What is Crème Fraîche?

What is creme fraiche?
Creme fraiche on blini topped with caviar. Juergen Holz / Getty Images

Crème fraîche (pronounced "krem fresh") is a version of sour cream with a higher fat content, which makes it good for cooking because it's less prone to curdling when you simmer it.

Crème fraîche can be spooned over fresh fruits or cooked vegetables and is often used as a garnish with soups. Crème fraîche can be used anywhere you might use sour cream, like over a baked potato for instance.

These days you can purchase crème fraîche in specialty food stores or even some supermarkets, but it's 1) not cheap, and 2) easy to make your own.

Here's a simple crème fraîche recipe:

Crème Fraîche Recipe

  1. Stir 1 Tbsp buttermilk into 1 cup heavy cream in a saucepan.
  2. Gently heat until it is slightly warm, and then transfer it to a glass bowl.
  3. Cover the bowl with a clean dishcloth and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.
  4. Stir and refrigerate until chilled.

One quick note about the procedure described above. You'll notice that one of the ingredients is buttermilk. And if you're a regular visitor to this site, you might be aware that I've written about the fact you can make your own buttermilk in about four different ways.

So be aware that to make creme fraiche, you need to use real cultured buttermilk, not the quick kind that you can make by adding lemon juice to regular milk. That stuff is fine for certain recipes, but if you want to make creme fraiche, you might as well just buy a thing of buttermilk.

Or for a perfectly adequate crème fraîche substitute, you can use ordinary sour cream or Crema Mexicana.

If you're curious, the reason crème fraîche can be used for enriching soups and sauces without it curdling, whereas ordinary sour cream can't (because it would), is that cream is an emulsion of fat and water, along with a small amount of milk proteins. Curdling happens when those proteins coagulate and separate from the water.

And in cream, the higher the fat content, the less water AND protein it contains, which makes it less likely to curdle.

Also see: How to Prevent Milk from Curdling When You Cook It