Tasting of hazelnuts with a hint of tang, creme fraiche is France's favorite form of cream for cooking. With more body and complex flavors than fresh sweet cream, creme fraiche is a thick, rich, custard of a cream. It thickens without curdling, a little goes a long way in fast pan sauces, and blended with fresh herbs and a dash of fresh lemon, creme fraiche is splendid over seafoods and poultry. Dollop it over fresh fruit, or whip and lightly sweeten to frost or fill cakes. This is a home version that comes close to the real thing.
1 to 2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk
2 cups heavy cream (pasteurized, not ultra pasteurized or sterilized, and with no additives)
Combine the buttermilk and cream in a saucepan and heat only to tepid (not more than 85 degrees on an instant reading thermometer). Pour into a clean glass jar. Partially cover and let stand at room temperature (between 65 and 75 degrees) for 8 to 24 hours, or until thickened. Stir and refrigerate at least 24 hours before using. The cream will keep about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Fresh Herbed Cream Sauce: No cooking here -- simply blend 1/2 cup creme fraiche with 1 teaspoon each finely sliced chives and fresh tarragon. Add about 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Serves up to 6 people. Streak a little over pieces of grilled, baked or poached salmon, sole, or scallops. Herbs could be pureed with a little shallot and stirred into the cream for a pale green color.
Pan Sauces: Stir a generous tablespoon into defatted pan sauces after pan grilling poultry, fish or vegetables. Bring to a simmer, taste for balance, and pour over foods.
Soups: Reduce the amount of cream called for in your favorite creamed soup by half and substitute creme fraiche.
With Fruits: A few spoonfuls of creme fraiche lift fruit flavors. Try over berries, ripe peaches or nectarines, or on sauteed pears. The cream could be lightly sweetened, flavored with a little lemon, orange or vanilla.
Imagination is everything. Try creme fraiche in other dishes as well. Streak it over mousses and jelled sweets or savories. Finish an appetizer plate of marinated leek or grilled scallions and asparagus with a zig zag of creme fraiche. It is classic in Beef Stroganoff instead of sour cream.
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