No, it's not real crème fraîche. For the real stuff you have to go to France. Real crème fraîche is what happens when unpasteurized cream matures on its own. It gets thicker and much more complex tasting (sweet, nutty, and a little tangy). Mock crème fraîche is what happens when you introduce lactic bacteria to pasteurized cream and let it ferment. It's not quite the same thing, but on this side of the Atlantic, it will do. You can buy crème fraîche in most upscale super markets (like Whole Foods), but I am not crazy about it. That stuff is as stiff as mascarpone and drizzling it over soup or dessert doesn't work. When you make it at home, you are in full control of thickness, so that's one reason I started doing it myself.
The second reason was practicality. My favorite brand of cream is High Lawn. It's inexpensive and has great flavor, but spoils extremely quickly. I used to view it as a drawback, but after I got onto my crème fraîche kick, I realized it's a blessing. Since this cream is only pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized), you can ferment it. That's the same reason, it spoils fast. Once it's fermented, it can live in the fridge for a very long time. I am not sure how long exactly because my jar of crème fraîche disappears too quickly. But I've kept it as long as 3 weeks, and I am sure it could go even longer.
The good news is that unlike other fermenting activities that require washing lots of dishes (strainers, pots, bowls, cheesecloth, slotted spoons, and thermometers) and a good bit of active time, crème fraîche requires almost no work and no dishes.
- Pour heavy cream (pasteurized is fine, but not ultra-pasteurized) into a clean glass jar. You want to start this process when your cream is still perfectly good. In other words, don't wait for it to sit in your fridge for a week and spoil and then try to ferment it.
- Microwave until very warm, but not hot. If you want to use a thermometer, you want to get to 110-120F.
- Add plain yogurt (full-fat if possible). I use Stony Field Farm's. The rough proportion is 1 cup cream to 2 Tbsp yogurt, but I never measure it. The exact ratio is not crucial as long as you are introducing some lactic bacteria and have way more cream than yogurt. Stir well and leave uncovered (or covered with cheesecloth) at room temperature until it thickens, 24-48 hours.
- If your cream is not homogenized (the one I use isn't), you'll get a thin yellow fat cap on top. Do not stir it in or you'll get little chunks of solid fat in your cream. To test if your cream is done, shake the jar gently. If the fat cap doesn't jiggle (or only barely), it's worth a real test. Carefully remove and discard the fat cap and check the consistency of cream. How thick you want it is a personal preference. Keep in mind that it will thicken slightly after it's refrigerated. If it turns out that it's too thin, try to keep it in a warm place and continue fermenting it.
- When the cream is done, cover and keep in the fridge for several weeks.
Here is how I get it to ferment in about 24 hours in winter. I put the jar in a bowl of hot water and change the water whenever I remember. I also found that my oven keeps the heat extremely well. It will still be warm 4 hours after I turn it off. If yours is like that, you can pre-heat it to 200F, then turn it off, and put your cream into it.
If you start your creme fraiche today, you will have it ready for Christmas, and that's not a bad thing to have on hand over the holidays :)
At least Samantha thinks so.
Happy and Delicious Holidays to you, my dear readers!