Crème fraîche is a fairly uncommon ingredient in the US, which is too bad. Its flavor is similar to sour cream but it has a smoother consistency and unlike sour cream it won’t separate when cooked, making it a perfect ingredient for many soups, sauces and gratins. You can use crème fraîche in any number of dishes, but some of my favorites include:
- Potato dishes such as leek & potato soup, potato gratin or baked potatos
- Salad dressings for cucumber salads or green salads, especially when including water cress
- Pickled herring
- Fruit compotes, especially when cherries, peaches, plums or other stone fruit are involved. Also other desserts involving stone fruit
I have yet to find crème fraîche at farmers markets and even in New York City I don’t always see it in stores. When I do find it, it’s often made of industrial milk and includes additives. Leafing through Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food, I was excited to stumble across some instructions to make crème fraîche at home. It's incredibly easy. You'll need some buttermilk and good heavy cream but these are easier to find than good crème fraîche. If you have buttermilk on hand, it's also a good way of making use of any leftover cream.
Here’s how: Add 1 Tbsp of cultured buttermilk to a pint of heavy cream (avoid ultra-pasteurized), stir and leave covered at room temperature for around 24 hours or so until thickened. Yup, that’s it. Alice assures us that crème fraîche will keep for up to 10 days covered tightly in the fridge but I wouldn’t know since mine has always been used up long before.