When I first started cooking on my own in college, far from my mother’s kitchen in France, I struggled to find creme fraiche. I searched through the dairy aisles of the DC supermarkets with no success. I tried to substitute heavy cream and even sour cream, but my pan sauces just didn’t have the same balance of richness and tang. I wish I’d known then how easily I could have made my own creme fraiche. DIY creme fraiche is not only easy but it’s also cheap.
But my time in college was just before the golden days of Google (oh no, did i just date myself?), and I’m not sure how excited my roommates would have been to find little cups of heavy cream to tempt them on our kitchen counters. Besides, it was college, and cooking with the optimal dairy product was lower on my radar than partying and studying.
Creme fraiche is now much easier to find at your local supermarket, usually in little pink Vermont Creamery tubs, but it’s fairly expensive. A little tub will cost you over $5, and trust me, you’ll go through them quickly once you discover creme fraiche. Making your own creme fraiche is much cheaper, and as long as you think to do it a day or two in advance, easy to assemble with a little heavy cream and yogurt.
If you google making your own creme fraiche, you’ll find dozens of recipes that call for a blend of heavy cream and buttermilk, and a few that argued against using buttermilk. I rarely keep fresh buttermilk in my fridge, so I followed one of the Serious Eats recipes and added yogurt to the heavy cream. The end result was luscious, tangy creme fraiche at a fraction of the cost of buying ready made.
To make your own creme fraiche, the most difficult thing you will need to do is to suspend your Western compulsion to refrigerate things. Creme Fraiche is created by letting the cultures in yogurt or buttermilk work their magic. This only happens at room temperature. Even for me, a French girl who grew up eating stinky, oozy cheese, putting the cream in the fridge at the end of the process was a relief. But tasting the cream once the cultures had worked their magic was freeing, exhilarating, opening a world of dairy experimentation. Next up: yogurt making and ricotta making.
- 1 Cup of Heavy Cream (preferably not ultra-pasteurized, just pasteurized)
- 1 Tablespoon of yogurt
- Pour one cup of heavy cream in a glass container such as a measuring cup.
- Add 1 tablespoon of yogurt. Stir thoroughly.
- Cover with serran wrap or other cover. Leave out on the counter at room temperature for 24 hours.
- Taste. If not tangy enough, leave for another 12 to 24 hours and taste again.
- Once satisfied that the yogurt cultures have worked their magic, you can place the cream in the fridge and use over the next week to 10 days.