True crème fraîche is a type of cultured cream; it was originally made in France by allowing raw (unpasteurized/unhomogenized) cream to ferment and thicken with the help of naturally occurring bacteria. This isn’t something most people can successfully do at home, but a great crème fraîche stand-in (I am calling it diy crème fraîche) can be made at home with store-bought cream and buttermilk.
To make the 2 cups of diy crème fraîche you see here, I poured a scant 2 cups of heavy cream into a clean glass jar,…
…then mixed in 2 tablespoons of cultured buttermilk (don’t use real buttermilk, as in the by-product of making butter, because it is not cultured). I then covered the jar and allowed it to sit while the cultures did their thing and thickened the cream.
If your kitchen is warm, it may only take 12 hours for this to happen. If the ambient temperature is cool, however, it may take a whole day or two (or even a little more). It took 2 1/2 days in my kitchen last week. Some recipes call for heating the cream before you add the buttermilk, and this is said to enhance the culturing. I personally don’t always do this, but might try it next time and see if it speeds the process.
Cultured dairy products have nourishing qualities- they contain natural probiotics that benefit the immune system and the digestive system- and are best for you when they are made with the highest quality ingredients. I prefer to use organic and local raw cream when I can get it. If raw cream is unavailable, however, then I use a non-homogenized, pasteurized (but not ultra pasteurized) heavy cream, like the one you see above from Ronnybrook.
When I am making diy crème fraîche, I remove the lid and check the progress of the culture approximately every 6 hours after the initial 12 hours. On occasion I have left it a bit too long, and a slight “off” odor was apparent when the cream thickened. When this happened, I just scooped off and discarded the very top layer and all was well underneath.
You can also make diy crème fraîche with yogurt instead of buttermilk as the culture. I believe a few tablespoons of a previous batch of diy crème fraîche will work, too. Whichever way you try it, make sure to use a good quality, cultured dairy product as your starter or your cream won’t thicken well and will lack the characteristic tang of crème fraîche.
I use crème fraîche all the time in my kitchen: swirled into soups and sauces (it does not curdle when boiled due to its high fat content), added to Mexican dishes in lieu of sour cream, in dessert recipes, and dolloped onto desserts instead of whipped cream. I also add it to egg dishes and use it in pasta recipes.
If you’ve never had it before, make sure to try some of your crème fraîche mixed with fresh berries. Lightly sweetened with a sprinkling of organic sugar or a small glug of honey, this is a treat I just love.