It’s funny what finally triggers you out of a state of inertia. We all have things on our “to-do” or “to-try” lists that we never get around to. I’m not thinking here of chores or other such drudgery–easy to figure out why we’d push those items to another day. I mean that inertia that extends even to those ideas we have that would be easy to follow through with, those plans that we expect to have lots of fun with. But if I knew what finally triggers someone to stop dawdling and start doing, I could have a self-help book empire by now. So, don’t look to me for the secrets of self-actualization.
I think at least half the cookbooks I own have a suggestion (in some cases, almost an exhortation) to make your own creme fraiche. Creme fraiche, if you don’t have the same quantity of cookbooks I do, is like the French equivalent of sour cream. But it’s more tangy than sour, and smoother and eminently more suitable to “dollop-ing.” You can buy it, but being French (and, I think, for no other reason than some circomflexs and accents aigues), it is a lot more expensive than its domestic cousin. Despite all these arguments in its favor, I still had never quite gotten around to making it on my own, until now.
It must have been the confluence of reading through a copy of the new cookbook from Boston’s own Flour (and seeing all the recipes that use creme fraiche) and a post at Food In Jars, emphasizing just how simple it is to make. I bought some local Massachusetts Jersey cream from High Lawn Farm and set to it.
It’s easy enough: you just mix a 1 tablespoon of buttermilk into a cup of cream, and leave out uncovered (so the cultures can breathe). In theory you leave it overnight and in 10-12 hours “or as long as necessary” you have creme fraiche. Well, we all know what happened here–mine never thickened much past what you see here.
Not being sure what to expect, I put it in the fridge too early and when I checked back it was a pleasantly tangy cream, but definitely just cream, not thick and yogurt-like. But, I used it in a celery-root potato gratin that was about as decadent as anything made with root vegetables can be, so it went to good use. I strongly suspect that the only slight culturing of the cream had a dramatic impact on this one. I was already starting to believe the hype!
So, more motivated than ever perhaps, I tried again. I realized my kitchen must be too cold for full culturing to happen (and felt better after a few more internet searches noted it could take up to 24 hours to set, especially in winter, which is why some sources suggest heating the cream to 85F to start it off on the right foot). So when I woke up, once more, to nothing more than room temperature cream, I tried various tricks (inspired by my breadmaking). But I knew things were on the right track as the bubbles on the surface that indicated that something was happening.
I steamed up the microwave and put the cream inside to create a proofing box (with the microwave off), and then when not much had happened by lunch, I upped the ante by putting my jar of culturing cream in a larger bowl of hot water.
I think this last step really worked the magic. And the result was fantastic, fabulously thick and all the more so after chilling in the fridge.
What I love is that you can use your current batch of creme fraiche to get your next one going, indefinitely. (How could this not appeal to someone who is crazy for sourdough?). And almost as much, I love that I can make this at home rather than paying upwards of $5 for it.