What Is Creme Fraiche?
Is creme fraiche just a fancy French word for sour cream?
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
Creme fraiche sounds fancy and expensive. It’s not fancy, and it’s only expensive if you buy from the supermarket. In a way, creme fraiche is just soured heavy cream, but soured in a very precise way that can be controlled by whomever is making it. That would be you we hope, because it’s easier to make than yogurt or ice cream or even a simple oil and vinegar salad dressing. Intrigued?
What Is Creme Fraiche?
Creme fraiche is fresh heavy cream that sours and thickens when bacteria cultures are added and allowed to grow and multiply in a friendly environment. It’s rich, tangy and creamy and has a place in both sweet and savory dishes where it can be added before, during or after cooking.
What Does Creme Fraiche Taste Like?
Creme fresh tastes like a fresher, richer, tangier version of sour cream. Richer because it has more butter fat, tangier because of a different set of bacteria and fresher because it’s typically made in smaller batches. The flavor of creme fraiche is more aligned with another cultured cream: Mexican crema. It’s thicker than crema, but a little milk or cream can easily thin it to the consistency for drizzling sauce like crema.
How to Use Creme Fraiche
Creme fraiche can be used for so many things because it is stable when heated. That means it can be added to soup for richness and tang when you are cooking, and it won't curdle - unlike sour cream or yogurt, which need to be dolloped in at the end.
Creme fraiche can, however, also be dolloped on any number of things. A bowl of creme fraiche on a platter alongside all the traditional caviar or smoked salmon accoutrements is, in our opinion, one of the best places for it to show up. Thinned to a thick pouring consistency, it can be used in place of Mexican crema on tacos, nachos and enchiladas. Its flavor is closer to traditional crema than thinned sour cream would be.
In another savory application, adding it to mashed potatoes brings just the right touch of acid to balance the fat in the butter.
In the sweets category, a few tablespoons added to heavy cream when making whipped cream can stabilize the cream so you can prepare it ahead of time and it won’t deflate. That also helps if you’re using whipped cream as the sole frosting on a cake. It is also the perfect foil for the sweetness of fruit blintzes or a crepe with sweet, macerated fruit or a jam filling.
Creme Fraiche Versus Sour Cream
Creme fraiche is made entirely from heavy cream, which is 36 to 40% butterfat. Sour cream is made in a similar process, but it is only 20% cream. The extra cream in creme fraiche imbues it with the magical properties of more butterfat. When sour cream is heated, it breaks (curdles) because it doesn’t have enough fat to keep it together. Sour cream is great for a dollop to be added to a soup or a taco, but adding it to a soup and then cooking it will break it down. Creme fraiche will keep it together: its butterfat will stay in suspension and you’ll have a creamy soup.
In terms of flavor, sour cream is pretty sour. Creme fraiche is creamier, and it has a fresher flavor that is tart or tangy as opposed to sour. If you’d like to learn more about heavy or whipping cream we have an article that does a deep dive into one of our favorite ingredients.
What Is a Substitute for Creme Fraiche?
First on the list of creme fraiche substitutes is, of course, sour cream. Both are cultured, thick and sour. The two healthier stand-ins we like are plain full-fat yogurt or reduced-fat sour cream. Bear in mind that neither of these can be added to a cooking soup or sauce: they can only be stirred in after the cooking is finished or they will curdle. For a vegan dish, coconut milk fat can be subbed in, but it will bring all that coconut flavor with it. To get the fat from a can of coconut milk, refrigerate the can for a day before opening it. The fat will solidify somewhat and be easier to skim off the top.
How to Make Creme Fraiche
You can certainly buy creme fraiche at most markets, but why not make your own at a fraction of the cost? You need only two ingredients to make your own creme fraiche: heavy cream and buttermilk with live active cultures. For every 1/2 cup of creme fraiche you need, stir in 1 tablespoon of the buttermilk. A jar with a tight-fitting lid is perfect for this: you can shake it with the lid on to mix it well, then loosen the lid and set the jar aside. Check it the next morning to see how thick it is and taste it. We like it on the thicker side because you can always thin it a bit with some cream. It may take more than 24 hours to become really thick and tangy, especially if the only kind of cream you could find is ultra-pasteurized. When it’s done, tighten the lid and refrigerate it for up to a week.
Recipes with Creme Fraiche
A dollop of creme fraiche adds richness to this carrot soup, while the fried sage adds a flavor-packed crunch.
Salt-roasting the beets is a great way to make them, but if you want to make this dish in less than 20 minutes, buy a package of roasted beets and go from there.
The extra cream in the creme fraiche allows it to melt into the sauce for these luscious scalloped potatoes.
With butter, heavy cream and creme fraiche these scrambled eggs have the dairy trifecta working to make them the creamiest ever.
Make a double or triple batch of the croutons when you make this soup because you’re going to want to put them on way more.