Open any refrigerator and you are likely to find a container of Sour Cream. It’s a long standing staple of the American diet. Dollops of the luscious white cream can be seen atop baked potatoes, adorning tacos and garnishing hearty bowls of chili. When combined with onion soup mix, it makes a quick and tasty dip for chips and vegetables. It adds that cool, slightly tangy finish to the spicy and cheesy foods we love to eat.
The Unsung Hero- Sour Cream
Sour cream is not just a great accompaniment. It’s often the unsung hero of many recipes. When used in baked goods such as muffins and cakes it adds richness and a softer texture. It also produces a sharper flavor in pancakes and cookies. In fact, when you add sour cream to your baked goods, you can reduce the milk and fat in your recipes. Sour cream adds a delightful smooth finish to sauces and soups. However, care must be taken since sour cream will curdle if overheated. It should be added right at the very end of the cooking time and just heated gently through.
Full fat sour cream contains from 18 to 20 percent butterfat and has been treated with a lactic acid culture to create the bacteria responsible for its distinctive tang. Full fat sour cream is thick, heavy and adds a definite weight to the spoon. It has a bright, cool and creamy flavor but it is also quite calorie rich, so its best used in moderation, especially for those who are keeping track. A teaspoon to top soup, a baked potato or to accompany enchiladas is all that is needed. Light sour cream contains about 40 percent less fat than regular sour cream because it’s made from half-and-half. The thick, smooth texture and rich flavor makes it nearly indistinguishable from the full fat varieties and you will save about 10 calories per tablespoon. Light versions are perfect for use in baking and can be used successfully whenever a recipe calls for sour cream. Non-fat sour cream, which is made from skimmed milk, is thickened with stabilizers such as corn starch or gelatin. It is often called a ‘Sour Cream Alternative’. Fat Free or Non-fat sour cream tends to be rather watery and needs to be stirred to reincorporate all of the ingredients for a semi-thick consistency. The best uses for non-fat sour cream or fat-free varieties are for dips for crudités, as a fruit topping or in salad dressing recipes. You can use fat free or non-fat sour cream whenever you want a much healthier replacement. Light or full fat sour cream tastes so much better than the non-fat varieties and unless you are seriously counting the calories, then it’s best to use the fatter varieties.
Soy sour cream is not actually a dairy product as it contains no cream but rather is soy based combined with a non-dairy lactic acid and thickened with guar and carrageenan gums. This is a suitable substitute for those who are lactose intolerant or maintain kosher or dairy-free diets.
Oh là là– Crème Fraîche
Similar in flavor, sour cream’s richer, smoother and more sophisticated French cousin, crème fraîche (pronounced ‘krem fresh’) can also be used as a substitute for sour cream. Meaning “fresh cream”, crème fraîche, originally hails from the coast of lower Normandy in Northern France. It’s so beloved by the French that many even have their favorite merchants they always patronize for their weekly supply. They will even look for Crème d’Isigny, the only crème fraîche to be awarded the AOC, or Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée status, equating it to a fine wine such as Burgundy or Champagne.
Crème fraîche contains 28 % milk fat or more. Crème d’Isigny varieties have 40%, making it literally, the crème de la crème! Crème fraîche has a slightly nutty, more subtle tartness than sour cream. It also has a much more substantial consistency, ranging from thick custard to being a soft solid like margarine.
Crème fraîche and sour cream both lend a tangy taste to a variety of dishes. However, crème fraîche is more like a butter,where as sour cream is, well more like a cream. While crème fraîche and sour cream can be interchanged in a lot of recipes, crème fraiche has many advantages over sour cream. It doesn’t curdle when heated because of its high fat content, making it the perfect ingredient for lending a velvety finish to rich sauces and thick, creamy soups. It can also be whipped to soft peaks and mixed with a little sugar to become a delicious topping for desserts and fruits.
Crème fraîche is so incredibly versatile it can be flavored to be used in a multitude of recipes. It assumes both savory and sweet identities, from mixing in a bit of fresh dill to pair with salmon to adding honey and lime zest and whipped to a fluffy cream to fill buttery tuiles. It makes delectable ice cream and can even be used instead of mascarpone in some recipes. In baked goods, it adds an opulence to even the richest of chocolate cakes. There are few flavors that wouldn’t meld well with crème fraîche.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find in the local supermarket, and when it is located, often at gourmet markets, it’s price tag is a little steep. The good news is it’s extremely easy to make at home, and the results are good enough to lick the spoon.
Crème Fraîche Recipe
1 cup heavy whipping cream, (preferably Pasteurized, not Ultra Pasteurized)
2 tablespoons buttermilk
In a medium saucepan over low heat, warm the cream to 105 degrees F. Remove from heat and whisk in the buttermilk.
Transfer the mixed cream to a sterile glass jar and allow this mixture to stand in a warm place, loosely covered with plastic wrap for at least 24 hours stirring at least three times over the period.
At the end of the 24 hours, the cream should be somewhat thick. (See note below.) Stir one more time and cover the jar tightly with its lid.
Place the jar in the refrigerator for another 24 hours after which time, it should be thickened and ready to use.
It will keep up to ten days in the refrigerator continuing to age and increasing in sourness over the time.
Yield: 1 cup
Cook Time: 3 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 48 hours
Ease of Preparation: Easy
Note: If you are unable to find just pasteurized heavy cream it may take an extra half day for the crème fraîche to set when using ultra pasteurized heavy cream. It is perfectly fine and safe to leave the jar in a warm spot for even 36 hours as the live cultures in the buttermilk protect the crème from harmful bacteria. Once you have a semi thick consistency, cover and move to the refrigerator as outlined above.
Here’s a printable recipe card.
Here is a nice way to use your Crème Fraîche!
Beef Ribeye Roast with Horseradish Crème Fraîche
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 (3 to 4 pound) beef ribeye roast
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
Horseradish Crème Fraîche, recipe follows
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Season the roast with salt and pepper and sear on all sides until brown, about 7-8 minutes.
Transfer the roast to a platter. Drain the oil from the Dutch oven.
Pat the thyme and rosemary into the meat and return it to the pot.
Place the pot into the preheated oven. Roast for 30 minutes for rare, or 35 minutes for medium rare.
Meanwhile, prepare the Horseradish Crème Fraîche.
Remove the meat from the oven and transfer to a platter, cover with foil. Let it rest for 10 minutes.
To serve, slice the roast into thin slices, about ¼ inch thick. Arrange on platter and serve with Horseradish Crème Fraîche on the side.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 42 minutes
Ease of Preparation: Easy
Horseradish Crème Fraîche:
1 cup crème fraîche
2 tablespoons fresh grated horseradish or 2 tablespoons prepared white horseradish
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Combine crème fraîche, horseradish, thyme in a medium mixing bowl stirring well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Yield: 1 cup