The Mysteries of Creme Fraiche Posted on 10 Jun 19:37 , 0 comments


Back in 2012, thanks to the cookbook called Flour, I discovered crème fraiche. To the author Joanne Chang, it is a kitchen essential. And to make it is easy, according to her. It’s basically a lot of heavy cream and a little buttermilk (16:1 ratio) poured into a jar and left at room temperature for 10 hours or so until it gets thick.

The first time I made crème fraiche, it was as simple as that. Maybe it was beginner’s luck, but my next batch failed. And the next. And maybe the next one succeeded, but the one after that surely failed. The unpredictability made me give up on it. Too bad. When I made a successful batch, I made a cookie called a crème cookie, which was a big hit. When word got out in the office that I had brought some in, people beat a path to my door. And when I entered it in a local baking competition, it won!

A couple of years later, I heard a segment on The Splendid Table about a making your own butter and buttermilk. I had to try this! The recipe comes from a book called The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook. Animal Farm is located, of course, in Orwell, VT.

The recipe called for 4 cups heavy cream and 1 cup buttermilk. Sound familiar? The recipe also suggested heating the mixture and placing it in a yogotherm to keep it warm. And just like making crème fraiche from Flour it worked on the first try! I made butter and  buttermilk that you could actually drink!

And just like my crème fraiche experiments, I could not get it to work again.

Somewhere along the way, I read that to make crème fraiche (and therefore butter and buttermilk), you need to use cream that is just pasteurized, not ULTRA-pasteurized.

Let me just say that you might have better luck finding a needle in the haystack on the farm milking the cows than finding pasteurized heavy cream in the dairy case.

Moving to Vermont, it has been easier to find pasteurized heavy cream. So using my warming box (for baking bread) to keep a constant temperature, I gave crème fraiche another shot, not expecting another bout of beginner's luck.

For my first attempt, I used high-quality buttermilk as suggested by the recipe. I set the warming box to 72 and let it sit for 13 hours. When I ran a spoon through it, it was as liquidy as when it started.

For my next experiment, I broke the rules and used raw milk. What I ended up with was watery and smelled like cheese. And I don't mean a good cheese.

For try number 3, I used the same kind of heavy cream, but instead of high-quality buttermilk, I used Hood’s buttermilk, which in New England, is very easy to find. I set the warming box for 72 and let it sit for 10 hours. Nothing. So I cranked it up to 80 and let it sit another 10 hours and… SUCCESS! The crème fraiche had the consistency of sour cream, it’s closest rival in taste.

Crème fraiche is like sourdough. You can make your next batch using starter from your last batch in place of buttermilk. So I let I put a new culture in warming box and let that go for 12 hours, and SUCCESS again. I’m onto something here, I think!

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Pasteurized heavy cream and homemade buttermilk. This is all I need to keep my creme fraiche going for years and years.