Crème fraiche is a thinner form of sour cream first developed by the French. It has a slight hold and tanginess because it contains bacterial cultures, although the amount of bacteria is minimal when compared to sour cream. This cream can be used as a topping, in sauces, or in a variety of other applications, and many people prefer it to the standard and more commonly available sour cream because of its creamy texture.
One of the advantages of crème fraiche is that it doesn’t “break” or become unstable when added to sauces because of its high fat content. Cooks who are making thick cream soups, Hungarian Goulash, or any type of sauce that needs to be thickened with cultured cream often find that it is a good choice, and works better than sour cream. Some people also whip it with a little powdered sugar and vanilla, then ladle the cream over fresh berries or any kind of fruit, or use it as a sweet filling for crepes.
There are several different methods for making crème fraiche. In France, where it is most available, the heavy cream used to make it is unpasteurized. It therefore contains natural bacteria, and when allowed to sit at room temperature or to “age,” it cultures on its own. In the US, the pasteurization process required of most dairy products means that the cream must be made in a different manner.
There are two essential methods for making it with pasteurized cream. One is to simply combine yogurt or buttermilk with heavy cream, in a ratio of about 1 tablespoon per cup (14.78 ml per 0.23 liters). The mixture is left at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. The more common method is to heat the cream first, and then add the yogurt or buttermilk to it. Afterwards, the mixture is left to sit at room temperature for up to a day.
Both of these methods can be employed at home, and they should result in crème fraiche that can then be refrigerated and kept for up to about seven days. The bacteria keeps it from spoiling so both methods are considered safe. When made with unpasteurized milk, as it is in France, it is also considered safe because of the bacteria naturally present in the cream.
If the milk is somehow contaminated, it could theoretically make the person who consumes it ill. This is rare, and it does not stop crème fraiche from being one of the most enjoyed staples in French cuisine and throughout Europe. The US version may be a little harder to come by, but chefs can usually find it in specialty food stores or make their own at home.