What Is Creme Fraiche and How Do You Make It?

It's like sour cream's thicker, richer cousin.

Creme Fraiche
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What Is Creme Fraiche?

Creme fraiche, called the same in America as in France where it originates (properly spelled "crème fraiche"), is a cultured cream, meaning it has been soured and thickened with bacterial culture. Compared to sour cream it has a lower water content and a higher fat content. It has a nutty, tangy flavor that lends a little acidity to any dish.

What Is Creme Fraiche Used For?

Because of its high fat content, creme fraiche does not curdle when boiled, which makes it ideal to use as a thickener in sauces and soups. Creme is also used as a finishing touch for sauces and soups, or spooned over fruit or warm desserts such as cobblers.

What Is a Substitute for Creme Fraiche?

In America, widely available sour cream can be used to substitute creme fraiche but with clear limitations. Because sour cream, unlike creme fraiche, curdles when added to simmering or boiling dishes, add it to hot dishes only after taking your pot off the heat.

The reason why sour cream should be used with caution to substitute creme fraiche is because the two are different. Sour cream has only about 20 percent fat content (compared to creme fraiche's 30 percent), and it gets its thick consistency from adding milk solids and stabilizers. It does however have a similar tangy taste, as both are cultured.

Mexican crema and Greek yogurt can also be substituted for creme fraiche, but like sour cream, they should not be added to a cooking soup or sauce.

You can also make your own creme fraiche using just heavy cream and buttermilk (see below for instructions).

What Is the Difference Between Mascarpone and Creme Fraiche?

The consistency between mascarpone and creme fraiche might seem somewhat similar but they are different dairy products. Mascarpone is a curd cheese made of cream that has been curdled by adding tartaric acid for thickening. Mascarpone has a sweeter taste than creme fraiche. It is more solid and therefore added to fillings of savory dishes and desserts such as tiramisu where a thick, not at all runny consistency is required. Creme fraiche, on the other hand, is soft enough to be easily dissolved in sauces and soups.

How to Make Creme Fraiche

If a dish calls for creme fraiche, with a little advance planning, you can easily make your own creme fraiche, which is also more budget-friendly than store-bought creme fraiche. All you need is heavy cream, buttermilk, and 8 to 12 hours. It is important to use the cream with the highest fat content that you can find – heavy cream or heavy whipping cream that has at least 36 percent milk fat. Regular whipping cream, aka light whipping cream, only contains 30 to 35 percent milk fat. Follow Chef John's steps for homemade creme fraiche:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons cultured buttermilk

Instructions:

  1. Combine cream and buttermilk in a sterilized glass jar (cleaned and dipped in boiling water for a few minutes).
  2. Cover tightly with any breathable material (like cheesecloth or a coffee filter) and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
  3. Stir, screw on lid, and refrigerate for 24 hours before using.

Favorite Recipes With Creme Fraiche

Chocolate Creme Fraiche Ice Cream
Photo by Buckwheat Queen. Buckwheat Queen

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