Crème Fraîche (French literally ‘fresh cream’) is a soured cream containing about 28% butterfat and with a pH of around 4.5. It is soured with bacterial culture, but is less sour than sour cream, and has a lower viscosity and a higher fat content.
Whether you add it to soups or salads, cakes, puddings or potatoes, creme fraiche is a versatile dairy product which adds a smooth depth of flavour to recipes.
For the past few years, recipes using Crème Fraîche have become increasingly common, but it was generally only available at specialist food stores and farmers markets, much to the frustration of home cooks. However, supply has gradually caught up with demand, and Crème fraîche is now available from major supermarkets.
This past difficulty in purchasing creme fraiche is surprising, as the process of making it is relatively simple. Originally from France, it is developed naturally by allowing the bacteria present in cream to ferment, which causes the cream to thicken. Australia legally requires all dairy products to be pasteurised, so locally made Crème fraîche is fermented using an artificial process.
In flavour, Crème fraîche is slightly tangy and acidic. In comparison to other creams, it is most similar to light sour cream. Sour cream can be exchanged for Crème fraîche in some recipes, however the flavour of Crème fraîche is more refined and the two products have important practical differences. Crème fraîche has the advantage that it can be whipped to a smooth, thick cream and it can be cooked without splitting or curdling.
Making Crème Fraîche
If you simply can’t find crème fraîche in the supermarket, you can easily make it at home. Simply blend one tablespoon of either crème fraîche, buttermilk, yoghurt, or sour cream with a cup of fresh cream, cover and leave overnight (not refrigerated). Once it thickens, it can then be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days. Using crème fraîche as the starter is the most authentic method, with buttermilk as the next choice.
Using Low-Fat Substitutes
There are low-fat versions of crème fraîche available, but they cannot be used for cooking anything above a simmer, or it will separate. It is also often less thick than full-fat crème fraîche, as are the possible substitutes of low-fat yogurts and sour creams. Use these as substitutes only if the recipe is not calling for them to be boiled, or when simply using them as a topping or dip.
Using Full-Fat Substitutes
Unfortunately, even full-fat sour cream tends to separate when subjected to a high heat. So, when a recipe, such as a sauce or soup, calls for crème fraîche and involves boiling the ingredients, it is best to use heavy or whipping cream. If you prefer, you can blend ½ a cup of heavy cream with ½ a cup of sour cream, although it’s better to add the sour cream after cooking. Alternatively you can add a bit of lemon to the heavy cream to give it the flavour of crème fraîche.
Using Vegan Substitutes
Full-fat coconut cream can be used as a substitute for crème fraîche, but it will add a different flavour to the meal. Alternatively, soy sour creams can also be used. A blend of vegan cream cheese with a small amount of soy milk, or another sort of vegan milk, and lemon juice will also make a crème fraîche substitute that is similar in taste to the original.
Crème fraîche is a delicious treat that can add an extra dimension to a wide variety of dishes. There are many substitutions available that ensure that you will never have to create a dish without the taste of crème fraîche.