Sunday, May 22, 2011

Homemade Creme Fraiche Experiment

I start this post talking of sour cream, but be patient...there is a reason or this. Most commercial sour cream on the market shelves these days have added ingredients other than just sour cream.  Take a look the next time you are at the grocery might be surprised. Added whey, modified food starch, aka, a 'starch' from corn, wheat, potato, rice or tapioca--it depends on the manufacturer.  Modified food starch is a starch that has been treated physically or chemically to modify one or more of its physical or chemical properties. Commercial sour cream ingredients can also include different "gums" and carragennan.  I've come to the conclusion that when ingested, all these added starches and gums in processed food 'stick' to, well, you know where.  I have found organic to be a 'cleaner' product in that it does not contain the added 'stuff'. Our local grocery store carries Nancy's brand organic sour cream made by Springfield Creamery out of Eugene, Oregon. And while it is good, there is a price tag to go along with it.  A cheaper alternative is homemade creme fraiche.  Besides being less inexpensive to make, I personally think the taste is better. It has a richer flavor and creamier in texture.  Creme fraiche made in France is made from unpasteurized cream. All of our milk products in the United States are pasteurized so fermenting agents have to be added to produce equal results. Creme fraiche has many uses on the savory side of the kitchen. It can be added to sauces or soups and will not curdle when boiled; unlike sour cream.  It works equally well with when paired with desserts as a not so sweet replacement for whipped cream.  And yes, creme fraiche can be purchased, but again it is back to making a homemade version.

With a little advance planning, creme fraiche can be made at home. I say advance, because there is a "curing" time of 1-3 days; depending on the ambient room temperature. There are several different recipes that can be found online, however, the most common recipe I found is a heavy cream to buttermilk ratio; usually 16 parts heavy cream to 2 parts buttermilk as found on Epicurious. So an example would be 16 tbsp (1 cup) heavy cream to 2 tbsp buttermilk.  There were even versions of adding 2 parts creme fraiche from your "mother batch" to "grow" new.  The version that interested me most was the use of plain yogurt with heavy cream. I liked the idea of the good probiotics contained in yogurt being carried over into the creme fraiche.  I always have an interest of knowing "what is best" when it comes to things such as this, so I set out do do an experiment.  I decided to do two batches; one using the buttermilk and the second using plain yogurt...basically because I had both yogurt & buttermilk on hand. All I had to purchase was heavy whipping cream.

These are the products I used. We do not have access to organic buttermilk. The heavy cream is organic, and while the yogurt is not, I do know it is certified free of the growth hormone rBST. I could digress at this point and go into alotta typing about organic versus commercial dairy, but I'll save that for another post.  Until then, go with your heart.  Oh, and the cream I used was 'ultra pasteurized' because that is what our local grocery store carries.  Online comments suggest using this product makes curing time take longer.  Onward to the experiment...pretty simple stuff here:

version 1:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp buttermilk

version 2:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp plain yogurt (notice I opted for whole fat)

Place ingredients in individual non reactive bowls such as glass, stainless or ceramic.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit out on your counter for 1 to 3 days. Yeah, I know this is the scary part, but you're not gonna get sick doing this, trust me. The creme fraiche is ready when it has turned into a thick velvety mass and it has a slight tangy-nutty flavor.

The experiment produced differing results and in my haste I forgot to take pictures showing this.  The creme fraiche made with yogurt was indeed thick and velvety while the buttermilk version was still thin.  I let the buttermilk version sit for another 8 hours and there was not alot of change. Not wanting to "waste" the ingredients, I took a chance and combined the buttermilk and yogurt versions together and let cure yet again.  I had success...whew! I could have been throwing all of it out.  I cannot explain why the buttermilk version did not work to my satisfaction...impatience perhaps?? I know the buttermilk version is used extensively, but for me, I'm choosing the yogurt route. I have also been told by a fellow chef that they have been unsuccessful whipping creme fraiche that was created using buttermilk.  And for me personally, I have been able to whip the version made with yogurt and it has not "broken". Creme fraiche is pretty stable and depending on the temperature of your refrigerator, it will keep a few weeks.

Where I work, we recently served whipped vanilla bean infused creme fraiche with a berry tart. Here is a scaled down version of the recipe for how I made it.

Whipped Vanilla Bean Creme Fraiche

1 cup heavy cream
1/4 vanilla bean
2 tbsp vanilla yogurt*
2 tbsp powdered sugar

*I used low-fat vanilla yogurt because that is what we had on hand. Feel free to use plain yogurt as there is plenty of flavor infused from the vanilla bean.

Place heavy cream in a saucepan.  Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds from the pod. Add both the seeds and pod to the cream. Heat mixture to approx. 105-110 degrees. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Strain cream mixture into a non-reactive container using a chinois. Add yogurt and stir. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to cure as mentioned earlier in the post.  Once cured, refrigerate overnight.  To whip, place creme fraiche into bowl of stand mixer. Add powdered sugar. Turn mixer on medium speed and whip to desired consistency. The amount of powdered sugar can be tinkered with depending on how sweet or 'unsweet' you would like it.

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