Creme fraiche, in case you’re not fluent in French like I am, translates roughly to “outrageously overpriced soured dairy product.” In its pure form, by definition, it is nothing more than unpasteurized cream left to culture at room temperature for anywhere from a few hours to several days. Yum, right? But it’s actually kind of amazing. It has a hint of nuttiness and a bright tang, and is perfect in all of its many applications – it makes a great pan sauce because it doesn’t break down and curdle like milk or regular cream, it can be sweetened and whipped to be dolloped on fresh berries, or it can be added to mashed potatoes for a rich flavor that buttermilk can’t quite hit. But since we’re in Amurrka, you can’t just buy unpasteurized cream and let it sit out all willy nilly – you have to either go buy a 6 ounce container of premade creme fraiche for approximately one zillion dollars, or you have to culture it yourself.
Anyone who knows me can vouch for the fact that I have an iron gut and a fearless appetite. I’d be proud of that, if it wasn’t for the fact that those qualities are born entirely from a pathological hatred of wasting food. I eat week-old leftovers, I stretch the five second rule beyond recognition, and I consider expiration dates to be merely arbitrary suggestions. And yet even I found myself cringing in mild disgust at the idea of setting a jar of heavy cream on my radiator and letting it just sit there. Intellectually, I understand how it works – yogurt and buttermilk are staples in my kitchen – but there’s just something about watching a jar full of souring dairy sweating and culturing right in front of you that just seems like an intimate evening with the porcelain god waiting to happen. On top of that, if you’ve ever bought creme fraiche at the store, you’ll be concerned about how you’ll be able to mix the ingredients without the arm and leg you left at the cash register. But I can honestly tell you that this will be the easiest recipe I’ll ever post, and it has a lot of upsides:
1. People will think you’re some sort of domestic genius when you tell them you made your own creme fraiche.
2. You can put the money you save in your kids’ college funds, or just use it to buy something frivolous online.
3. It tastes like the patron saint of dairy descended from the heavens and laid his hands upon it.
4. It has zero calories (okay, this is just a lie. A huge, huge lie).
2 cups heavy cream (not ultrapasteurized, if possible)
3 Tbsp buttermilk
No, seriously. That’s it.
Pour heavy cream into a glass jar. Stir in buttermilk. No, seriously. That’s it. If your kitchen is dust and bug proof, leave uncovered. If you’re a normal person, cover with a paper towel and secure with a rubber band. The good bacteria you’re cultivating needs to breathe, so you don’t want an airtight lid. Put the jar in a warm place until thickened – this can take anywhere from 12 to 36 hours. I have trouble finding cream that’s not ultrapasteurized, so I often leave mine for 36.
Refrigerate for up to two weeks. Your creme fraiche will continue to thicken and culture in the fridge and will only get more delicious with time. Enjoy on fresh berries, in pasta sauces, or in giant heaping spoonfuls applied directly to your mouth.