What is CrèMe FraîChe?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

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.

Crème fraiche is known for its smooth, creamy texture.
Crème fraiche is known for its smooth, 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.

Caviar appetizer with crème fraîche and basil.
Caviar appetizer with crème fraîche and basil.

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.

In France, where it is most available, the heavy cream used to make crème fraiche.
In France, where it is most available, the heavy cream used to make crème fraiche.

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.

Creme Fraiche typically contains some of the active cultures found in yogurt.
Creme Fraiche typically contains some of the active cultures found in yogurt.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon328860

To answer some of the questions below: creme fraiche is made from raw unpasteurized milk which contains live lacto-family bacteria colonies. One cannot make creme fraiche from pasteurized milk and/or cream because there are no bacteria to sour and thicken the cream.

If you leave it out on the counter too long, it will get more sour. It will be safe to eat up until the point at which the harmful bacteria overtake the beneficial bacteria. This may take a varying amount of time, depending on the bacteria in your air, temperature, and cleanliness of your house.

Pasteurized milk left out on the counter will be overtaken with harmful bacteria. What is why it doesn't thicken and gets thinner. One should consume cultured foods with caution and education in order to enjoy the many benefits without getting ill.

anon275224

I like to whip up a little crème fraîche with some tuna, jalapeno pepper and bitter chocolate. Try it, you'll like it.

anon133064

Crème fraiche is 'fresh cream' that has been soured. It is not sweet. My son is a chef, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu (definitively French) and makes his own. I buy 'raw milk' directly from a farm. The 'creme' floats to the top and I scoop it off. This is what he uses. Since it has not been pasteurized, it makes awesome crème fraiche.

It is quite like sour cream, only not quite as sour, and just a little bit thicker. And maybe 'some French' make it the way anon13067 does, but most certainly not all.

I love it because it doesn't break up when making creamy soups, and it works magnificently as a topping on fruit or, better yet, dark chocolate mousse.

anon132981

Why is it that when I buy name brand whipping cream to make butter, which I culture by letting it sit on the counter in a closed glass jar for two days (+/- time) I get a thinner creamy product that doesn't shake down to a more solid butter product?

The buttermilk doesn't separate out as butter/buttermilk. So I just whip it, flavor it with salt and/or seasonings and serve it as "creme fraiche" (?) Why can't whipping cream be more consistent?

anon132439

okay, so my Belgian exchange student wants to make quiche and said to buy some creme fraiche. so what exactly do I buy at the store? A carton of whipping cream, or just use sour cream? Thanks. dude in duluth

anon59288

anon13067: as everyone else here has stated the recipe provided in the article is correct. I miss france so much and now being able to make creme fraiche at home will help me make some of the dishes I miss so. Puree que la cuisine francaise me manque tant.

anon52125

anon13067: i think you've been very misinformed. You're describing creme chantilly; creme fraiche is really just matured creme with nothing added.

as the article says, it's not "pure" creme fraiche in North America because of the required pasteurization.

sorry to nit-pick, but when cooking/baking, it's important to use the right timers so you don't ruin the dish.

anon50469

What you are describing (anon13067) is chantilly creme not creme fraiche. Check your facts.

anon49091

Uh, no one makes creme fraiche like you do anon13067. Creme fraiche is different. It is cream that is soured by bacteria. It has more butterfat than american sour cream and so it is richer not lighter than sour cream. It may seem lighter because it has a better balance of fat to lactic acid. What you make is whipped sweetened cream and when you heat it you just have sweetened cream that's lost its air from the heat.

anon42768

thanks you so much for the explanation, I will try with a new recipe from the Food Network.

anon41396

Excellent information. Made my own creme fraiche and used it in a strawberry mascarpone/43 liquor dessert. It is now a keeper. Thank you, Ralph

anon39255

This explanation was entirely helpful! I knew nothing about creme fraiche, but kept hearing of it on food shows. Thank you for your definition and explanation of how to make it at home!

anon31387

To anyone who knows about Creme Fraiche, can it be left out too long during the thickening process? Is it unsafe if left out too long? Also does refrigerating it make it turn thicker like whipped cream?

Thanks, John

anon27745

I agree, please do not attempt this with sugar and whipping creme, the result is not spectacular. Take the time to make this, a day ahead. The taste difference is there. The tangier, richer flavor of a true creme fraiche is worth it. That said, if you don't have the time you might be surprised that a local specialty store carries it -

anon24633

How does Creme Fraiche ferment? Is it like cheese, by aging it under certain conditions (eg. room temperature)? What types of bacteria does it contain. How do these bacteria help it to become creme fraiche?

anon23858

anon13067: I am sorry but I am French and I have to say your idea of making creme fraiche with just sugar and whipped cream is wrong, the original way which is described up the top is correct.

anon22991

how long will creme fraiche keep in the fridge?

anon13067

crème fraîche, is the same as whipped cream. Refrigerated cream, a little bit of sugar, and whipping. Heating your crème fraîche will make it liquid again. Take it from someone who makes this as part of her paycheck everyday, ànd grew up near france. (the belgian coast).

It may be that the american definition of crème fraiche is different from the european one, but "the french" make their crème fraiche like I do.

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