What's A Good Substitute For Crème Fraîche?

Is it even possible to substitute crème fraîche? We've got a great suggestion that will crack the code.

Creme Fraiche
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I can't remember the first recipe I made with crème fraiche. But I definitely remember licking crème fraiche off of the spoon, not wanting to waste a bit of it.

What Is Crème Fraîche?

If you've never tried it before, crème fraîche is a type of soured cream popular in France. It's an extremely rich and creamy dairy product, with a silky custard-like texture and a delicate tang. It's wonderful stirred into sauces or hot cooked pasta, or even dolloped on desserts in place of whipped cream. It's dreamy paired with fresh fruit or anything with chocolate in it. Like I said, you'll want to eat it by the spoonful.

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Where To Find Crème Fraîche

While you can find crème fraiche in the United States, it can be hard to get in some grocery stores. (Look for small tubs of it in the dairy aisle, near the cream cheese.) Sour cream (which has less fat) is the best and easiest substitute, but it's not as rich or tangy as crème fraiche. Full fat plain Greek yogurt is another substitute, but it doesn't have the same smooth texture or mild flavor. Once you've had the real thing, it's hard to go back, even though it can be pricey and hard to find.

For the record, crème fraîche and sour cream are not at all the same. Sour cream generally contains about 18 percent butterfat, whereas crème fraîche can contain up to 45 percent butterfat. Sour cream is made by adding milk solids to obtain the desired texture. Sour cream is acidified by adding an acidulant to drop the pH ― that doesn't happen with crème fraîche.

The Results of Fermentation

Crème fraîche is basically fermented cream. Historically, crème fraîche was cow's cream left out of refrigeration to sour. Naturally-occurring bacteria would make it thick and tangy ― like a lighter, more sophisticated sour cream. Today though, the cream is pasteurized. A bacterial starter, such as buttermilk or yogurt will be introduced to the pasteurized cream, and after sitting in a warm environment for typically 12-24 hours, crème fraîche will be produced.

Transparent Pie with Whipped Creme Fraiche and Sugared Cranberries
Photo: Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Torie Cox

The flavor of the crème fraîche will vary based on the type of bacteria used to culture the cream, length of time the cream was cultured and the amount of butterfat in the cream. Thick cream soups, or any sauces typically thickened with cultured cream will be enhanced with crème fraîche. Crème Fraîche is also delicious when whipped with powdered sugar and vanilla, and spooned over fresh fruit, and on other sweets such as parfaits, pies, cobblers, custard and even breakfast foods such as pancakes and waffles.

Make Crème Fraîche At Home

I often make crème fraiche at home. All you need is buttermilk and heavy cream.

1. Combine 1 cup cream and 1 tablespoon buttermilk in a clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid, like a Mason jar.

2. Partially cover the jar with a clean kitchen towel and let it stand at room temperature up to 24 hours. (Yes, this is safe—the acid in the buttermilk prevents harmful bacteria from developing.)

3: When it has thickened, stir the crème fraîche and store in the refrigerator up to two weeks.

TIP: The longer you let it sit, the thicker it will become.

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