From scratch: Creme fraiche
A reader looked at last night’s recipe and e-mailed me to ask:
“I see that the creme fraiche is optional, and I’ve never seen it in stores here. What purpose does it serve? Is the sauce as good without it?”
Creme fraiche is nothing more than cream that’s been inoculated with naturally occurring bacteria that thicken it to the consistency of sour cream. Besides adding a subtle nutty, tangy flavor to sauces, it has the added quality of helping sauces thicken up nice and smooth without curdling or separating the way commercial sour cream often does.
Like you, I have a hard time finding it in stores. I hear it’s a regular item at Trader Joe’s, but the nearest TJs is an hour’s drive from here. Locally, it shows up in the supermarket once in a while with the gourmet cheeses. But it’s really easy to make at home, and I do so when I have extra cream and buttermilk on hand – for instance, in the aftermath of a recent bout of holiday baking.
- Two cups of heavy cream (I try to avoid the ultrapasteurized kind, because it doesn’t seem to thicken as much).
- 1/4 cup of cultured buttermilk
Have ready a clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Canning jars work great.
In a small saucepan, heat the cream until it’s just lukewarm – no more than 85 degrees (F). If it gets too hot, it’ll kill the friendly bacteria that do the work, so use a candy thermometer and if it overheats, let it cool to 85.
Stir in the buttermilk, and pour the mixture into the glass jar. Cover it with a piece of waxed paper held on with a rubber band. Set the jar somewhere warmish – I like to use the cupboard above my oven, which is one of those eye-height models. Leave it alone for 24-36 hours, until it’s nice and thick, like sour cream.
Remove the waxed paper, screw on the lid and refrigerate. It will thicken a bit more in the refrigerator. Use in sauces, soups, dips, or anywhere you’d use sour cream (it’s great on baked potatoes). I’m told it will keep for up to 10 days, refrigerated, but mine never lasts that long.
You can use active culture sour cream in place of the buttermilk, but in my experience, the flavor isn’t as good. My favorite cornbread recipe uses buttermilk, so I tend to have it on hand, especially during the winter.
I’ve been pondering how best to use this blog during the winter months, when local produce is scarce. I’m thinking of writing more entries like this one, talking about things we can make from scratch to stretch our cooking repertories. And perhaps some about garden planning, and interesting/unusual food crops you can grow at home to expand your range. What, after all, could be more local than your own back yard, patio or kitchen?
I’d welcome suggestions from readers (both of you!)