Homemade Creme Fraiche

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.


24 thoughts on “Homemade Creme Fraiche

  1. Can’t believe it is SO expensive!!!! Here, it’s REALLY cheap. I would only make it from scratch to see how it works, but it wouldn’t save me any money. Maybe even the contrary… I’m impressed, though – yours looks sooo creamy!

    • Only about 2-3 hours? I didn’t try that until about 18 hours in when I was starting to get impatient, but it really helped things along.

    • This has gone much better for me than trying to make yogurt without a yogurt maker as you did, but it’s inspired me to try again. You should have no trouble!

  2. I’m so glad that you took the time to figure out how to make it work for you! I must confess, my kitchen is almost always a balmy 72 degrees. I forget that not everyone lives in such “tropical” conditions (living in a high rise means having nearly no control over the heat).

    • Thanks for visiting! I wish I could say it’s because our house is kept cool out of eco-friendliness, but unfortunately it’s more that our house is old and drafty. Either way, thanks for lighting the fire under my feet to finally make this fantastic stuff!

  3. Be it noted that while you can make one batch from the previous one indefinitely, it can start smell like old shoes after 5-6 batches (or mine did, anyway!). I find that using a fresh started culture of buttermilk every so often helps maintain the “fraiche” (fresh) part of this delightfully cultured dairy product.

  4. You know, I had the same slow realization with creme fraiche. It took sooo long the firt time. But it was still so good it merited another try. I heat mine up before letting it sit. And the other day, I was feeling lazy and struck gold: a half cup of cream plus a squirt of buttermilk in a pyrex measuring cup, put it in the microwave for 30 seconds, and let it sit. It set fantastically! Crazy how special something so easy is.

    • Interesting! I would have thought the buttermilk culture would get nuked and therefore not do it’s thing. I will definitely remember not to go over 30 seconds if I try that!

  5. Two words – HEAVY Cream.

    If you can find some non-homogenized (raw is better) milk and take off the heavy cream on the very top of the bottle it works awesome. Jersey milk works the best because the fat globules in the heavy cream are larger, but whatever kind you use, skim it yourself and you will see the difference!

    • Besides being local, I definitely picked the Jersey cream specifically for being Jersey and not ultra-pasteurized. We tried once to make butter with UP cream once and it was such a disaster we never tried again. Unfortunate how hard it can be to buy non UP cream!

  6. I had no idea – creme fraiche is a step in making cultured butter! I’ve been making my own butter for about 18 months, but only a few months ago I started making cultured butter. I use a quart-sized jar, put in about a pint of cream and a tablespoon of plain yogurt, mix it together, and let it sit a couple of hours (usually I let it go overnight). Then I hand-churn the bejezus out of it and press out all the whey. Woot! Butter on the one hand (usually literally, by the time I’m done) and whey in the other!

    • Funny, I was so excited by result with creme fraiche that since I posted I got up the nerve to try butter, so it’s sort of the reverse of you! I used a food processor to churn, but I can’t believe how easy it is. And it’s nice to know that if I don’t use up all my creme fraiche I can make butter out of it (so far, a non-issue, but a good tidbit to keep in the back of my mind). Or, even if I don’t use up the cream I buy by the sell-by date, I can do the same–from now on I will always be sure to buy cream that is NOT ultrapasteurized. How do you hand churn? By shaking it in the jar? How long does it usually take? It’s pretty amazing to make something as basic as butter, isn’t it?

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