Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Get some culture

Do you remember this commercial for Rice Crispy Treats where the mom is in the kitchen reading a juicy romance novel?

There's another, older version here.

Making creme fraiche is a lot like that commercial.  It's easier and faster than yogurt, which makes me rethink my yogurt methodology

If you're not familiar with creme fraiche, here's some info from
Crème fraiche is a delicious, thinner form of sour cream first developed by the French. It has a slight hold and tanginess because it contains bacterial cultures. Crème fraiche can be used as a topping, in sauces, or in a variety of other applications, and many prefer it to the standard and more commonly available sour cream because of its creamy texture.
One of the advantages of crème fraiche is that it doesn’t “break” or become unstable when added to sauces. This is due to its high fat content. If you’re making thick cream soups, Hungarian Goulash or any type of sauce that you want thickened with cultured cream, crème fraiche is a great choice, and a much better choice than sour cream. Crème fraiche is additionally delicious when you whip it with a little powdered sugar and vanilla. It can be ladled over fresh berries, or any kind of fruit, or can make up a sweet filling for crepes.
If you've ever added sour cream to a hot soup or sauce and it curdled, then you know what it means to have a cream "break".  It looks gross when that happens.

Why would you make your own?  Because it's ridiculously expensive.  An 8-ounce tub or jar of it starts around $5.

But cream is only a couple of bucks for a pint (16 ounces).  Buttermilk, which provides the starter culture, is also cheap.  Once you have a batch you can use the leftover bits of one batch to start another.

Here's how.  Are you ready?  You need:
  • One pint heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons of buttermilk (use the leftovers to make pancakes or blueberry muffins)
  • Clean jar with tight-fitting lid
  • A countertop
  • A fork or small whisk
  • A night
Make sure that your buttermilk contains live active cultures.  If you can get buttermilk without all this extra crap, go for it.  The main thing you need is the cultures. 

I made my most recent batch from the previous one so you're going to see that my pics vary somewhat.  I also used Smith Brothers instead of Darigold.  Smith Brothers is the last dairy in the area that delivers.  We love them lots and lots and lots!

OK, since you're starting from scratch, get ready for this part.  It's really hard. 

Open the pint of cream and microwave it for about 50-60 seconds.  You're not heating it, just taking the chill off of it.

Next, pour it into a jar or container.  The pic below is from the first batch I made a couple of weeks ago.  Pour in 2 tablespoons of buttermilk (1 for each cup of cream) and mix vigorously with a fork or cocktail whisk or put a lid on the container and just shake it.  Who needs a shake-weight?

This pic is from the second batch, which I made from my first (the one above).  I warmed up the cream then poured it into the old jar.  I put on the lid, shook the crap out of it, then poured the cultured cream into a clean jar.

We're talking radical stuff here.  You don't see the blue bag that my husband accidentally moved into the shot, really you don't! 

Almost done.

Put a lid on it and leave it on the counter overnight.

Really people, it's OK to leave dairy on the counter for a while.  Leave it out all night.  These are beneficial bacteria, not the ones that promote spoilage.

I eat cultured dairy products all the time and I'm fine.  See?

Bwahahah.  I love that picture.  I can't believe how many teeth I used to have!

The next morning you'll open the jar to find a thick, possibly bubbly or foamy batch of creme fraiche.  Use it in asparagus soup, pasta with bleu cheese-tomato sauce, or add some sugar and vanilla to it and serve with fresh fruit and berries. 

It's so thick that the bubble I broke stayed there.

G-man and I can't wait for local fruits to come into season.  We are really sick of apples.  Creme fraiche will be a perfect accompaniment to some strawberries.

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