cultured cream in the United States. It is more sour and more savory than creme fraiche or crema. Sour cream also has a low fat content and more protein than creme fraiche, which means that it will curdle when heat is applied to it. For this reason, it is most often used as a condiment, and it is only used as a thickener for sauces already taken off the heat.
- Creme Fraiche vs. Crema. Crema originated in Mexico and is thinner than either creme fraiche or sour cream. It has a milder taste than sour cream and has a similar tang to creme fraiche, and it is the sweetest of the three. It is often used in recipes to balance out spicy chipotle flavors.
How to Substitute Creme Fraiche?
In most recipes that ask for a dollop of cultured cream, creme fraiche, sour cream, and crema can be used interchangeably, depending on which flavors you prefer. However, in dishes that ask for the cultured cream to be added to still-cooking food, creme fraiche is the best choice to avoid curdling.
How to Make Creme Fraiche
Creme fraiche recipes differ depending on where in the world you live. In France, creme fraiche is made with unpasteurized heavy cream that already has the necessary healthy bacteria to thicken. However, in the US, dairy products are required to be pasteurized, so bacteria needs to be added to pasteurized cream to start the thickening process.
Making your own creme fraiche is easy and only requires two ingredients.
Easy, Homemade Creme Fraiche
- 1 tablespoon buttermilk
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream (pasteurized cream is preferred; ultra-pasteurized can be used, but it will take longer to thicken)
- Saucepan or glass mixing bowl
*Note: Metal containers are not recommended, as they may react to the culturing process.
- Combine the buttermilk and heavy cream and stir or shake. This can be done in glass mixing bowl or in a saucepan over low heat to quicken the culturing process, but heat is not required.
- Pour the mixture into a glass mixing bowl (if done in a saucepan) and cover.
- Let stand at room temperature (between 72 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit) for 12 to 24 hours, until the consistency is thick and creamy.
- Refrigerate at least 24 hours before using.
Homemade creme fraiche will last around two weeks in the refrigerator.
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