Crème Fraîche: What Is It and What To Do With It?

Crème fraîche seems to be popping up in all kinds of hip new recipes these days. The name translates literally as "fresh cream," but the crème fraîche we've seen more closely resembles sour cream or yogurt. Just what is this fancy new ingredient?

Ironically, there's actually nothing new about crème fraîche! This way of preserving leftover milk and cream has been used for centuries. Cultured with a little lactic acid bacteria and left at room temperature, cream will gradually thicken into a custard-like consistency with a slightly tangy flavor.

The same bacteria that causes the milk to thicken also creates an acidic environment that prevents the milk from spoiling. Crème fraîche stays fresh for several weeks.

You can think of crème fraîche as being somewhere between yogurt and sour cream. It generally has a higher fat content than either, so its flavor is much richer and its texture is much creamier. Good quality crème fraîche is usually less aggressively tangy than sour cream. More of the original sweet milky flavors come through.

Crème fraîche is a fantastic and versatile ingredient in the kitchen. In a broad sense, you can use crème fraîche as a substitute for yogurt, sour cream, or even mayonnaise in most recipes. Try it in potato salad or alongside some fresh fish this summer!

Because of its higher fat content, we can also heat crème fraîche to higher temperatures without fear of it curdling. This makes it a great choice for enriching a pasta sauce or soup.

And of course, crème fraîche goes very well with fruit. We like using it as a dip for a fresh fruit plate, rolling it into crêpes with fruit preserves, or spreading it into a tart shell and nestling pieces of fresh fruit on top.

Look for crème fraîche in the dairy section at gourmet food stores or places like Whole Foods. It's also very easy to make it yourself with cream and buttermilk - here's how.

How do you like to use crème fraîche?

Related: Useful Substitution: Yogurt for Sour Cream

(Image: Flickr member stevendepolo licensed under Creative Commons)